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Kanab, Utah's Weekly Newspaper, Serving Kane County, Utah & the Arizona Strip

Southern Utah News Front Page: June 21, 2018

Kanab City Council still pondering Dark Sky Ordinance

By Jeff Frey

Mayor Robert Houston began the June 12 Kanab City Council meeting, focusing on the proposed Dark Sky Ordinance, by saying, “I agree with the concept of the night sky ordinance and it is our intent tonight to hear from you citizens regarding the details of the ordinance in a public hearing, before the council decides on it at our next meeting on June 26.

Rich Csenge, the lead on formulating the content of the ordinance, along with Donna Huntsman and other members of the Kanab Beautification Board, who have worked on the project over the past year and a half going through 12 revisions, began the comment period with some background information.

“In America, 80 percent of the population cannot see the Milky Way from their hometowns,” Csenge began. “This is now true in Cedar City with a Night Sky rating of 7 and it is becoming increasingly difficult in Kanab with a rating of 5.  Torrey, Utah, was designated the first International Dark Sky town in Utah recently, and 14 of our state parks have applied for this designation now. It has been shown that people seeking towns with dark skies will spend three times as much money in that town staying overnight rather than just passing through.”

The Kanab Planning and Zoning Commission passed the proposed ordinance at a recent meeting, with the understanding that the waiver period for residential homes to comply with provisions of the ordinance pertaining to changing out lights that are not compliant be eliminated and commercial lighting changes be deferred for up to 10 years.

Dave Mortenson said he recently had visitors from Italy, who had never seen the Milky Way. They saw it here in Kanab, and were blown away by it. “The ordinance is simple and can be easily changed, as needed, in the future,” he said.

Tim Clark, a member of the Beautification Board, stated that the ordinance was originally 12 pages long and has been reduced to four, and believes it represents the strength of Kanab citizens to guide developmental changes in Kanab, rather than outside interests dictating what they want coming here. He said the difference in the outside lighting between the Holiday Inn and Comfort Inn shows what the extremes are. There is no less safety at the Holiday Inn with their compliant lighting. “It gives us protection and can be done now,” he concluded.

Businessman Walt Thirion believes some kind of lighting ordinance is necessary and that when he looked into a sign for his new restaurant at the old Three Bears location, the company told him that the majority of customers were seeking low light signs, both to preserve night skies and for the cost reduction of this type of signage.

Victor Cooper, owner of the Rocking V restaurant, said he is willing to make changes to his outside lighting, and feels that if some restrictions are not put on the types of lighting on commercial buildings now, in the future we will not be able to get the night sky back. “I ask my tourist customers why they are here, not are you here to see the night sky, and they answer saying they come to see the stars and Milky Way. My place is across the street from the Comfort Inn and those lights are bad and this is not an unreasonable ordinance,” said Cooper.

Guide and tour operator Will James declared, “We know what is happening in this town, and we need to preserve the things that give this place value, and the night sky is one of them. We can’t say we want to do something and then not do it, so pass this ordinance.”

David Wayne, a photographer and an admitted astro-tourist, said in the last five years, he has had to go further out of town to photograph the night sky. “Kanab can take pride in preserving its night sky, just as Sedona and Flagstaff have done, but if you wait, it will be gone,” he warned.

Von Del Chamberlain was born and raised in Kanab. He left and returned in 2004, after pursuing a career in astronomy. He said he has seen significant changes in Kanab’s light footprint since returning. “It used to be that the Vermillion Cliffs were dark in contrast to the night sky, and now they glow red with the light from Kanab’s businesses. Think of future generations, not just the present one. Our leadership should hold up our values and oftentimes it doesn’t,” admonished Chamberlain.

Nearly all of those present in the filled chamber encouraged the council to pass the ordinance as it now stands, but a couple of voices were heard in opposition.

Larry Casebolt felt the ordinance was never presented to the public, especially in regard to enforcement of it, but came solely from the Dark Sky Association, a national organization. 

Knowing the track that this ordinance went through, much of it was initially based on information garnered from this association’s materials and later incorporating other dark sky cities information. But through 12 revisions, it was modified to focus on Kanab’s particular situation. The fact that the ordinance now focuses on commercial building lighting, and not residential, is a testament to this.

Scott Colson did not feel we had a problem with lighting now and no new ordinances were needed. “I don’t think the community is interested in this subject with only 400 people responding to the survey earlier, out of 4500 living in Kanab,” he said. “This should be done by individuals voluntarily and not dictated by an ordinance.” 

There is an existing city ordinance addressing light trespass in residential areas and this Dark Sky ordinance focuses on commercial and new residential lighting. The survey was conducted by Matt Brown, who contacted 1800 citizens and received 402 replies, with 73 percent in favor of enacting the ordinance.

A lively and impassioned audience gave something for the city council to ponder over the next two weeks, until their ‘legacy vote,’ to quote Donna Huntsman, on the Dark Sky Ordinance is taken.

As an almost aside to the proceedings, the council voted to award Barco, LLC, the curb, gutter and sidewalk ‘Main Street Safe Route’ project from the tennis courts, just north of the library, to the high school in the amount not to exceed $511,380.40.

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