Limiting lighting to ensure dark skies and seeking an international designation was discussed recently by members of Apache Junction City Council.
“We’re kind of already a dark-sky community, just unofficially. We’ve made some policies over the years that restrict heavy lighting,” Councilmember Robert Schroeder said.
He recalled driving into Fountain Hills and seeing a sign that stated “International Dark Sky Community” and wondering what that was. He learned there are 17 such communities in the U.S., with six of them in Arizona.
An International Dark Sky Community is a town, city, municipality or other legally organized community that has shown dedication to the preservation of the night sky. It includes implementation and enforcement of a quality outdoor lighting ordinance, dark-sky education and citizen support of dark skies, according to darksky.org.
The six Arizona communities are Big Park/Village of Oak Creek, Camp Verde, Cottonwood, Flagstaff, Fountain Hills and Sedona, according to the website.
“Once you become a Dark Sky Community, it’s pretty basic stuff. It would be nice to have a committee formed,” Councilmember Schroeder said at the council’s March 3 meeting.
“The biggest challenges we have are the lighting and they have regulations; they have to be certain lumens, the way the shield is around. I did notice a lot of our traffic lights already have the shields --- the light doesn’t go up, it stays down,” he said.
Much of the City of Apache Junction is not lighted, he said.
“I know when I drive home it’s dark --- regardless of where I’m at. If you’re on Baseline, between Baseline and Tomahawk it’s pitch black. When you look out into the city from the Baseline/Ironwood area, looking east/northeast, it’s really a dark city,” Councilmember Schroeder said.
Apache Junction could attract tourism by being a Dark Sky Community, he said.
“There are people from, you know, Australia that say, ‘Hey, we want to go to the states and sleep under the stars.’ If they were to Google this, our city would come up if we were on this list,” Councilmember Schroeder said.
The City Council made no decision, but agreed the municipality should explore next steps for getting a dark-sky designation, including reaching out to other Arizona cities for information.
Councilmember Gail Evans asked if there was a cost involved for a sign and applying for the designation.
There are no such costs, Councilmember Schroeder said.
“Filling out the application and submitting it there’s no cost. But anything that might have to come to the city for a cost may be if we need to upgrade some lighting,” he said.
“So, any existing lighting that we have that doesn’t meet this criteria would have to be changed?” Councilmember Robin Barker asked about streetlights.
“Potentially, but it does really make a difference where it’s located in the city. If you’re on Main Street, they know you need light for safety,” Councilmember Schroeder said.
Councilmember Christa Rizzi said she was “on board” with exploring being a Dark Sky Community.
The city has a dark sky ordinance and follows it, City Attorney Joel Stern said.
Vice Mayor Chip Wilson asked how close the city comes to the lighting criteria needed for a Dark Sky Community.
“How are we set up right now? How close are we, that we can meet these light requirements? I know we have an ordinance in place right now that does a good job for private individuals, but one of the other problems we have to look at is what is the additional cost?” he asked.
Mr. Wilson also asked about electronic signs that light up or display information.
“How are they meeting these requirements? Because they say one hour after sunset they have to go off. And, then they can come on one hour before sunrise in the morning. So I think we have to look at how it’s going to impact” them, Vice Mayor Wilson said. “I like the idea of actually doing it, but before we jump the gun and start doing everything, I think we need to look at what the total side effects are going to be.”
Richard Dyer Assistant Managing Editor | East Valley @RHDyer
Richard Dyer has worked at Independent Newsmedia Inc. since 1987. Since 2009 he has worked as a volunteer to design The Blue Guitar Magazine, Blue Guitar Jr. magazine and Unstrung magazine, which are projects of The Arizona Consortium for the Arts; and since 2014 has been overseeing the art submissions. He also is an artist of welded-steel sculptures, selling his artwork at juried and non-juried art shows