The dark of night

When Barbara Rainey moved to the Galena area 22 years ago from the foggy California coast, she reveled in the clear views of the starry sky.

But as development moves south and more lights glow from businesses and parking lots, Rainey can't help but wonder how much longer those glorious views will last, and she is not alone.

Saving the dark sky from light pollution is a growing concern in Reno and the Tahoe Basin, and is becoming a greater consideration in planning.

The city of Reno recently included tighter lighting standards to preserve dark skies in a lighting ordinance for the Redfield Regional Center, a wide swath of land near Mount Rose Highway and U.S.


And it will consider similar standards for other suburban areas, such as the Damonte Ranch area, says Reno associate planner Jessica Jones.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is also looking hard at the issue.

Preserving the dark sky was a big concern expressed by residents at recent public meetings for Pathway 2007, the effort to update the Tahoe Basin's 20-year plan.

"It was among the top six to seven issues, right along with water clarity," says Julie Regan, the agency's communications director.

"It was a bigger issue than we anticipated, particularly for those people who visit the basin or have second homes here."

The ability to see the stars is a big draw, and residents and visitors don't want to lose it.

Rainey sees dark skies as a quality-of-life issue.

"It makes you feel good when it's there and uneasy when it's gone," she says."We're filling up the ground.We don't need to fill up the sky."

Rainey became increasingly concerned about light pollution in the last several years of the Reno area's rapid growth.

"Twenty years ago, I was 12 miles from the city.

Now I'm across the street," she says.

Co-chair of the northern Nevada chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association, she led the effort to urge the city of Reno to adopt dark-sky lighting standards for the Redfield area, one of eight regional centers included in the Truckee Meadows Regional Plan.

Among the major developments proposed there is a casino resort.

Stations Casinos Inc., headquartered in Las Vegas, wants to build a regional entertainment center on 88 acres at U.S.

395 and Mount Rose Highway.

But aren't casinos synonymous with flashy lights?

"That's not our style," says Stations Casinos spokeswoman Lori Nelson, adding that the company participated in discussions with the city and favored the dark-skies controls."

Most of our entertainment centers reside in local neighborhoods.We're very sensitive in designing projects that complement an area." Rainey says development is inevitable, but light pollution is not.

Bad lighting not only produces glare and sky glow but wastes energy, she says.

Good lighting, on the other hand, provides safety and security and enhances architectural features.Many new commercial projects incorporate good lighting, such as St.

Mary's at Galena, Rainey says.

Dark-sky standards require that fixtures be shielded so light points downward.

Flatlens shoebox-style fixtures, for instance, produce light without glare or up-lighting.

(Think of a shoebox with a light inside and turned upside down.)

Unshielded flood lights and lenses that drop below the fixture head are bad choices, according to the International Dark-Sky Association, because they spread light upward and outward.

Dark-sky considerations aren't new to Northern Nevada.Washoe County incorporated dark-sky lighting controls in its development code 13 years ago, says county planner Roger Pelham.All lighting must be shielded and cannot spill over into neighbors' yards.

Lights within 100 feet of a residential zone can be no more than 12 feet tall.

Even ball field stadium lights must comply with the dark-sky provisions.

Pelham says dark-sky standards fit the county's primarily suburban and rural areas, where less lighting is expected.

Meanwhile, lighting controls are in place in the Tahoe Basin.

But as it updates the 20- year regional plan, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency will look at whether it needs to go beyond the current standards in its permitting process.

But don't expect all of Reno and Sparks to go dim anytime soon.

Sparks does not a have a dark-skies lighting ordinance, and Reno will consider dark-skies provisions only where they fit, such as suburban areas.

Says Jones: "Obviously they would not fit downtown."


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