Manassas Park wants to crack down on light pollution

They’ve cracked down on noise and saved the trees. Now, the Manassas Park City Council might be getting ready to dim the lights.

The city’s code committee is preparing to craft an ordinance that would limit the amount of light shining from local homes and businesses at night. It’s part of an ongoing effort to ease tensions caused by the construction of bright-lighted industrial facilities next to residential areas in the city.

City officials plan to have a draft of the ordinance ready by next month and have been poring over light ordinances in other parts of the state for viable restrictions. The full council could vote on the new ordinance as early as February.

“You don’t need a large industrial area with large lights glaring into people’s houses,” said Councilwoman Vonna I. Privett, who sits on the committee.

If the ordinance passes, Manassas Park will be one of the first municipalities in the region to put restrictions on outdoor light use.

Fairfax County is distributing a draft light ordinance for public comment, and Loudon County is in the process of forming a committee to study light pollution. But Manassas Park is on schedule to have laws on the books much sooner.

At this time, Fauquier County is the only jurisdiction in Northern Virginia to have such laws. A zoning ordinance in the county puts restrictions on the installation of new lights to prevent glare on roadways and in residential areas.

It’s all part of a growing trend in the region to restrict the outdoor light that an increasing number of people believe is a nuisance, says John Nuseaum, a member of the Dark Sky Association and one of the founders of the Virginia Outdoor Lighting Taskforce.

“Everyone needs light for safety,” he said. “Everyone needs it for commerce. It’s just what’s appropriate and decent to neighbors that matters.”

Outdoor light is often wasted, Nuseaum said, adding that at many gas stations, for example, the light emitted is often at the same level as what is found in hospital operating rooms.

“If the light we used was designed by professional lighting engineers, a lot of the light installations we have around wouldn’t be done,” he said.

Complaints about light pollution were enough to drive the state to pass a law regulating the purchase of outdoor light fixtures by state agencies. The Virginia Department of Transportation is putting together rules to replace highway lights that burn out with more eye-friendly fixtures.

As for Privett, she’s just thinking about what needs to be done locally.

“We’re doing what’s best for our residents and what’s best for Manassas Park,” she said.

Staff writer Chris Newmarker can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 119.