Committee of the Islands

Keeping Sanibel Special Since 1975

The Law Behind Sanibel's Starry, Starry Nights

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November 23, 2012

The Law Behind Sanibel’s Starry , Starry Nights By Barbara Joy Cooley , president , Committee of the Islands ( As published in the Island Sun and Island Reporter on November 23 , 2012 ) In June 2004 , the Sanibel ? Captiva Chamber of Commerce’s newsletter cited dark night skies as one of Sanibel’s attractions . “ Celestial splendor , ” the heading boasted . “ Speaking of dark skies , another group of people who regularly are attracted to Sanibel and Captiva are astronomers and amateur stargazers . Two conditions make the islands great places to watch the heavens . First is the distance between any Sanibel and Captiva and the busy mainland . Most of the light pollution that comes from the glow of ‘ city ’ is miles away . Second is Sanibel’s ‘ dark skies ’ rule . All lights must be pointed downward so that they do not leak upward to interfere with views of the night sky . ” The Dark Skies rule that the Chamber was espousing in this newsletter was strongly supported by the Committee of the Islands . It was ordinance 00 ? 10 , which was passed by City Council on June 6 , 2000 . “ There was a huge amount of discussion about this ordinance , ” says Nola Theiss , who was mayor of Sanibel at the time . “ There must have been eighteen drafts of it before it was passed . ” That was truly in Sanibel’s participatory spirit of government which keeps our island special . One of the reasons that the Committee of the Islands supported the ordinance , besides the obvious benefits to the environment and wildlife , was that the ordinance specified a very reasonable 15 ? year phased ? in implementation . Now the end of those fifteen years is approaching . By January 1 , 2015 , all outdoor lighting on Sanibel must comply with the Dark Skies rule . What does this mean ? Most importantly , it means that uplighting is prohibited . All outdoor lighting , including display , sign , building , parking lot , and aesthetic lighting , must use fixtures which shine light downward . The code also prohibits mercury vapor lighting , but encourages high ? pressure sodium lighting for parking lots . Furthermore , the code states that “ Street lighting is , in general , inconsistent with Sanibel''s rural character . No street lights shall be installed or maintained on private streets , roads , and rights ? of ? way . ” For residential areas , the code encourages motion ? detecting security lighting to “ maximize safety , minimize overall illumination , and conserve energy . ” The Dark Skies law applies to all of Sanibel Island . The few exemptions are for items such as emergency lighting needed by the police and fire department , and for the Sanibel Lighthouse , of course . During the past 13 years , as development permits were issued , lighting on the affected properties had to be changed . Also , as existing lights were replaced , they should have been replaced with compliant fixtures . And many environmentally aware property owners voluntarily complied with the new rule since 2000 . But there are still non ? complying lights on Sanibel that will need to be changed over the next two years . Do you notice them when you are out and about in the evening ? More information about the details of the Dark Skies rule can be found in Article XIV , Section 126 ? 996 and 126 ? 997 , of Sanibel’s Land Development Code , which can be found at www.municode.com . To read our past commentaries on island issues , please visit our web site at www.coti.org . We invite your input on this and other issues affecting our islands . You can send us an email at coti @ coti.org , or visit Committee of the Islands on Facebook .

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