Ivins City Council votes to cease pursuit of International Dark Sky designation

ST. GEORGE — The Ivins City Hall was filled to the brim with residents during the Nov. 7 Ivins City Council meeting.

The council voted to move up the discussion regarding the comprehensive outdoor lighting ordinance as proposed by the Ivins Night Sky Initiative after the large turnout of involved residents.

During a previous discussion, the council asked Ivins Night Sky Initiative director Mike Scott to return with information regarding which proposed changes to the outdoor lighting ordinance would directly impact the city’s probability of earning an International Dark Sky Community designation. There are currently 22 communities with this designation worldwide in countries such as the United States, Canada and Scotland.

The Ivins Night Sky Initiative approached city council members with a 49-page draft of recommendations for updating the city’s outdoor lighting ordinance in January. In August, the council approved one of the drafted proposals that touched on the color temperature of outdoor lights.

Following the August decision, representatives from the initiative gave the city council a more recent draft with over 150 additional footnotes. The recommendations come from a number of already-existing ordinances from more than a dozen other nearby Dark Sky Communities.

The Ivins City Council hears concerns from residents during a scheduled meeting, Ivins, Utah, Oct. 3, 2019 | File photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

Simply changing the ordinances, however, isn’t enough to earn the designation. Even if the changes were to be made, Scott said, there are a number of ongoing requirements.

“Even though our recommendations actually don’t meet IDA’s requirements in a couple of areas, we believe that if we do a better job on these other things that that holds a lot of weight,” he said.

On top of revising city ordinances to proactively reduce light pollution, providing community outreach and scheduling quarterly night sky quality assessments, the city would also have to provide proof of community support, which he admitted might be a problem as he looked out over the audience attending the city council meeting. Although, Scott said, he had already received over 400 support cards to present to the International Dark Sky Association.

Councilman Ron Densley asked Scott how becoming a Dark Sky Community would benefit those who have chosen Ivins as their home. Scott said the designation helps ensure the preservation of the area’s night sky, especially during a time of exponential population growth.

A light pole in the parking lot of Rocky Vista University after the filters and shields were added, Ivins, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Ivins Night Sky Initiative, St. George News

“Whether the city council decides it wants to go for IDA or not, I believe it’s worth looking at these recommendations to say, even if we don’t want to get designated, there are a lot of ideas in here that would be useful to just keep our night sky a high-quality night sky for the long term, taking into account the population increase we’re going to see,” Scott said.

Densley recognized the already existing ordinances, adding that they are already “pretty rigid” in comparison to other cities in the area. Scott asserted that the 12-year-old ordinance is missing a few instances where an outdoor lighting ordinance might come in handy, like outdoor amphitheaters. Scott said that although certain parameters could be added to the permit process, if these parameters are not specifically laid out in the ordinance it could be too late to address them when the time comes.

Mayor Chris Hart addressed the audience, saying that residents on both sides of the issue have passionately voiced their concerns not only to Scott but also to members of the city council. Having understood the concerns regarding safety for children and the environment, Hart recognized that there may be some misunderstandings, which he said Scott has offered to touch on in a less formal meeting.

The city of Ivins has two sections pertaining to outdoor lighting, one existing in the zoning ordinance and the other as an ordinance. Making changes outside of the zoning ordinance does not have to be public, which is why the council has been able to approve small changes to the ordinance without public hearings, city attorney Dale Coulam said.

A light pole in the parking lot of Rocky Vista University after the filters and shields were added compared to the original lighting, Ivins, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Ivins Night Sky Initiative, St. George News

“I think that’s one of the other points of contention, is that this is not and has not been a public process,” he said. “If the council decides to move forward with changes to the lighting ordinance, it would be my recommendation that it would need to be made part of the zoning ordinance.”

As a part of the zoning ordinance, the changes would have to go through the planning commission and city council, both of which would require their own public hearings.

Councilwoman Miriah Elliott said a particular source of contention has been the initiative’s funding. A number of residents, she said, believe the initiative is asking to use city funds to conduct studies and change preexisting lighting, which is not the case. The Ivins Night Sky Initiative has raised all of its money privately and studies — like the one being conducted in the parking lot of Rocky Vista University — have been funded by entities like the university.

Councilman Dennis Mehr wrapped up the conversation before the vote saying that he would like to see these recommendations go through the proper public channels, but he is not in favor of imposing harsh guidelines on private citizens.

After almost an hour of discussion, the council voted to move potential ordinance changes to outdoor lighting to a public setting, beginning with the planning commission, and cease the pursuit of the Dark Sky Community designation. The motion carried with a vote of three to one, with Elliott holding the single dissenting vote.

“We’re still shell-shocked so we don’t know if our initiative is dead or alive,” Scott told St. George News.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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