Could Asheville light ordinance impact musicians in other cities?

Lights night moon

If you’re a restaurant or bar relying on your outdoor deck for spillover seating or live music, you’re probably not happy about enforcement of an ordinance on lighting in the city of Asheville. The ordinance wasn’t just a result of public debate—the local astronomy club apparently had a large amount of influence. Could this ordinance spread from North Carolina to other cities? Musicians everywhere, take note. 

super moon
Is there any artist who doesn’t love the moon, especially when it looks like this? (Photo Indie Art South)

Those solar lights on stakes along pathways cast about the same amount of light you can have from lights on your outdoor area if you’re a business in Asheville.

With each bulb only permitted 15 lumens, the ordinance could create a serious danger for customers. If someone spills a drink on the deck, it’s far harder to see in poor lighting. Slip and fall. Same goes if someone drops a glass or bottle and it shatters.

Some bars can only accommodate a band on their deck because of limits on indoor space. And if you’re a musician trying to set up and tear down your equipment in poor lighting, I don’t have to tell you how difficult that might be.

If you’re dining on the deck, good luck seeing what’s actually in your food if there’s not adequate lighting. Does Asheville have any bugs?

Besides all that, if you’re a tourist in a strange city, it’s likely you use businesses to help you navigate even if you have GPS on your phone.

It’s very hard to understand why Asheville would opt for a policy that places businesses at such a disadvantage. But the fallout won’t stop with the venue owners. Anyone who services those businesses, including musicians, will be impacted. If you rely on the deck for live music, as a bar owner you may just decide to zap the music because of potential liability.

The local astronomy club doesn’t list member numbers on its public pages, but the Yahoo group has 218 people signed up.

Implausibly, a representative with the astronomy club claimed the ordinance prohibited “light trespassing.” It’s hard to understand how that could affect a commercial district, although that could be an issue in a residential area. The Citizen-Times reported:

“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.

“It’s far more than just protecting skies,” he said. “It’s creating lighting that’s adequate for safety but not glaring.”

Asheville may have forgotten what it took to reclaim parts of the business district. An archived article from Mountain Xpress is a reminder:

“One action taken by the city in the late 1980s cost almost nothing yet generated thousands of hours of enjoyment and hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales: an ordinance allowing outdoor dining, street vendors and entertainers on city sidewalks.”

I wonder if the city’s elected officials thought about potential liability. If there’s not enough lighting and someone trips on a broken sidewalk, is the city liable?

Whereas overt lighting could present a problem, those little patio light strings like we use at Christmas are benign. It’s too bad a club was given a lot of power over property rights of businesses who pay the taxes that help keep the city coffers afloat.

Should other cities try to follow suit, if you’re a musician, you might want to keep an eye on lighting ordinances such as the ordinance Asheville levied on its hard-working small businesses who lack the resources commanded by businesses owned by international corporations.

(Kay B. Day/March 30, 2018)

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