Learn about proposed Outdoor Lighting bylaw changes – Wednesday

The Southborough Planning Board is seeking to reduce light pollution in Town.

The board is bringing an Article to Town Meeting in March. If passed, it would change the Outdoor Lighting bylaws.

This Wednesday evening the public is invited to the first of three planned “Public Engagement” events on the topic. A flyer pitches

Be informed!

Come learn about the proposed changes to the zoning bylaw regulating lighting. Studies have shown light pollution produces harmful effects for both humans and wildlife. This zoning bylaw update seeks to minimize light pollution.

Planning member Marnie Hoolihan asked me to inform readers about this week’s forum. She wrote of the initiative:

This thoughtful revision is being proposed in an effort to reduce the harmful effects of light pollution. A rise in the use of LED lighting has made a significantly increased light pollution on a national scale. Many states across the country, including several in New England have adopted legislation to reduce light pollution. A proposed bill in Massachusetts is currently making its way through the legislature. Additionally, several towns across the Commonwealth have either adopted or proposed bylaw amendments to address this issue. Increased light pollution at night leads to disrupted sleep patterns for humans. Over 40% of animals are nocturnal, increased night lighting changes the behavior patterns of these creatures.

The lighting bylaw working group is making a concerted effort to educate the public about light pollution and the proposed warrant article for the Annual Town Meeting

Planning already combed through details and made revisions via public hearings this winter. The intent of the “engagement” forums is to inform voters for the upcoming Town Meeting vote. 

Feedback gathered at forums will also help organizers prepare a better presentation for Town Meeting. The hope is to address foreseeable concerns up front – reducing questions/objections from the floor. Planning is also open to revising the article if forums reveal the need.*

Forums are scheduled for:

  • Wednesday, February 26,  6:00 to 7:00 pm at the Southborough Senior Center
  • Wednesday, March 11, 2020 10:00 AM to 12:00 pm at the Southborough Library
  • Thursday, March 26,  6:00 to 7:00 pm at the Southborough Senior Center

On the Town’s website, Planning posted more details about the goal and important links: 

As early as the 1970s Astronomers noted the effects of light pollution. They recognized it had become challenging to view the stars with the same clarity, even with their most powerful instruments. Only a few hundred stars can be seen from a typical American suburb, in most cities it is only a few dozen, while at least 2,500 stars should be visible under normal nighttime conditions. However, the negative effects of light pollution go far beyond limited visibility.

Research on insects, turtles, birds, fish, reptiles and other wild-life species shows that light pollution can alter behaviors, foraging areas, and breeding cycles, and not just in urban centers but in rural areas as well. Light pollution disturbs human circadian rhythm leading to sleep disorders. The body produces melatonin levels drop dramatically in the presence of artificial or natural light. Numerous studies suggest that decreasing nocturnal melatonin production levels increases an individual’s risk for developing cancer. In 2016 the American Medical Association issued guidance on the reduction of light pollution to support human health.

Amidst growing research proving the harmful effects of light pollution many states and individual municipalities have adopted new laws and regulations to decrease light pollution. The Southborough Planning Board is committed to increasing public safety and protecting wild-life by decreasing light pollution though amendments to the town’s lighting bylaw 174-12.1 Outdoor Illumination.

The Planning Board has been discussing potential lighting bylaw updates since April 2019. The board decided to pursue bylaw revision creating the Lighting Bylaw Working Group to vet current best practices and develop draft revisions. In January 2020 a public hearing was formally opened for the proposed Warrant Article. In an effort to increase awareness and answer any question the Lighting Bylaw Working group is hosting public engagement sessions between now and the Annual Town Meeting.

Click here to see the Article as submitted for the Warrant. For other information and links, click here. If you have questions, you can email shoecker@southboroughma.com.

*The board opted to keep the hearing open for now. That was to allow making future changes if necessary. (The final Article has been submitted for the Warrant. But the board could prepare an amendment to propose on Town Meeting floor and handouts to explain it.)

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4 years ago

Guys this is a little tongue-in-cheek. Are your green ideas such as LED lighting and causing light pollution? I think everybody should just go home and mind their own business. Isn’t that what everybody wants? Freedom to choose what you want to do. As a sidenote I was looking at some lithium mines the other day and the materials that run all your electric cars and batteries the pollution and the destruction that lithium mines are causing around the world is far worse than any coal mining or oil or fracking. Just saying… not looking to rail anybody up or point fingers are crossed trouble, but just think about what people are telling you before you support their ideas.

4 years ago
Reply to  Mike

Mike, I am not sure what your point exactly is. This bylaw has nothing to do with lithium batteries, and your conclusion that those mines are worse than coal mining, oil extraction or fracking are conjecture and lack scientific proof and hard, objective evidence. I am not saying that lithium mines are wonderful and safe, but that extracting any resource has its downsides, and we have plenty of evidence of the damage many of them have caused.

Back to the matter at hand, light pollution is an issue for wildlife and humans alike, so what’s the harm in trying to limit it where we can, and helping the town and its people to possibly be able to enjoy the splendor and wonder of the night sky a little better?

Kelly Roney
4 years ago
Reply to  Will

Amen, Will. Dark skies are delightful. I love to look up on a moonless night and be able to make out the Milky Way. It’s getting harder and harder.

4 years ago
Reply to  Will

Appreciative of those who are working to improve lives of residents and wildlife (which improves all our lives as well). Something I was never aware of but am happy to be educated on.

Joe Landry (Southborough resident)
4 years ago

Due to a recent Southborough neighborhood’s conflict after a resident installed—with the help of National Grid—grossly invasive lighting that appeared to fail to comply with every condition Southborough’s existing Public Lighting Code, I wanted to suggest the following:

First, the resident in this particular case was new to the Town and was probably not aware that Southborough even had a Lighting Code. And, when informed of the violation, National Grid was very helpful, and took the lighting down almost immediately. But bitterness among neighbors remains, some having lost sleep from bright light invading the interior of their home for about a week. We now have our night sky back; but this unnecessary conflict among neighbors should not happen in other neighborhoods.

Could residents be required to present plans to the Town for approval, at least before expensive, unshielded, street-light power residential lights are installed? And could National Grid be required to be aware of, and fully comply with, our Town’s Lighting Code when installing public lighting?

Thanks, Joe Landry

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