Homeowner’s Forum: Dark skies and fiesta lights
By Terry Retter
There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the use of fiesta lights or string lights in back yards. These discussions have been supported by an increasing volume of social media posts in NextDoor Somersett and on Facebook.
Some people have suggested to me that a large majority of the Somersett community support the use of these lights and a few have even suggested modifying the Somersett PUD so these lights can be used without any limitations.
Somersett is defined by our governing documents as a “dark sky” community. To modify these governing documents is a time consuming and somewhat expensive undertaking and one that should be started only when there are some very compelling reasons to do so.
The premise of dark-sky communities is relatively simple. Towns, homeowners, and developers should “use the right amount of light, in the right place, at the right time.” This doesn’t mean towns shrouded in darkness. Instead, communities enforce quality outdoor-lighting ordinances, educate their populace on how to promote dark skies, and encourage thoughtful placement of lighting. It’s all about reducing the ever-expanding glow.
One of the first questions asked by dark sky proponents is, “Have you seen the Milky Way?” Surprisingly, the answer by a large majority of people is “no.” In my opinion, this is a shame. We moved from the San Francisco area where city lights are prevalent and bright. We moved to Somersett partly because it was a new community without a lot of lights and you could see the night sky. There are a large number of skiers in Somersett who know what the Alpine night looks like and that night reveals the enormous number of stars and, of course, the Milky Way.
Somersett is not the only community with a dark sky policy. Summit Sky Ranch in Colorado is setting the standard for new developments. This is a 416-acre family home development. While not as big as Somersett, it has many of the same community aspirations.
So, what does this have to do with the installation of fiesta lights? The easy answer is they are not compliant with the documented lighting regulations that lights must be shielded with no upward illumination. But beyond the regulations, these lights have an impact on the overall illumination of our night sky and a number of these across adjoining yards have a cumulative impact on the night sky.
One of the great attractions of Somersett was the approximation of being an Alpine environment without having to be at high elevations. We can see the night sky with all the stars and such but not have to endure the many feet of snow which goes with the Alpine experience. The increasing number of homes with excessive lighting is diminishing this experience. The growth of the use of fiesta light strings further impacts this.
So I, along with some others who have expressed concerns, am not in favor of approving a variance for the implementation of fiesta lights and do think that more consistent controls should be employed throughout the community. This certainly needs more discussion and deliberation.