Dark skies approved – grandfather clause retained
November 28, 2012
GRAVENHURST - A dark sky bylaw approved by Gravenhurst council doesn’t go far enough, according to a creator of the Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Reserve, despite alterations made to strengthen its wording and being Muskoka’s only such document.
Mike Silver, one of the key leads in establishing the world’s first, permanently designated dark sky reserve about 10 years ago just west of Gravenhurst, said without removing a grandfathering clause and adding stronger language, the bylaw “has no teeth.”
“You need a bylaw in order to control lighting on a go-forward basis,” Silver said to council Nov. 20. “This bylaw you’re looking at grandfathers existing lighting; this bylaw will not actually do anything to improve the night sky in Gravenhurst.”
Silver, who also played a role on the Muskoka Wharf committee when it chose to use dark-sky lighting, said he had hoped the proposed bylaw would better enforce that style of illumination.
“The lighting is the model for Gravenhurst; the reason you didn’t hear Muskoka Bay (association) complaining about the lighting there is because the lighting is good,” said Silver, who added he is being supported in his comments by members of both the Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association and the Muskoka Lakes Association. “The lighting (at the wharf) has saved the Muskoka lakes from what might have been.”
With photos taken from his Torrance-area cottage, about 15 kilometres from Gravenhurst, he said since about 2008 when the RioCan development in the south end of Gravenhurst took shape, the town has lit up his night sky and impacted his view of the stars.
“We need a bylaw to keep the mistake from being repeated,” Silver added. “I think it’s one thing to make a mistake if you then try to avoid to repeat it.
“If you knowingly take steps that repeat the same mistake, that’s dysfunctional,” he added, saying residents, commercial operators and industrial lots need to be forced to change their lighting or the bylaw will have no impact on any existing problem.
Director of development services Scott Lucas explained since the first draft was presented to council in early November, some tweaks took place, including an exemption for special events up to a maximum of four days. The appendices were altered to only include photos and details of acceptable lighting, removing the details of unacceptable lighting. He said there was consideration given to removing the grandfather clause that would allow existing non-compliant lighting to remain until such time it is renovated or upgraded; however, it was not brought into the bylaw.
“Given the current economic climate and questions around whether you can even legally do it (force retro-fitting)… grandfathering existing lighting is probably the more appropriate way to handle this,” Lucas said, adding that in three years’ time there will be a review of the bylaw’s effectiveness. “This bylaw is proactive, and it represents a positive approach to protecting the dark sky in addition to including mechanisms to eventually improve that dark sky environment in a cost-effective, manageable and enforceable way.”
The key to dark sky lighting is that fixtures are covered or shaded on top to prevent light being directed upwards or outwards to neighbouring properties. All new developments will be required to install such lighting, while existing residences, commercial, industrial and town-owned properties or fixtures will have to be made dark-sky friendly upon any modification.
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