Buncombe County Commissioners consider rules that could curb light pollution

Light pollution is something many of us don’t think much about, but for stargazers, migrating birds and folks passionate about energy conservation, dark skies are a resource worth protecting.

And if you’ve been disturbed by someone else’s light shining where it’s supposed to be dark — a neighbor whose dawn-to-dusk flood light is aimed at your bedroom window, for instance—you now have a chance to influence the process by which such lights are regulated in Buncombe County.

Buncombe County’s Board of Commissioners will review and improve new outdoor-lighting standards this year, particularly commercial and industrial lighting, and some local activists see it as an opportunity to strengthen light-pollution controls.

“It’s a very good ordinance, but there are several things that would improve it,” says Bernie Arghiere, president of the Astronomy Club of Asheville.

In its current form, the ordinance calls for “fully shielded down lighting” to limit the impact of big-box store parking lots (among others) on neighboring properties, particularly nearby residences. But under Arghiere’s guidance, the WENOCA Sierra Club will ask the county to: regulate lighting on all new developments except single-family residential buildings; restrict all new dusk-to-dawn security lights (including those on single-family homes); and include a five-year sunset provision for all nonconforming dusk-to-dawn security lights.

Buncombe Commissioners will consider the outdoor-lighting ordinance during their Jan. 17 meeting. The local chapter of the Sierra Club has encouraged its members to call or email commissioners to indicate support for darker skies over Buncombe. Meanwhile, the Council of Independent Business Owners has encouraged its members to contact commissioners to oppose what it sees as unreasonable infringement on the rights of local business owners to conduct business.

As a serious amateur astronomer, Arghiere has carefully studied the kinds of lights that can enable businesses, residents and other users of outdoor lighting to achieve their goals, while casting minimal light where it’s not wanted or needed, saving money in the process.

“We can’t stop growth,” notes Arghiere. “You’re always gonna have more light with more development.” But if commissioners include the requested provisions, he maintains, “at least it wouldn’t be the glaring, intrusive, invasive light you have when you don’t use a shield.”

Below, Arghiere provides some approaches to outdoor light that is bound to intrude — and others that are much more benign. He hopes the Commissioners will move to restrict the most intrusive types of lighting — the “light bombs,” as he calls them, which alter the dark sky environment as captured by the International Space Station in a recent pass over the East coast:

The goal, says Arghiere, is to avoid lights that cast their glow in all directions, like those below, rather than just lighting the desired subject:

In contrast, here are some examples of lights that focus their lighting power without all the scatter and glare:

Arghiere hopes the Commissioners will consider some “good” and “bad” lighting examples for particular applications, such as dusk-to-dawn yard lights:

Here’s an example of “good” and “bad” lighting from two local gas stations. The goal, says Arghiere, is to keep lights oriented on their subjects, and not spilling over onto other areas:

For more detail on the proposed outdoor lighting ordinances, point your web browser here: http://www.astroasheville.org/lighting-ordinances.html


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3 thoughts on “Buncombe County Commissioners consider rules that could curb light pollution

  1. Ascend (of Asheville)

    I hope everyone will contact the Commission and reassure them they are doing the right thing by approving these ordinances.
    I would also urge the Commission to accept and include any and all of the recommendations made by Mr. Arghiere on the matter.

  2. Jeff

    I so appreciate the night sky. Any one source of overabundance of light can kill it. Please dim your lights.

    Unless it looks cool.

  3. R A Black

    I hope this move by the 5 current county commissioners costs them their jobs. Send a message this November.

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