By Maggie Lee
Outdoor lighting in Dunwoody won’t be allowed to compete with the stars under a new “green” ordinance passed by Dunwoody City Council.
But the new rules won’t turn Dunwoody dark. The sign ordinance will take precedence – and it has yet to get past the draft stage.
The new lighting ordinance is “really about wasted light,” according to Dunwoody City Planner Howard Koontz. “This is not an ordinance that’s going to be exclusive to Dunwoody. It has a regional impact.”
Lights will need to be focused, pointed down, turned off or otherwise kept from glaring onto other properties or public rights of way under the new rules. The new rules ban no searchlights.
The new rules should cut light pollution.
The Perimeter Community Improvement District is an area where residents pay additional property tax for better transportation, walkability and other ideas seen as fostering quality growth. It runs roughly between Ga. 400 and Ashford Dunwoody Road from east to west, and from the Glenridge Connector north to the North Springs MARTA station.
The new lighting rules are acceptable to Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce Chairman Bill Grant. The ordinance threatened to limit lights that shine upward, which he called “over the cliff.” But when the council amended the draft to make it clear that the sign ordinance will be paramount, Grant said business will be happy.
For example, direct lighting – a sign lit from the inside – escapes the green rules because it probably will be allowed under the sign ordinance. However, the current draft limits these signs to 50 feet in the air on buildings of three or more stories.
So-called halo lighting, where a light silhouettes the letters in front of it, will be allowed. As will indirect lighting – lamps aimed at a sign – as long as it’s done with spotlights that can be focused directly at the target to avoid glare or light spillage.
“They’re expensive,” Koontz admitted. “There’s a lot of technology involved in those cutoff fixtures and as the pencil beams are leaving the source and moving toward their intended target.”
Overall, Grant concluded: “I think we of the business community have given up a great deal, but I think the community as a whole is much better off because of this ordinance.” Council approved it 4-0.
Dunwoody government buildings are already compliant with the efficient lighting code, according to city records.
But the council still needs to make some policy decisions in the sign ordinance before the rules can be said to be complete. Large neon signs may be on the chopping block. Gas stations with digital price signs will probably be the only places allowed changeable digital signs. Otherwise, moving animated signs, LCDs and LEDs, are out.
Only schools, churches and the like will be allowed the familiar directly lit white sign with black lettering that is changed by hand. But even those are a no-go in residential zones. Old noncompliant signs will likely be grandfathered in in the sign ordinance. Rules for Dunwoody Village are tighter; signs have to complement their neighbors in terms of color, font and material.
The light measures will help the city earn the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Green Communities Certification, a status already held by Roswell and Alpharetta. That’s a voluntary program that encourages cities to provide a better quality of life through ecologically friendly living.