Lighting

The problem

Light pollution, also called “light trespass”, is when unwanted, artificial light from one property unnecessarily illuminates, or trespasses onto someone else’s property. It is a growing problem throughout Harford County, adversely affecting residents, farmers, and small businesses.

Light pollution can:

  • harm human health and degrade quality of life  
  • interfere with mating and migration of sensitive wildlife
  • cause night blindness while driving        
  • adversely impact farmers and other business owners
A night sky in Harford County. An unshielded street lamp casts light on a wide area, while in the distance the sky above the treeline is illuminated by parking lot lights.

Light pollution has led homeowners to desperately seek relief from auto dealers’ high-intensity, all-night lighting of their bedrooms, living rooms, and yards. Sports field lighting at Cedar Lane Park and elsewhere has cast bright lights into nearby homes. In both rural and non-rural areas, there’s light pollution from recreational fields, parking lots, advertising, and poorly designed security lights.

Drivers’ night vision can be ruined  because eyes take time to adjust from dark night to intense “daylight” and then back to dark.

Artificial light that disrupts the internal clocks of dairy cattle and certain flowering plants can hurt farmers’ bottom line. Light trespass also affects the desirability of homes that are for sale.

What’s in place to help citizens

Basically, there is no legislation at the state or county level to help define or enforce against light trespass.

  • The current zoning code has a subjective, unenforceable “not too bright” requirement that is based on a subjective opinion, not on objective, measurable numbers.
  • Without measurable standards, there is little that can be done, even if you spend time and money taking an offender to court [MD Circuit Court case: Donna M. Hines et al v. Jones Junction, Inc.].
  • Sometimes the offender is Harford County itself (e.g., outdoor sports fields)

Chapter 2 (page 39)  of the HarfordNEXT master plan states that the County will:

(a). Establish quality of life standards that affect livability.

(b). Develop lighting standards that aim to reduce light pollution.

(c).  Encourage the use of “dark sky” lighting practices.

Friends of Harford proposes an outdoor lighting ordinance to implement these requirements of HarfordNEXT.

Our proposal

Friends of Harford Proposed Harford Lighting Code

To be effective, a law must have objective, measurable standards to enforce, and penalties must be levied when the law is proven to have been violated.  Friends of Harford has drafted an ordinance (law) to do that for light trespass.

Our ordinance is based on the Pennsylvania Outdoor Lighting Council’s “Model Outdoor Lighting Ordinance for Inclusion in Zoning Ordinances.”    We deleted a few sections that either covered requirements already in the Electrical Code or told property owners what equipment to use; we believe owners should be free to meet the performance requirements however they wish.  The other revisions were housekeeping, e.g. substituting “Harford County” for “municipal government”.

With this ordinance:

A simple check with a light meter will determine whether lighting is in compliance with the law.  When neighbors complain about existing lighting, this ordinance resolves disputes and protects all property owners by establishing objective, measurable requirements.   The ordinance will limit light trespass to 0.1 footcandles at residential property boundaries and 1.0 footcandle at all other property boundaries.  The 0.1 footcandles is about the level of light from a full moon that reaches the ground on a clear night.

Ø  Havre de Grace just added a 0.1 footcandle limit to their zoning code to protect the residents of Bulle Rock from excessive lighting from a planned hospital.    

Owners of outdoor lights can choose how to meet the requirements.  Inexpensive shielding and placement of lights is emphasized.  Timers used to control when lights go on and off will now require battery back-up to prevent power outages from rescheduling when lights go on and off.

Enforcement provisions with time limits are provided to protect neighbors.  There’s little point in having a law unless it’s enforced.

What you can do

Contact County Council members to let them know you support a lighting ordinance in Harford County.  If you can, cite personal examples of how light pollution has affected you to emphasize why the ordinance is needed. Insist that enforcement provisions be kept intact – a toothless law is useless window dressing.

We will let you know when a lighting ordinance is introduced by the Council, and whether it meets the objectives of our proposal. If it is no longer effective, we will certainly let you know and again ask for your support to make things right.

More information about the impacts of light pollution

American Medical Association: Adverse Health Effects of Nighttime Lighting (2012)

International Dark-Sky Association

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Missing the Dark (2009)