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Residents express concerns over Granite Shoals Dark Skies Lighting Ordinance

Granite Shoals water tower

The Granite Shoals water tower shines over the city, drawing complaints on a daily basis from residents who say it is too bright. City Councilor Phil Ort suggested the Dark Skies Lighting Ordinance to bring the stars back to town. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

A proposed Dark Skies Lighting Ordinance was tabled at the regular meeting of the Granite Shoals City Council on Tuesday, Aug. 23, after concerned residents asked for more time to review it.

The new city rule would set parameters on lighting in Granite Shoals that would limit light pollution. Councilor Phil Ort spearheaded the development of the ordinance and the council directed City Attorney Joshua Katz to draft it during its Aug. 9 meeting.

“The water tower brought it to my attention,” Ort said. 

A new water tower completed earlier this year has drawn daily calls from residents concerned by the bright lights illuminating it at night.

“I went out to Yellowstone and actually got to experience what dark skies still look like,” Ort said. “Granite Shoals, when we first moved out here seven years ago, you could still see the Milky Way.”

The proposed ordinance is based on guidelines set by the International Dark-Sky Association. Only 37 cities in the world are certified as dark-sky communities by the organization. Among them are six communities in Texas: Horseshoe Bay, Blanco, Fredericksburg, Dripping Springs, Lakewood Village, and the Wimberley Valley.

Guidelines set by the proposed ordinance include installing shields on public and private light sources to prevent light from shooting upward, using warm lighting as opposed to blue and white lights, turning off lights when not in direct use, and using lower Kelvin lighting elements.

The city would have the authority to enforce the ordinance with warnings, fines of $50 a day for violations, and fines of $500 a day for those in violation after notification. 

A grandfather clause is built into the ordinance, allowing five years for previously existing light fixtures to become compliant. Residents will be able to apply for 10-year exemptions if the lighting fixture meets certain requirements.

Several residents voiced concerns about the implications of the ordinance, particularly the idea of “light trespass.” 

The ordinance defines light trespass as “light emitted from fixtures designed or installed in a manner that unreasonably causes light to fall on a property other than the one where the light is installed, in a motor vehicle driver’s eyes, or upwards toward the sky.”

“I have an area at my house, I entertain at night, it has lights on it, what am I going to run into?” asked resident Robert Ruff. “Is this going to become an arbitrary thing that somebody decides to complain about? Now I’m going to have to go back and find code compliance and go through all of this rigmarole?”

Ort pointed out that a light trespass ordinance already exists within the city. The proposed Dark Skies Lighting ordinance just offers solutions and parameters to the problem of light trespass and light pollution.

Another resident, Susan Bushardt, asked for more time to review the ordinance.

“I think the community needs a chance to review this,” she said. “There’s going to be a lot of people who are impacted. A lot of houses already have outside lights. We bought our house, and it already has outside lights.” 

Councilor Eddie McCoy agreed that residents should be given more time to review the ordinance before the council voted on it.

“Most people moved out here to be away from the city,” Ort said. “One of the great things about the country is that you can see the stars at night. It’s just a way of protecting the natural resource that we have.”

The matter was tabled and will be addressed at the next meeting of the Granite Shoals City Council, which is at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, at City Hall, 2221 N. Phillips Ranch Road.