Urbana City Council needs more time deciding lighting ordinances

By Crystal Kang

The Urbana City Council sent an ordinance to the Committee of the Whole on Monday night after agreeing that the council needed more time to discuss the proposal reinforcing regulations on street, commercial, and private lighting.

Urbana Planner Jeff Engstrom sought approval of his plan to mandate reasonable standards on lighting that would not only prevent glare and sky glow but reduce energy consumption, too.

The lighting regulations were meant to address safety and nuisance issues among residents. Engstrom mentioned that the Village of Homer Glen, Ill., and the cities of Champaign, Normal, Peoria and Springfield. adopted outdoor lighting guidelines in their respective districts.

Ward 7 Alderwoman Lynne Barnes expressed concern over Engstrom’s goal to reduce the canopy lighting at gas stations from the average 32 footcandles to 15 footcandles. Each footcandle is equivalent to the intensity of light produced by 1 candle from 1 foot away.

“The lighting you recommended was 15 (footcandles), but the average is 32,” Barnes said. “Do you feel comfortable with the safety related to that? That’s not accounting for women who are gassing their cars at 10 at night. I know when I’m driving and looking for a gas station, I’m going to end up going where it is brightest. I’m going to care about perception.”

Engstrom said that the gas canopies in Normal, Ill., are 32 footcandles, but the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America recommended a limit of 10 footcandles. He suggested 15 because it was close to the median.

Some of the other areas that the outdoor lighting ordinance specified is reducing light trespass and improving uniformity in lighting.

“Someone’s light (may be) shining in your bedroom window,” Engstrom said. “We hope to reign in with a lighting ordinance proposed.”

He added that uneven lighting can reduce a person’s vision.

“Lighting uniformity is important,” he added. “Having multiple light sources. Even lighting produces more secure environments.”

Engstrom said the current street lighting make it difficult to illuminate space directly under the light poles and darkness quickly looms over areas that are a short distance away.

The plan would use a two-tier system, where single families and duplexes are only required to reduce glare and nuisance, whereas other properties are required to meet all areas proposed by the outdoor lighting ordinance.

Ward 3 Alderman Robert Lewis pointed out that the two major concerns should be lighting context and energy efficiency.

“We (should) move towards an ordinance that provides sufficient and proper lighting,” said Ward 1 Alderman Charlie Smyth. “Overlighting results in uplight into the atmosphere.”

If approved, Engstrom plans to see the ordinance put into effect starting July 1, 2009.