Credit to Author: Dan Fumano| Date: Sun, 15 Sep 2019 17:00:50 +0000
Vancouver’s bylaw regulating “untidy premises” has been amended to include private property with nuisance outdoor lighting that interferes with neighbours’ peace and enjoyment of their own homes.
The amendment, which council passed last week, bans any outdoor light fixture that “casts light directly” into a neighbour’s window, or lighting that “unreasonably disturbs the peace, rest, enjoyment, comfort or convenience” of the neighbouring property’s occupants.
In recent years, Vancouver has had a “proliferation” of the newer style of electronic lights that use light-emitting diodes or LEDs. They are fairly inexpensive and easy to install, according to a staff report that came to council in July. In the increasingly dense city, there has been a “significant increase in the amount of decorative outdoor lighting installed on private property,” the report says, which can have a “negative impact on neighbouring properties.”
Denise Johnson has lived in the East Fraser Lands in southeast Vancouver for 22 years, and says nuisance lighting only became an issue for her last year, when a new townhouse development was built across the street from her.
“You would not believe the intensity of these LED lights. They’re incredible,” Johnson said. “It’s definitely affecting my health, my stress level is through the roof. … This is not going away. I can’t live like this.”
Johnson hopes the bylaw amendment will help. But she worries the problem might continue.
“There’s a reason why exposing humans to bright unshielded light is a universally recognized method of torture. Because it’s extremely effective, it damages your mental health and your physical health,” she said. “It’s just causing me so much anxiety, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.”
Johnson has been trying since last year to resolve the situation, speaking to the building’s architect, managers and residents, but the problem persists. Earlier this month, she connected with Green Coun. Adriane Carr and raised her concerns.
“Light pollution is an incredibly important issue to many people,” Carr said. “People are telling me about losing sleep, it’s having impacts on their mental and physical health.”
Often, Carr said, these problems come up in newer buildings with electronic LED lights in neighbourhoods where multi-family buildings are close together. It has become more of a concern as more of the city’s neighbourhoods become more dense.
Future buildings will also be subject to new requirements, as outlined in an amended building bylaw passed in July, which revised exterior lighting requirements to “further reduce nuisance lighting and light pollution.”
The city was not able to immediately provide data on the number of complaints about lighting in recent years, but the staff report notes there were at least 59 reports of lighting complaints to the city’s 311 line between 2015 and 2017, including complaints about houses and condo towers.
The amended bylaw takes effect Nov. 1, shortly before many residents will be putting up their Christmas lights.
But the new rules shouldn’t affect most regular Christmas lights, chief licence inspector Kathryn Holm said. The city’s report illustrates the kinds of “poorly designed light fixtures that produce glare and light trespass,” including unshielded floodlights, wall-mounts or “period-style fixtures.”
If residents aren’t able to address concerns about light complaints directly with their neighbours, Holm said, they can contact the city, whose bylaw officers will first try to resolve the situation without enforcement. In many cases, property owners with nuisance lights will be happy to fix the problem with the installation of shields or dimmers, Holm said, and bylaw enforcement might not be necessary.
People found in contravention of the untidy premises bylaw could be subject to fines ranging from $250 to $10,000 per offence, per day.
“We never try to jump to using our enforcement tools as the way to resolve a matter, we will always try to facilitate a conversation,” Holm said. “But this now gives us a tool to formalize our authority over advancing any enforcement if we find we need to, in a particularly egregious situation. Right now, we have no tools to address it.”