The Norman Transcript

January 13, 2013

Dimming restrictions on commercial lighting

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — City leaders have decided it’s time to hit the dimmer switch on high voltage restrictions on commercial lighting in the city. Members of the Norman City Council continued discussions this week on “unintended consequences” of the city’s commercial lighting ordinance which became effective July 22, 2011.

Council member Chad Williams submitted on an entirely new lighting ordinance and continues to work on that draft, while city staff have worked to modify the existing ordinance according to city council’s direction. Proposed changes are intended to eliminate problem areas.

Those areas of concern include the photometric plan which has turned out to be more costly and difficult to obtain than had been anticipated. City leaders debated whether to make the plan optional with a clause that any business without a plan proceeds at risk of having to make changes if lighting violates the ordinance.

Developers want the photometric plan eliminated altogether and say it’s not necessary if other elements of the lighting ordinance are in place.

Council member Tom Kovach supported making the photometric plan optional. Kovach said some lighting contractors include the plan. In other cases, it may not be needed.

Kovach said often developers can use a “predictive method rather than a measured method” for determining if there will be glare or light spillover if they opt out of the photometric plan.

The lumen cap was also under discussion. Some want it removed totally, others say it is reasonable and some say it can be raised with out creating too much glow.

Council member Greg Jungman suggested raising the pole heights. For example, in the case of Harvest Church which would have been forced to put shorter lights on its additional parking area than on the previous area, Jungman said he believed 30 foot poles are reasonable. This also saves money because the shorter the poles, the more poles must be used to light the same area.

The concern that affordable commercial lights available from OG&E are not compliant with the current lighting ordinance was also discussed. OG&E does have two types of lights available. One of those choices does include the full cut-off light required by the ordinance. Those are on a 30 foot pole so adjusting the ordinance to accept the taller poles will provide remedy for that issue.

There was agreement on lighting driveways and curbs for safety, an unforeseen problem created by a clause in the ordinance.

“Any requirement to limit the spillover on right-of-way or at entrances to businesses can be removed without concern except where a residential property is adjacent and that will be handled with a lighting limitation at the residential property line,” according to city staff notes.

“We have to think forward,” Jungman said. “It’s not fair to businesses to make rules that are unclear.”

The current lighting ordinance contains many exemptions including internally illuminated signs, temporary lighting for theatrical, television and performance areas, for non-commercial athletic fields, lighting in swimming pools and water features, lighting for emergency responders, temporary holiday lighting, low-voltage landscape lighting, decorative lighting and more.

There was an amount of discussion concerning the low number of light-related complaints in the city. There was some discussion of how many lighting concerns are regularly expressed by residents during the planning and platting portion of the commercial building process, however.

Kovach said residents have complained to him.

“It shouldn’t be ignored that every time we have a commercial development requesting to go next to a residential area, the applicant mentions the lighting ordinance as an answer to concerns about too much light in the neighborhood,” Kovach said. “Whichever version of the ordinance we end up with, we want to give people that same level of comfort and I don’t think that comes purely from a responsive ordinance, but from a predictive ordinance.”

Joy Hampton366-3539jhampton@normantranscript.com

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