Just when you thought things couldn’t get any kookier there — they DO. (I swear I think the kooky libs in Buncombe, Orange and Durham counties are in some frantic foot race — The Fruit-Loop pentathlon, if you will.)
In the early evening hours at Pack’s Tavern,the patio is warmly lit and merry, with a few strings of bistro lights casting a glow on tables below.
But the City of Asheville says those lights violate a citywide lighting ordinance, and they must go dark.[…]
Why? What’s the problem, you ask?
[…] The intent of the ordinance, most recently updated in 2012 and drafted with input from the Astronomy Club of Asheville and the public, is to lessen light pollution, mitigate safety hazards caused by glare, and eliminate “light trespassing,” explained Bernard Arghiere, an Astronomy Club board member and past president of the group.[…]
Of course !!! The Astronomy Club. *Oh, and “light trespassing.” Silly me.*
In most normal places, city councils would be purged for even paying attention to such nonsense. (But look where we’re talking about …)
[…] “It’s far more than just protecting skies,” he said. “It’s creating lighting that’s adequate for safety but not glaring.”
Still, some area restaurant and brewery owners say enforcement has left customers and servers in the dark, creating another kind of safety issue.
“I don’t want to say it’s unenforceable, it’s just unrealistic,”said Tom Israel, an owner of Pack’s Tavern, which opened in 2010. “When we’re talking about the downtown area, well,you don’t exactly go down there to see the night sky.”
The city in early March sent Israel a zoning violation notice calling for removal of any “exposed lamp or bulb visible from the property boundary, which is prohibited.”
Israel was directed to remove any string lighting on outdoor and enclosed patios by April 9 — or face fines of $100 a day.
Of course, I am writing this from Pinehurst — formerly the home of swing set bans and bans on children outside after dark. (But we did purge the idiots behind that stuff from power.)
[…] Suspended strings of lights with individual lamps larger than 15 lumens are prohibited under the ordinance, as are exposed bulbs visible from a property’s boundary. The bulbs on Israel’s bistro lights are 7 watts each, right at, or just exceeding, the lumen maximum.
Pack’s Tavern’s patio faces the City Building of Asheville and Roger McGuire Green. Israel said his lights are neither creating a hazard, nor interfering with the night sky.
“This bistro lighting is used in every city and every country. It’s a wonderful ambient light and creates a great feel to the space, and the city wants them all down.”
City representatives told Israel the ordinance is under review, and that he could simply unplug the lights rather than remove them.
Israel figures grumbling from the restaurant and brewery community has shed new light on problems with the ordinance.
“I hope they’ll be a little more realistic and recognize they’re supposed to be supporting, not restricting, local business,” he said.
Chase Roth, operations manager for Wild Wing, received a notice of lighting violation last summer for the downtown location’s patio, last revamped and inspected in 2016.
She fought back, but learned in November she’d be back-charged $100 a day starting from the notice of violation if she didn’t remove the lighting.
“I didn’t have time to deal with it anymore, and just told the contractor to take them down,” Roth said.
Patio customers since then have dined in the dark, reading menus via the light of their cell phones, Roth said. She’s also received emails and phone calls asking if the newly darkened business is still open.
Since the ordinance requires that lighting cannot be seen from the perimeter of the property, Wild Wing’s elevated patio has been particularly hard to light.
“Regardless of what we do, you’re going to see a bulb (from the sidewalk) unless we put a cover on the bottom, which will keep the light from coming out at all,” she said.
Roth said the restaurant is still working with the city to find a solution.
“It is a lot of work,” she said. “We may have to have someone fabricate something. We’re coming into peak patio season, and we have to figure out some way to get lights out there somehow.”
The lighting rules could be an issue for almost every bar, brewery or restaurant owner using outside space in Asheville, said Ward and Smith attorney Derek Allen, an Asheville Brewers Alliance board member who specializes in alcoholic beverage law and zoning and land use practices.
But Allen said the city seems to be listening.
“In the last two weeks, we’ve got indications and assurances from city officials that they’re going to rewrite a section of ordinance,” he said, adding that the intent of the ordinance can be preserved without hurting business owners.
“No one wants to prohibit this ambient lighting. We all know that’s part of the experience, and obviously the hospitality industry represents a huge segment of our economy.”
Meanwhile, he hopes the city stands down on ticketing business owners while the ordinance is under review, a process he thinks could take 60 days from start to finish.
He emphasized the enforcement office has been simply been interpreting the rules as they’ve been laid out.
“At that point, you have to go to the (city) and say is this what you meant? Because this is how it’s being applied,” he said.
Other than to confirm the ordinance is under review, city officials did not respond to requests for information first made on March 22.
Allen hopes the issue is resolved in time for patio weather. “Our citizens love sitting on patios, and we’re blessed with tons of nice days,” he said. “No one wants to sit in the dark or read their menus by cell phone.”
But Arghiere, the Astronomy Club board member, remains committed to less light pollution, no matter the source.
“If the restaurants want their outside dining areas to be illuminated so brightly, they may want to consider battery-powered candles on the tables or some shielded, wall-mounted fixtures that spray lighting onto the outdoor dining area,” he said.