Lighting law touches off controversy


NEW SCOTLAND — A bill that would regulate outdoor lighting in town drew sharp criticism from the planning board recently.

Similar to a law in the neighboring town of Bethlehem, the proposed law would, essentially, prohibit residents’ lights from bothering their neighbors.

All that needs to be stated, planning board member Bob Stapf said at the board’s last meeting, is: an artificial light shall not shine directly on a neighbor’s property. “That’s all we need,” he said. “We don’t need four pages.”

Stapf had prepared a list of 26 items that he questioned or disagreed with in the bill and became heated when describing them, particularly a section that addresses holiday lights. The draft law includes “violations of my liberties as a religious individual,” he said.

Elizabeth Stewart, a board member who frequently agrees with Stapf, added of her desire to display holiday lights, “I’ll put them up and all year leave them up.”

The holiday lights are mentioned in a list of exemptions in the bill. Exempt from the law would be, “Temporary holiday lighting fixtures (November 25 to December 31),” it says. The pair objected to the set dates for which the lights are allowed.

In the midst of fierce debate about the future of development in town a few years ago after an out-of-town developer proposed building a Target-anchored shopping center on the old Bender melon farm, the planning board became political. Stapf, a Democrat who had been the long-time chair of the board, supported the Republican ticket, which advocated for a laissez-faire approach to development, in an election that turned on development issues. Stewart backed the same ticket, which lost. Chuck Voss, a planning board member who supported the winning candidates, replaced Stapf as chairman.

The bill was prompted by a resident’s complaint about invasive lighting from his neighbor’s property, said Democratic Supervisor Thomas Dolin.

“Right now, we don’t have a way to address it,” Patricia Snyder, the town board member sponsoring the bill said last week. “It is not the intent just to put another law on the books. We’re trying to find a way that can address this situation and not be burdensome on the rest of the population,” she said.

The bill is being reviewed by the county planning board, as required, and will be available for review before a public hearing in the coming months.

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