It’s lights out for a proposed local law in the Town of Ulster creating standards for outdoor lighting, with Supervisor James E. Quigley, III saying if enacted, the legislation could impact as many as half of all property owners.
“With every law comes unintended consequences,” said Quigley during a Town Board meeting held on Thursday, May 18. The supervisor said that some council-members drove around the community to see how the law could be applied.
“They started reporting back to me that we were setting up a situation where probably 50 percent of the town’s population could file complaints against the other 50 percent.”
Quigley added that he would likely find himself in the latter group under the letter of the proposed law.
“Taking that law and looking at my own driveway and the amount of light that periodically goes off my property into the adjacent lot, I would fall victim to that law,” he said.
Earlier this month, the Town Board held a public hearing on the proposed law nearly two months after some local residents reported concerns about video surveillance by neighbors. At a May 4 meeting, town attorney Jason Kovacs saying that if adopted, the lighting law would be the first such legislation in the municipality.
“Right now our town code does not have anything in there regarding light trespass or light privacy or protection of citizen’s privacy so this is the first step towards creating in our town code some provisions regulating outdoor lighting, particularly light that travels from one property to another, and focuses lights on going downward instead of outward,” Kovacs said. “In addition this for the first time defines light trespass under a town law and regulates it and makes it a violation.”
Among the highlights in the proposed law were that lights must be shielded in such a way as to direct all light downward and away from reflective surfaces; properties requiring floodlighting must use cut-off light fixtures to prevent shining onto adjacent properties or into the night sky; and businesses with canopy structures must have recessed lights; the intensity of LED signs must be lowered between sunset and sunrise; and electrically illuminated off-site outdoor advertising is prohibited between 11 p.m. and sunrise. Other regulations were based on the lumens of each individual lamp.
Violations of the proposed law would have ranged between $50-$1,000 for individuals, and not more than $10,000 for any corporation, association or legal entity. Each successive violation would have constituted a separate offense.
At the May 4 meeting, the proposed law was championed by Cynthia Bell, a Ruby resident who lives near both the Ruby Firehouse and the Ruby Rod and Gun Club.
“I would first like to express my appreciation and admiration for the volunteers who give so generously of their time to make sure our community is safe and that there is the quickest possible response when one of our neighbors or ourselves is in trouble,” Bell said. “That said I don’t understand why there needs to be three straight street lights and several door lights as well as a lighted digital sign going all night every night. None of these lights are hooded.”
Bell said that the firehouse lighting is bright enough to illuminate the entire property up to the treetops and into neighboring properties.
“There seems to be no particular purpose to this other than to provide security for the various personal recreational vehicles that often park there,” Bell said. “It seems like a tremendous waste of resources and it shines right in our bedroom window. We’ve had to buy wooden blinds there in order to be able to sleep.”
Bell said that the excessive lighting was also having an impact on the rural appeal of the community.
“These factors are certainly affecting the wildlife in our community especially the birds,” Bell said. “We also enjoy seeing the stars at night but and it has become difficult to make them out. We have more nighttime light than someone living next to a convenience store without the convenience.”
Local resident Regis Obijiski said that the proposed law as written was a good, if flawed start, but he was concerned that there was no mention of camera surveillance in the legislation.
“We were hoping that this would be a prelude to a camera surveillance law in our town,” Obijiski said. “You can have camera surveillance going on in the daytime that has nothing to do with outdoor lighting which happens at in the night time … or you can have surveillance cameras that take pictures without the need of light 24 hours a day. There’s a lot of sophistication that goes on with a camera.”
Kovacs said that the town is still looking into how a camera surveillance law would look, if it’s even possible.
“This is the first step,” Kovacs said. “I’ve talked to other municipal attorneys and we’re not quite 100 percent certain that we can do some sort of regulation of cameras due to constitutional issues, First Amendment issues.”
The light from the proposed legislation shines as far back as a town board meeting held on Thursday, March 16, during which Regis Obijiski spoke on behalf of an unnamed neighbor who was concerned about being surveilled by her next-door neighbor, including the use of a motion-activated camera fixed on her backyard. At the time, Obijiski said he believed municipal legislation would align with New York State Civil Rights Law Section 52-A, Chapter 6. Article 5, which relates to the private right of action for unwarranted video imaging of residential premises, specifically in the backyard.
That legislation, published on September 24, 2017, claims that “(a)ny owner or tenant of residential real property shall have a private right of action for damages against any person who installs or affixes a video imaging device on property adjoining such residential real property for the purpose of videotaping or taking moving digital images of the recreational activities which occur in the backyard of the residential real property without the written consent thereto of such owner and/or tenant with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person, or with intent to threaten the person or property of another person.”
Last week, Quigley said that the town’s proposed lighting law quickly grew from a dispute between neighbors and was ultimately deemed by council-members to be presently unsuitable for tighter municipal regulations.
“I continue to advocate for the two neighbors that are having problems, that they retain a lawyer,” Quigley said. “This is a civil matter and they constantly look to the town to arbitrate it. And that is not our role.”