The Norman Transcript

December 24, 2012

Light ordinance needs tweaking, officials say

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The recently implemented city lighting ordinance has resulted in unforeseen problems for some businesses.

At Harvest Church, the biggest issue is the added cost.

“We’re doing two expansions. Our first phase is north of our building. We had an unplatted piece of property,” City Council member and Harvest Church Business Manager Chad Williams said.

The church owns 30 acres and is expanding, but the new lighting ordinance has proven to be costly.

“On the west side where we’re expanding we’re pulling the parking lot out, so we’re putting a parking lot on a newly platted piece of property to the north,” Williams said. “The big cost comes in the photo metric plans. Prior to this ordinance, our general contractor would call the lighting companies and say, ‘Here’s our plans for this property, we need to get a lighting plan on this.’ They would engineer the plan and tell you how many poles you needed. They would give you a layout on where you needed to put lighting

“Because of the new ordinance with photometric plans, they don’t want to be liable,” he said. “None of the manufacturers want to touch that or have that liability, so you have to hire a lighting engineer and that’s a very significant cost.”

Because of the platting requirement, the new church parking lot won’t be grandfathered in. While lighting issues can sometimes be addressed through the Board of Adjustment, that isn’t a solution to many of the issues resulting from the new city lighting ordinance.

“The Board of Adjustments is limited in what they can adjust,” Williams said.

Fixtures also cost more under the new ordinance.

“We have to have more poles and more fixtures to light this parking lot than we would previously,” Williams said. “It’s like when you have a dimmer in the house and you turn it down. Even the homeowners there don’t like how it’s lit. You don’t feel safe, and the sidewalks and entrances are not lit. The new ordinance restricts you from lighting public right-of-way. You can’t see the curbs when you’re pulling in.”

For Harvest Church there also are aesthetic issues.

“They’ve limited the pole heights now,” Williams said. “Now half my parking lot is going to be 35 foot poles and the other half will be much shorter — I think it’s 25 foot.”

Williams said he believes the current ordinance creates a burden on businesses. If the city does not make adjustments to help alleviate the problems, he believes rather than imposing that burden on business owners, the city should hire an engineer who can create the required lighting plans.

In addition, the new ordinance eliminates the ability for businesses to use OG&E poles.

Problems with the new lighting ordinance have been under discussion for months.

In April, former Norman City Council member Hal Ezzell said the city’s new lighting ordinance needs to be revisited in response to unforeseen consequences. As a direct result of the ordinance, OG&E is unable to continue to provide commercial lighting service in Norman.

“We don’t have a rate, and we don’t have the fixtures,” OG&E spokesman James Chappel said at the Business and Community Affairs meeting in April. “None of the fixtures we install meet the requirements of the ordinance for commercial.”

The public electric provider must get new fixtures and rates approved by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

“None of our existing fixtures meet the requirements (of the ordinance), therefore we cannot install the lights in Norman,” Chappel said.

City staff said OG&E was kept informed of the lighting ordinance as it developed.

Chappel said OG&E showed the city its catalogue of fixtures and what the company could provide.

“I think we have some unintended consequences,” said Council member Greg Jungman at a recent City Council Oversight Committee meeting.

Asked for his input, Chamber of Commerce President John Woods said the lumens cap is an issue for some businesses and the restrictions on lighting the public right-of-way means some driveway entrances are too dark. That’s the complaint of a local 7-Eleven built at Flood Avenue and Robinson Street since the new lighting ordinance went into effect.

Council members received a letter from 7-Eleven President Jim Brown regarding the company’s issues with the new ordinance.

But Council member Tom Kovach said Tucson, Ariz., has a more strict lighting ordinance than Norman’s and the 7-Elevens there continue operations with no problem. While Kovach admits the new ordinance may need some tweaking, he remains committed to protecting the public from the safety hazard of glare and from light pollution to the extent possible in a city of more than 110,000 people.

Woods said the increased cost to property owners has become apparent. He said Fowler’s spent an extra $37,000 on lighting at the dealership because of the ordinance.

Joy Hampton366-3539jhampton@normantranscript.com

 

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