Dark Skies VP Clint Smith Softens Approach

Letter to the Editor;
On Monday, February 5, at 1:30 p.m. the Custer County Planning Commission will be conducting another public meeting to solicit further comment on the issue of amending the Custer County Zoning Resolution with respect to light pollution. This issue has been characterized over the past several months as an attempt by our non-profit group—Dark Skies of the Wet Mountain Valley—to impose a “Dark Skies ordinance” and to force onerous and restrictive outdoor lighting regulations on the residents of the county.
The members of Dark Skies recognized that our initial request was too over-reaching, so we went back to the drawing board. After presenting a revised version of our request that still met with some opposition, we tried again and now we have a proposal that should not be objectionable to anybody. The amendment we are proposing does not require the imposition of any regulations whatsoever.
Here is what Dark Skies is asking for:
The definition of “light pollution” in the current Custer County Zoning Resolution reads as follows: Degradation of the night sky by artificial light rays above the projected horizontal plane of a light fixture.
Here is the definition we are now recommending: Degradation of the night sky by artificial light rays above the projected horizontal plane of a light fixture and with a color temperature exceeding 3000 degrees Kelvin.
• That’s it. We would like to have the definition of light pollution modified to add the phrase “and with a color temperature exceeding 3000 degrees Kelvin” to the single-sentence definition that already exists in the Zoning Resolution. A definition by itself does not impose any obligation on anybody.
• There is no mandatory language being proposed to enforce this definition.
• There is no requirement that new construction comply with this definition.
• There is no requirement that existing lighting be changed at some time in the future to comply with this definition.
• Most importantly, there is absolutely no enforcement language—no inspections, no citations for having lighting that does not comply with this definition, no fines, no jail sentences, nothing.
• The property owners in this county can continue to do as they please with respect to their outdoor lighting.
• As a practical matter, our Dark Skies organization is now asking for nothing, and in exchange for adding a few simple words to the definition of light pollution we will be able to bring even more low-impact tourism to Custer County with a Dark Sky Reserve.
• The most that will happen if this definition is adopted is that the Planning and Zoning Director may, in response to a specific complaint about bright lights, speak politely to the owner of such lighting and attempt to educate that person about the merits of using shielded LED lighting, but that is as far as it would go. If the property owner declines to take any remedial action then that is the end of it. There will be no further governmental action.
Custer County is a “Right to Ranch and Farm” county. The definition of light pollution now contained in the current Zoning Resolution does not apply to ranching and farming operations, nor, if adopted, would the amended definition. If you read through the entire Zoning Resolution you will find that the term “light pollution” only appears with respect to three specific types of land use: Planned Unit Developments (PUDs), Special Use Permits (SUPs), and Home Occupations. These three types of land use where light pollution is currently regulated represent a very small geographic portion of the entire county. All property not included in a PUD or SUP or used for a home occupation is not regulated at all when it comes to outdoor lighting. Nothing would change if the proposed amendment to the definition of light pollution as set forth above is adopted and made part of the Zoning Resolution.
Dark Skies has already seen the boost our local tourism industry has received as a result of Silver Cliff and Westcliffe earning the IDA certification as a Dark Sky Community. Having the Wet Mountain Valley designated as a Dark Sky Reserve would bring even greater economic gains.
We in Dark Skies have been very disappointed by all the intentional distortions and deliberate misrepresentations about our organization and what we are trying to accomplish for the benefit of the county. Please come to the meeting on February 5th, hear for yourselves what we are really trying to do, and support our request to have the Custer County Zoning Resolution modified as set forth above. There will only be winners, no losers.
Clint Smith
Vice-President, Dark Skies
Custer County resident