Town of Ithaca, NY
Tompkins County
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Table of Contents
Table of Contents
[HISTORY: Adopted by the Town Board of the Town of Ithaca 10-16-2006 by L.L. No. 12-2006. Amendments noted where applicable.]
GENERAL REFERENCES
Sign lighting — See Ch. 221, § 221-8.
Subdivision of land — See Ch. 234.
Zoning — See Ch. 270.
This chapter shall be known as the "Outdoor Lighting Law."
The Town Board of the Town of Ithaca finds the following:
A. 
Good outdoor lighting at night benefits everyone. It increases safety, enhances the Town's nighttime character, and helps provide security.
B. 
New lighting technologies have produced lights that are extremely powerful, and these types of lights may be improperly installed so that they create problems of excessive glare, light trespass, higher energy use, and can negatively impact animals. Excessive glare can be annoying and can cause safety problems. Light trespass reduces everyone's privacy, and sky glow can interfere with observatories. If these problems are addressed, the resulting reduced energy use can benefit everyone through reduced pollution and lower energy costs.
C. 
There is a need for a lighting law that recognizes the benefits of outdoor lighting and provides clear guidelines for its installation and operation so as to help maintain and complement the Town's character.
D. 
Appropriately regulated, and properly installed, outdoor lighting will contribute to the safety and welfare of the residents and visitors of the Town.
The purpose of this chapter is to promote the public safety and welfare by regulating outdoor lighting to reduce the problems created by improperly designed and installed outdoor lighting. This chapter is intended to eliminate problems of glare and minimize light trespass to keep unnecessary direct light from shining onto abutting properties or streets, to help reduce the energy costs of outdoor lighting, and to reduce sky glow.
As used in this chapter, the following terms shall be defined as follows:
DIRECT LIGHT
Light emitted directly from the lamp, off the reflector or reflector diffuser, or through the refractor or diffuser lens, of a luminaire.
DISABILITY GLARE
Glare resulting in reduced visual performance and visibility. It is often accompanied by discomfort.
ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL
The official charged with the duty to enforce the zoning and other laws, ordinances, codes, and regulations relating to buildings and property.
EXISTING NONCONFORMING LUMINAIRES
Luminaires not conforming to the provisions of this chapter that were in place on the effective date of this chapter.
FIXTURE
The assembly that houses the lamp or lamps and can include all or some of the following parts: a housing, a mounting bracket or pole socket, a lamp holder, a ballast, a reflector or mirror, and/or a refractor or lens.
FLOOD- OR SPOTLIGHT
Any light fixture or lamp that incorporates a reflector, a refractor, or a prismatic lens to concentrate the light output into a directed beam in a particular direction.
FULLY SHIELDED LUMINAIRE
A luminaire constructed and installed in such a manner that all light emitted by it, either directly from the lamp or a diffusing element, is projected below a horizontal plane through the luminaire's lowest light-emitting part.
GLARE
Light emitted from a luminaire with an intensity great enough to reduce a viewer's ability to see, and in extreme cases causing momentary blindness.
INDIRECT LIGHT
Direct light that has been reflected or has scattered off other surfaces.
LAMP
The component of a luminaire that produces the actual light (commonly called a "bulb").
LIGHT TRESPASS
The shining of light produced by a luminaire beyond the boundaries of the property on which it is located.
LUMEN
The unit used to measure the actual amount of light which is produced by a lamp. One footcandle is one lumen per square foot. For the purposes of this chapter, the lumen-output values shall be the initial lumen output ratings of a lamp. The lumen output of most lamps is listed on the packaging.
LUMINAIRE
A complete lighting system, including a lamp or lamps and a fixture.
OUTDOOR LIGHTING
The nighttime illumination of an outside area or object by any man-made device located outdoors that produces light by any means.
SKY GLOW
The overhead glow from light emitted sideways and upwards, including light reflected upward from the ground or other surfaces. Sky glow is caused by the reflection and scattering of various forms of light by dust, water, and other particles suspended in the atmosphere.
TEMPORARY OUTDOOR LIGHTING
The specific illumination of an outside area or object by any man-made device located outdoors that produces light by any means for a period of less than seven days, with at least 180 days passing before being used again.
All new and replacement public and private outdoor lighting installed in the Town of Ithaca after the effective date of this chapter shall be in conformance with the requirements of this chapter. Certain lighting in place on the effective date of this chapter shall also be subject to the requirements of this chapter, as specified in § 173-14. Any inconsistent language in the Town of Ithaca Code is superseded by the requirements of this chapter.
A. 
All nonexempt outdoor lighting fixtures shall be fully shielded, except glass tubes filled with neon, argon, or krypton do not require any shielding.
B. 
Notwithstanding the foregoing, any lamp of 1,000 lumens or less does not require any shielding.
A. 
All temporary emergency lighting needed by police or fire departments or other emergency services, as well as all automobile luminaires, shall be exempt from the requirements of this chapter.
B. 
All hazard-warning luminaires required by federal regulatory agencies are exempt from the requirements of this chapter, except that all luminaires used must be as close as possible to the federally required minimum lumen output requirement for the specific task.
C. 
Fossil fuel light. All outdoor light fixtures producing light directly by combustion of fossil fuels (such as kerosene lanterns and gas lamps) or equivalent are exempt from the requirements of this chapter.
D. 
Holiday decorations. Lights used for holiday decorations are exempt from the requirements of this chapter.
E. 
Fountain lights. All lights located within a fountain are exempt from the requirements from this chapter.
A. 
Top-mounted fixtures required. Lighting fixtures used to illuminate an outdoor sign shall be mounted on the top of the sign structure. All such fixtures shall comply with the shielding requirements of § 173-6. Bottom-mounted outdoor sign lighting shall not be used.
B. 
Outdoor signs of the type constructed of translucent materials and wholly illuminated from within do not require shielding. Dark backgrounds with light lettering or symbols are preferred, to minimize detrimental effects.
C. 
Existing nonconforming outdoor signs shall be brought into conformance with the provisions of this chapter within one year from its effective date.
D. 
In addition to the foregoing requirements, all outdoor signs must conform to the requirements in Article XXIX, Signs, of Chapter 270, Zoning, of the Town of Ithaca Code regarding sign illumination.
[Amended 8-7-2017 by L.L. No. 14-2017]
Any light source permitted by this chapter may be used for lighting of outdoor recreational facilities (public or private), such as, but not limited to, football fields, soccer fields, baseball fields, softball fields, tennis courts, or show areas, provided all of the following conditions are met:
A. 
All fixtures used for event lighting shall be fully shielded as defined in § 173-4 of this chapter.
B. 
All events shall be scheduled so as to complete all activity before or as near to 10:30 p.m. as practical, but under no circumstances shall any illumination of the playing field, court, or track be permitted after 11:00 p.m. except to conclude a scheduled event that was in progress before 11:00 p.m.
A. 
Light fixtures mounted under roof overhangs and canopies shall be recessed so that the lens cover is recessed or flush with the bottom surface (soffit) of the canopy and/or shielded by the fixture or the edge of the canopy so that light is restrained to no more than 85º from vertical.
Source: International Dark-Sky Association
B. 
Lights shall not be mounted on the top or sides (fascias) of the canopy, and the sides of the canopy shall not be illuminated.
C. 
Existing nonconforming lighting under or on roof overhangs and canopies shall be brought into conformance with the provisions of this chapter within one year from its effective date.
Spotlights and floodlights shall be aimed 45º or more below the horizontal.
ACCEPTABLE
UNACCEPTABLE
UNACCEPTABLE
A. 
Laser source light. The use of laser source light or any similar high-intensity light for outdoor advertising or entertainment, when projected above the horizontal, is prohibited. The temporary use of laser source lights that project light into the sky may be allowed subject to the restrictions of temporary outdoor lighting contained in § 173-13.
B. 
Searchlights and strobe lights. The operation of searchlights or strobe lights is prohibited.
C. 
Mercury vapor fixtures and lamps. The installation of any mercury vapor fixture or lamp for use as outdoor lighting is prohibited.
Nonconforming temporary outdoor lighting may be permitted by the Enforcement Official after considering: (1) the public and/or private benefits that will result from the temporary lighting; (2) any annoyance or safety problems that may result from the use of the temporary lighting; and (3) the duration of the temporary nonconforming lighting. The applicant shall submit a detailed description of the proposed temporary nonconforming lighting to the Enforcement Official, who shall consider the request. The Enforcement Official shall render the decision on the temporary lighting request within two weeks.
All luminaires lawfully in place on the effective date of this chapter that do not meet the requirements of this chapter are exempt from this chapter, except that:
A. 
Any luminaire that replaces an existing nonconforming luminaire, or any existing nonconforming luminaire that is moved, must meet the requirements of this chapter;
B. 
Any existing nonconforming luminaire that creates glare or light trespass shall be either shielded or redirected within 30 days of notification to the owner or occupant by the Town, so that the direct light is contained on the property;
C. 
Existing nonconforming luminaires that direct light toward streets or parking lots and cause disability glare to motorists, pedestrians, or cyclists shall be either shielded or redirected within 30 days of notification to the owner or occupant by the Town, so that the luminaires do not cause a potential hazard to motorists, pedestrians, or cyclists;
D. 
Existing nonconforming signs are exempt only for a period of one year, as specified in § 173-8C;
E. 
Existing nonconforming lighting under or on roof overhangs and canopies is exempt only for a period of one year, as specified in § 173-10C; and
F. 
Section 173-9B regarding hours of operation shall apply.
A. 
Submission contents. The applicant for any permit or approval required by any provision of the Town of Ithaca Code in connection with proposed work involving outdoor lighting fixtures shall submit (as part of the application for permit or approval) evidence that the proposed work will comply with the requirements of this chapter. The submission shall contain but shall not necessarily be limited to the following:
(1) 
Plans indicating the location on the premises, and the type of illuminating devices, fixtures, lamps, supports, reflectors, and other devices;
(2) 
Description of the illuminating devices, fixtures, lamps, supports, reflectors and other devices, and their lumen output. The description may include, but is not limited to, catalog cuts by manufacturers and drawings (including sections where required);
(3) 
Photometric data, such as that furnished by manufacturers, or similar data showing the angle of cut off or light emissions, and the lumen output.
B. 
Additional submission. The above-required plans, descriptions and data shall be sufficiently complete to enable the plans examiner or board to readily determine whether compliance with the requirements of this chapter will be secured. If such plans, descriptions and data cannot enable this determination, by reason of the nature or configuration of the devices, fixtures, or lamps proposed, the applicant shall submit additional evidence of compliance to enable such determination, such as certified test reports by a recognized testing laboratory.
C. 
Subdivision plat certification. If any subdivision proposes to have installed street or other common or public area outdoor lighting, the final plat shall contain a statement certifying that the applicable provisions of this chapter will be adhered to.
D. 
Lamp or fixture substitution or addition. Should any outdoor light fixture, or the type of light source therein, be changed or added after the permit or approval has been issued, a change request must be submitted to the Enforcement Official for approval, together with adequate information to assure compliance with this chapter. Approval must be received prior to substitution or addition.
A. 
The Town of Ithaca application forms for site plan approval, subdivision approval, special approval, and building permits shall include a statement asking whether the planned project will include any outdoor lighting.
B. 
Within 30 days of the effective date of this chapter, the Town Clerk shall send a copy of the Outdoor Lighting Law with a cover letter to all local electricians, local electric utility, local architectural firms, and local engineering firms (including at least those in the Towns of Ithaca, Danby, Dryden, Enfield, Lansing, Newfield, and Ulysses, and the City of Ithaca as listed in the Yellow Pages).
A. 
In the event of a breach of any of the provisions of this chapter, the Enforcement Official shall notify the owner of the premises, in writing, to remove, repair, or bring the luminaire into conformance within 30 days of the date of such notice.
B. 
Upon failure to comply with any notice within the prescribed time, the Enforcement Official may remove or cause removal, repair, or conformance of the luminaire, and shall assess all costs and expenses incurred against the owner of the premises on which the luminaire is located.
C. 
All costs and expenses incurred by the Town of Ithaca in causing the removal, repair or conformance of any luminaire, as specified in this section, shall be collected from the owner of the premises on which such luminaire is located. Payment shall be made in not more than five days after the receipt of a written demand, or in not more than 30 days after the final decision on any judicial contest the owner may pursue. If the owner fails to make a timely payment, then such unpaid costs, expenses and interest at the per-annum rate of 9% incurred from the date of removal, repair or Town action to bring the luminaire into conformance shall constitute a lien upon the premises on which the luminaire is located. A legal action or proceeding may be brought to collect such costs, expenses, interest, and recoverable attorney's fees, or to foreclose such lien. As an alternative to the maintenance of any such action, the Town may file a certificate with the Tompkins County Department of Assessment stating the costs and expenses incurred and interest accruing as aforesaid, together with a statement identifying the property and owner. The Tompkins County Department of Assessment shall, in the preparation of the next assessment roll, assess such unpaid costs, expenses and interest upon such property. Such amount shall be included as a special ad valorem levy (administered as a move tax) against such property, shall constitute a lien, and shall be collected and enforced in the same manner, by the same proceedings, at the same time, and under the same penalties as are provided by law for collection and enforcement of real property taxes in the Town of Ithaca. The assessment of such costs, expenses and interest shall be effective even if the property would otherwise be exempt from real estate taxation.
D. 
Any person, firm, corporation, or entity, whether as owner, lessee, agent, or employee, who violates any of the provisions of this chapter, or who fails to comply with any order or regulation made thereunder, or who installs, moves, or alters any light in violation of any detailed statement or plans submitted by him and approved under the provisions of this chapter or other Town of Ithaca Code provisions, shall be guilty of a violation as the same is defined in the Penal Law and shall be fined not more than $100 for each violation. Each day that such violation is permitted to exist shall constitute a separate violation. Any police officer or peace officer or any person who may be lawfully designated by the Town Board shall have the authority to issue appearance tickets in connection with such violations.
E. 
In addition, any person, firm, corporation, or entity, whether as owner, lessee, agent, or employee, who violates any of the provisions of this chapter, or who fails to comply with any order or regulation made thereunder, or who installs, moves, or alters any light in violation of any detailed statement or plans submitted by him and approved under the provisions of this chapter or other Town of Ithaca Code provisions, shall be liable for a civil penalty of $100 for a first violation and $200 for a second or subsequent violation that was committed within a period of five years from the commission of the prior violation. Each day that such violation is permitted to exist shall constitute a separate violation. The Attorney for the Town or his or her designee may commence an action or special proceeding against the violator in a court of competent jurisdiction to collect these penalties, together with costs, disbursements and recoverable attorneys' fees, and/or to compel compliance or restrain by injunction any such violation.
A. 
The Zoning Board of Appeals, established pursuant to Chapter 270, Zoning, of the Town of Ithaca Code, shall hear and decide the following matters:
(1) 
Questions of alleged error in any order or determination of the Enforcement Official involving the interpretation of the provisions of this chapter; and
(2) 
Requests for variances from the provisions of this chapter.
B. 
The Zoning Board of Appeals may grant variances from the application of this chapter upon the following conditions:
(1) 
Any variance shall be prospective in its application and shall not relieve any person from the penalties and fines for violating this chapter by conditions that existed prior to the granting of the variance.
(2) 
An application for a variance shall be submitted to the Town in a form substantially indicating the name and owner of the real property, the nature of the condition for which a variance is sought, and the reasons for which a variance is sought.
(3) 
The applicant shall pay the Town the same fee as that set from time to time by Town Board resolution for appeals to the Zoning Board of Appeals for variances.
[Amended 12-7-2009 by L.L. No. 20-2009[1]]
[1]
Editor’s Note: This local law also provided for an effective date of 1-1-2010.
(4) 
Where the applicant is also seeking site plan review, the variance application shall be referred to the Planning Board, established pursuant to Chapter 270, Zoning, of the Town of Ithaca Code, for its review and recommendation to the Zoning Board of Appeals.
(5) 
The Zoning Board of Appeals shall hold a public hearing on the application and shall publish notice of said public hearing at least five days prior to its date. At the option of the Zoning Board of Appeals, notice of said application shall also be given to all landowners owning property adjoining the property for which a variance is sought. At the option of the Zoning Board of Appeals, a notice that a variance is sought shall also be posted on the property in accordance with the posting provisions of Chapter 270, Zoning, of the Town of Ithaca Code.
(6) 
The Zoning Board of Appeals may grant a variance if it determines that the purposes of this chapter will be met if the variance is granted, and that the benefit to the applicant if the variance is granted outweighs the detriment to the health, safety and welfare of the neighborhood or community by such grant. In making such determination the Board shall consider, among other matters:
(a) 
Whether an undesirable change will be produced in the character of the neighborhood or a detriment to nearby properties will be created by the granting of the variance;
(b) 
Whether the benefit sought by the applicant can be achieved by some method, feasible for the applicant to pursue, other than a variance;
(c) 
Whether the requested variance is substantial;
(d) 
Whether the proposed variance will have an adverse effect or impact on the physical or environmental conditions in the neighborhood or district; and
(e) 
Whether the alleged difficulty was self-created, which consideration shall be relevant to the decision of the Board of Appeals but shall not necessarily preclude the granting of the variance.
(7) 
The Zoning Board of Appeals, if it chooses to grant the variance, shall grant the minimum variance that it shall deem necessary and adequate and at the same time preserve and protect the character of the neighborhood and the health, safety, and welfare of the community.
(8) 
The Zoning Board of Appeals shall, in the granting of such variance, have the authority to impose such reasonable conditions and restrictions as are directly related to and incidental to the proposed use of the property and/or the period of time such variance shall be in effect. Such conditions shall be consistent with the spirit and intent of this chapter, and shall be imposed for the purpose of minimizing any adverse impact such variance may have on the neighborhood or community.
C. 
The variances and the procedure for obtaining same shall, except where explicitly otherwise required by this chapter, be in accordance with the provisions of the Town Law, particularly § 267 et seq., and the provisions of the Town of Ithaca Code, Chapter 270, Zoning, relating to the consideration of area variances.
D. 
Any person aggrieved by a decision of the Zoning Board of Appeals may have the decision reviewed by the Supreme Court of the State of New York in the manner provided by law.
Where any provision of federal, state, county, or Town statutes, codes, or laws conflicts with any provision of this chapter, the most restrictive provision shall govern except where preempted by state or federal law.