- The Washington Times - Friday, July 12, 2002

STERLING, Va. It could be all dark on the western front if a small group of Loudoun County activists gets its way and forces residents and businesses to shut off their lights as early as 9 p.m. to preserve the night sky.

"This is something we feel very strongly about," said Supervisor Bill Bogard, Sugarland Run independent, who is presenting the proposal at Monday's Loudoun County supervisors meeting.

The proposal, which Mr. Bogard stressed is still in the draft stage, would regulate the hours in which commercial and residential lights above a certain wattage could be on, depending on what region of the county a resident or business is located. Different areas, as determined by their populations, would have different codes. The earliest lights-out policy would begin at 9 p.m. The latest lights could be on would be midnight.

Mr. Bogard was lobbied by local members of Dark Sky International, an Arizona-based group whose motto is "to preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting." The group has clubs throughout the country lobbying lawmakers to restrict outdoor lighting from encroaching on the natural beauty of the environment.

"We try to teach people when, where and how much light they should be using for energy and environmental reasons," said Elizabeth Alvarez, associate director of Dark Sky International. "What's important to remember though, is that people in New York City are going to have different lighting needs than those people in the country."

Mr. Bogard said the main goal of the ordinance would be to make residents feel better about their community, as well as curtail business lights.

"You have to remember we don't have zoning cops, we would only come out if someone complains these are just basic guidance rules that are really geared towards commercial lights more so than residential," Mr. Bogard said.

This is exactly what businesses in the area fear. They say the proposal would damage their economic futures.

"I make between $1,400 and $1,600 a night after 9 p.m., so if I had to turn off my signs it would dramatically hurt my business," said Shakir Mallick, general manager of the Taco Bell/Pizza Hut on Sterling Pike.

Mr. Mallick, who has been at this location for six years, keeps his drive-through open until 2 a.m. Under the proposal, he would be forced to turn off his outside lights off anywhere between 9 p.m. and midnight, depending on how his region would be defined.

None of the regions designated as E1 for the most residential and rural through E4 as the most commercial has been specifically mapped out.

The general manager of the Citgo gas station on Leesburg Pike, just inside the Loudoun County line, was upset about the proposed ordinance.

"I just paid $25,000 to get the sign put in. They are not going to tell me I have to take it down now," the general manager said, identifying himself only as Mohammed. In the last month, the gas station went to 24-hour service. If the station is forced to turn off its lights, business likely would go across the street to a Shell station located in Fairfax County.

Some residents are concerned their property lights would be affected because the proposal would regulate the amount of illumination they could use around their homes whether for security purposes or decoration.

"I've never heard of light pollution or an organization called Dark Sky or whatever it is, but what I have heard of is people coming in and breaking into houses that are not well-lit. Are they going to stand watch outside my front door and make sure no one breaks into my house?" said Rita Stefkovic, who has lived with her family in her Sterling home for 37 years. "They will take my life before they take my lights."

Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio, Sterling Republican, said the proposed law would help the criminals Mrs. Stefkovic is trying to avoid reason enough, he said, to oppose the item.

"With this act, women are not safe and we might as well call it the 'Kidnappers Enhancement Act' or the 'Kidnappers Helper,'" he said.

But Mr. Bogard said if people have a problem with the proposal, they should talk to him.

He stressed that this was just the beginning of a long process. Under the guidelines, residents would be restricted to 5,500 lumens of light per property. Typical incandescent lights placed around homes range from 1,650 lumens to 4,000 lumens each.

Another aspect of the law would prohibit the use of Christmas lights that were not designated as low wattage something Mr. Delgaudio finds particularly offensive.

"We are not Montgomery County, Maryland, where they ban Santa Claus," he said.

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