Harford residents still pushing for legislation to regulate bright lights

Leaders of the Friends of Harford land use advocacy group said they are still waiting for Harford County to pass a law that will regulate how bright outdoor lights can be on businesses and other properties.

The group wants to limit what it calls "light trespass" onto residential property to about the brightness of a full moon, Glenn Dudderar said during the group's annual meeting at the Abingdon library Sunday.

Members met with the county's planning and zoning director almost two months ago to discuss the proposed bill, but the county has yet to move forward with proposing any legislation, Dudderar said.

Besides limiting general lighting to an output of 500 lumens, the bill would require lighting for signs or advertising to be turned off between 11 p.m. and dawn, unless a property is open for business during those hours.

Illumination from any property to a residential area would not be able to exceed 0.1 foot-candle, which Dudderar said is about the strength of the full moon.

FOH member Alan Sweatman said the legislation was prompted by several Fallston-area residents' lawsuit against Jones Junction, in which they claimed the automotive dealership's lights intruded on their homes and property.

Sweatman told the group the lights can also pose a safety hazard for drivers, especially the elderly.

Fallston resident Brian Hirsch, one of the lead plaintiffs in the suit against Jones Junction, said his family is still waiting for a resolution to the case, which began in 2011.

In a 2012 settlement, Jones Junction agreed to pay $10,000 within 30 days, to avoid turning on any new lights, to plant a tree buffer and work on a landscaping plan.

Jones also implemented light shields and extinguished or redirected some lights, according to the settlement filed in Harford County Circuit Court.

Meaghan Alegi, an assistant county attorney in the Harford County Law Department, said three separate lawsuits were filed in 2011 and the county was a party to two of them.

"The case was settled over a year ago," Alegi said in a statement provided by county spokeswoman Sherrie Johnson. "The judge signed an order dismissing all three cases in January 2013.  Harford County government was not part of the settlement agreement."

Efforts to reach Jones Junction's lawyer this week were unsuccessful.

Hirsch said he has since talked with county and community leaders, to no avail.

"Meanwhile, we have light streaming through our windows," Hirsch said. "It is like Christmas vacation."

At certain times, "you couldn't look out the back window. It was like looking into the sun," he noted.

Hirsch said he would like to leave Harford County but cannot sell the house.

"People have just got to understand, this brings down the value of our homes," he said.

Dudderar said enforcement of any regulations on lighting "is probably going to have to be done on a complaint basis."

The reaction he got from county officials was "cool and non-committal," he said, adding they asked several questions that seemed "intended to nit-pick."

He noted that in certain cases of "light trespass," the developer's plan regarding lighting was ignored.

Many of the concerns can be eliminated just by adjusting the light or putting it in a box so it only shines into a specific area, but Dudderar said that is an affront to many people's philosophy.

"If more is better, then too much is just great," he said.

One woman at the meeting said she has had similar problems near Cedar Lane Park southeast of Bel Air, with lights from athletic fields shining brightly onto the neighborhood, accompanied by noise past 10 p.m. by children playing sports.

She said no regulations are available to help affected residents.

Friends of Harford president Morita Bruce said the City of Havre de Grace did pass a law regulating light pollution in response to plans for a new hospital on Route 155 near I-95.

"The residents of Bulle Rock were very concerned about the lights from the parking lot," Bruce said.

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