—December 11, 2017
by Jackie Bubis
On Monday, the Custer County Planning Commission met to further explore two things: First, whether or not the County needs further regulation of “light pollution” and second, what sort of language would be appropriate.
The three County commissioners were in attendance but did not speak. About a dozen citizens showed up and Chairman Vic Barnes made sure everyone had a chance to speak their mind. Mr. Barnes began by reading three letters he’d received, from Sentinel editor George Gramlich, from Larry and Monica Luikart, and from Arthur von Boennighausen. All three stated sentiments in opposition to further regulation for Dark Skies.
Jim Bradburn, President of Dark Skies expressed his thoughts in a back and forth exchange with citizens. First, he stated that, despite living in Fremont County, he is only “one mile over the line” and that he spends all his money here. He further objected to Mr. Gramlich’s letter saying that when he met privately with Gramlich, George told him that the Sentinel was good with further regulations as long as it only applied to future building.
There were several who spoke in agreement with the Dark Skies agenda and more who spoke against it. William Brown, a professor from Pueblo who now lives in the southern part of the County helped draft the language in Pueblo County’s “light pollution” regulations and stated that lawbreakers in that county would go to court for infractions.
Jackie Hobby, Planning & Zoning Director, pointed out that Pueblo has a ordinance that is enforced by the Sheriff.
Bill Parker, from Bull Domingo, echoed the thoughts of many in the room when he spoke about the recent recall and vote on building codes being a referendum on further government intrusion into our lives.
Mr. Bradburn objected, pointing out that the county zoning was government intrusion of a much higher order than his proposal and that zoning was what gave us the beautiful dark skies that we have.
Former Commissioner Shy brought a different perspective and a great deal of research to the discussion. He pointed out that the Dark Skies organization has been trying to get this language into the County Zoning Resolution since 1999 and that one try had a number of good “exceptions” that should be considered if the Planning Commission moves forward. On the other hand, he remarked that it is the very density zoning that has and will keep our skies dark. Also, that so much success has been had from voluntary compliance that having Dark Skies suggest that regulation is needed is a slap in the face to those who have taken steps on their own.
Mr. Bradburn listed a number of ranches that had complied voluntarily of late but stated that in the eyes of the international group, there needed to be language in the Zoning Resolution that “had teeth” or he wouldn’t get the “Dark Skies Reserve” status he wanted.
Ann Barthrop, after a quick read of the new proposed language presented by County Attorney Clint Smith (in his capacity as Vice President of Dark Skies SEE page 23), noted that the “remedies for non-compliance” in this new document refer back to the proposed draft handed out in the June BOCC meeting. This earlier document was widely criticized for suggesting fines and even jail time for non-compliance.
Another citizen asked what the costs to the county would be and how further regulation would be enforced. She also pointed out that any tourism dollars from Dark Skies would benefit the towns far more than any small financial benefit to the county. Locket Pittman, from the Planning Commission replied that the costs would be negligible and went on to show articles and books that lauded Custer Counties dark skies.
Pat Bailey, of the Planning Commission wondered how appropriate it was for the county to make regulations for every special interest group that came along.
At the end of the day, the Planning Commission asked Mr. Bradburn to send the international group all our zoning regulations and come back with specific language that needed to be added in order for the county to get Dark Skies Reserve designation. In the meantime, they will look over and “wordsmith” the latest version of the proposed language.
The Planning Commission will meet again on February 5th at 1:30 p.m. in the courtroom to further consider the issue and possibly vote on whether to move forward.
(Editor/GG: re Bradburn/Gramlich Meeting re Dark Skies at the Sentinel awhile back: Jim Bradburn was gracious enough to accept my invitation to chat about the Dark Skies proposal for the County a couple of months ago.
Near the end of the meeting, I suggested that he might use a compromise which would require new construction only to comply with the Dark Skies lighting requirements. I said I might be willing to back that personally, but the problem is that it still criminalizes lighting without any compelling state interest and is still a major interference in our real property rights. (Plus, what I meant by “new construction” in our meeting is truly new buildings/structures and NOT rehabs, remodeling or replacing old fixtures with new. What is being proposed INCLUDES those items and which makes the current proposal on the table simply unacceptable.) Bottom line, folks: The Dark Skies concept is laudable, but putting it in the Zoning Resolution and criminalizing non-compliance is a totally unacceptable infringement on our property rights as there is NO compelling state interest (economic or otherwise). Let’s make it voluntary and use education to achieve a better night time lighting environment.)