After nine public hearings and more than two and a half years of deliberation, the Southampton Town Board this week approved legislation to impose tougher “dark skies” restrictions on outdoor lighting on private properties.
With a 4-1 vote on Tuesday, the board amended the town code to include a chapter for outdoor lighting regulations. The new chapter is intended to preserve the town’s rural character while advancing progressive environmental policies, said Councilwoman Nancy Graboski, the legislation’s sponsor.
After the board’s vote, Joy Flynn of Quogue, a member of the Dark Skies Association, gave Ms. Graboski a small red poinsettia in commemoration of the legislation’s passage.
“At the end of the day, what I think we have going forward is comprehensive and clear standards for residential and commercial lights,” Ms. Graboski said. “Going forward, this law will hold Southampton in good stead.”
The legislation lists numerous types of lighting fixtures that are considered conducive to dark skies, meaning the fixture has a shielded bulb that does not promote glare. The law prohibits the use of neon, strobe and laser lights unless legally permitted. Holiday lighting is exempt from restrictions but can only be used in connection with a holiday, the law states.
Bothersome lighting on a property, or “nuisance lighting,” can be addressed two ways, according to the legislation. A neighbor can file a complaint with town code enforcement, or a motorist can file a complaint with town public safety if glare is entering a roadway.
Homeowners with multiple dark skies violations would face misdemeanor charges and fines of up to $1,000, according to the legislation. Business owners would face misdemeanor charges and fines of up to $3,000.
Councilman Christopher Nuzzi, who cast the sole opposing vote, voiced concerns about height restrictions in the law. Residential lighting fixtures cannot exceed 12 feet, and cannot be above 14 feet for commercial properties, according to the legislation.
“You’ve got many homes in this community that have floodlights somewhere that are at a height above 12 feet,” Mr. Nuzzi said, noting it is often costly to rewire and relocate light fixtures.
Rather than create a lighting law, Mr. Nuzzi said he favored addressing the lighting issue through the town’s planning process by, for example, requiring a developer seeking a town building permit to install energy efficient lighting.
“I think it’s overregulation,” Mr. Nuzzi said. “I think evolving technology, and a set of [planning] guidelines would get us to the same place.”
An initiative requiring elected and appointed officials to contribute to their health insurance coverage was rejected by the Town Board on Tuesday.
In a 3-2 vote, the board decided against setting a public hearing to reconsider the town’s policy on employee health benefits. The initiative would have required elected and appointed officials to contribute up to 15 percent of the cost of their health insurance coverage.
The initiative, sponsored by Supervisor Linda Kabot, was amended from an earlier proposal in the 2010 budget to have Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board members contribute 50 percent to their health coverage. That proposal was also rejected by the majority of the board on November 20.
Following Tuesday’s vote, Ms. Kabot blasted board members Anna Throne-Holst, who will take over as supervisor in January, and Sally Pope and Mr. Nuzzi for their apparent refusal to address the gradual rise in town spending on employee health benefits. Health insurance premiums increase at an average rate of 5 percent each year, she said.
“I think it’s unfortunate,” the supervisor said of the vote. “They claim there will be a policy update next year—I don’t believe it. It’s a sacred cow and they don’t want to touch it.”
Mr. Nuzzi said the issue was being “rushed” and that the incoming Town Board should take up the matter once new terms begin on January 1. He dismissed Ms. Kabot’s comment that the board was unwilling to touch the issue, and said he expects the board will make changes to the town’s health benefits policy in 2010.
“I don’t believe that to be the case. That certainly is not the case for me,” Mr. Nuzzi said. “There will be changes to how elected and appointed officials receive health benefits.”
A plan to fix past Payments in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOTs, to the Riverhead School District and Flanders Fire District was put on hold by the board on Tuesday.
Dubbed “Plan B,” it would have fixed the more than $2 million in payments that mistakenly went to Riverhead and Flanders in 2007. Under Plan B, repayments would have been made over a 10-year period to other special taxing districts in Southampton Town that missed out on the funds in 2007.