Burlington Town Meeting decided not to take an up or down vote on a proposed nuisance lighting bylaw and instead postponed the measure to the 2013 Junuary Town Meeting during the September session last Monday night.
Town Administrator John Petrin said the warrant was written to give the town a basis for handling disputes between neighbors. It was written as a general bylaw rather than a zoning bylaw, Petrin explained, because zoning bylaws can't apply to projects or structures already completed. The town administrator explained that this bylaw was intended to be used to settle an ongoing dispute between two neighbors in town.
The text of the article was as follows:
To see if the Town will vote to amend the General Bylaws of the Town of Burlington by inserting into Article 8, Public Safety, Section 1.36 Nuisance to Health and Safety, a new Section (section 1.36.7 through section 22.214.171.124) to read as follows:
Section 1.36.7 Exterior lighting shall not shine onto adjoining property. Specifically, exterior lighting shall not be aimed, pointed and/or directed with the intent to create a lighting nuisance to adjoining property owners.
Section 126.96.36.199 All exterior floodlights, spotlights or similar type lighting shall be aimed, pointed and/or directed at least 45 degrees below horizontal and can not be located in such a manner as to cause beams of light to be aimed, pointed and/or directed onto adjoining property.
Section 188.8.131.52 All exterior floodlights, spotlights or similar type lights used to illuminate building facades shall not be aimed, pointed and/or directed beyond the vertical plane of the building façade.
Some Town Meeting members questioned the language of the bylaw, specifically if the restrictions on lighting were too vague. One asked if street lights, which can shine into people's windowns, would be in violation of the law. Another asked if Christmas lights would be a violation if they shined light on a neighbor's property.
Petrin said that those scenarios were not the intent of the bylaw and that the town would have discretion in enforceing the law and could choose to take up only those complaints that are clearly a nuisance lighting situation, such as one neighbor setting up a floodlight that shined into a neighbor's bedroom or living area.
Building Inspector John Clancy said the bylaw was intended to help remediate problems.
"This is not an attempt to address lighting levels," he said. "This is simply and attempt to prevent a neighbor from shing a light right into your window."
"This is a last resort," Petrin added. "Until it gets to the point where it is really annoying someone we aren't going to take any action."
The law was cleared by town counsel, though a representative of the firm said the state attorney general would have the last word on whether the language woud pass muster.
Under the law, Clancy said, the town could levy a $100 fine for non-compliance with the law. If the homeowner were to ignore the order to fix the lighting nuisance the situation could end up in court.
However, there was opposition to the bylaw by Town Meetings members, mostly focused on what opponents thought was non-specific language.
Precinct 3 member Paul Valleli, who has been working on a lighting bylaw for a while now that is set to be on the January 2013 Town Meeting warrant, said he thought this bylaw was insufficient in its specificity.
"If this passes we will have thousands of home owners who are going to be in violation," he said. "This law is a single page long and I have a 11 pages for the January Town Meeting."
Valleli said his bylaw has much more specifics, including lighting levels and rules for how lights can be angled in relation to other properties.
In the end Town Meeting decided to postpone a vote on the bylaw and consider it in January.