City exploring changes to lighting ordinance

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Members of the the Missoula City Council are exploring an update to the city’s 2008 lighting ordinance, including a potential ban on the use of colored neon and clearer guidelines for LED lighting. (Photo by Martin Kidston)

By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT

Members of the the Missoula City Council are exploring an update to the city’s 2008 lighting ordinance, including a potential ban on the use of colored neon and clearer guidelines for LED lighting.

While the council’s Public Works Committee will revisit the issue later this month, it may also consider a clause requiring commercial businesses to come into compliance with a new lighting ordinance.

“We should consider a sunset on the buildings that have lighting that’s found to be a problem and give them time to come into compliance with whatever ordinance we come up with,” said Ward 4 council member John DiBari.

As was the case behind the city’s efforts to explore new design standards for commercial buildings, changes to the lighting ordinance are being driven in part by the public’s distaste for the new Verizon store on the corner of East Broadway and Madison Street.

The building is wrapped in red neon and doesn’t comply with the city’s existing lighting ordinance. Some fear it may also confuse motorists as they enter the adjacent intersection. The committee may consider banning the use of neon for most commercial uses.

“The problem with the building we’re talking about is that (neon) is literally on every single edge of the entire building,” said Ward 3 council member Emily Bentley. “I don’t want to see this pattern continue.”

Don Verrue, assistant director of the city’s Development Services, said the city adopted its current lighting ordinance in 2008. Since then, he said, technology has changed. Lights have become more efficient, and some lighting – including LED’s – have become brighter.

The ordinance currently applies to all outdoor lighting fixtures, including residential and commercial. Sponsors of the new measure have asked city staff to draft updated policies banning or limiting the use of neon lights and enforcing the lumen standards for signs illuminated by modern LED lighting.

While the current ordinance allows lighting to accentuate an architectural or aesthetic element of a building, it prohibits illumination of the entire building. Members of the committee, along with Development Services, believe the Verizon store stands in violation of that ordinance.

“I don’t think the ordinance meant for that to happen,” said Ward 6 council member Michelle Cares. “Like the Missoula County Courthouse, they want to accent certain historic features. But in this case (Verizon), it doesn’t seem it’s accenting the building like that. It’s outlining the building itself.”

Cares sensed an appetite on the council to ban neon lighting altogether. Verrue said it would be possible to write a ban into the new ordinance. The committee plans to revisit the issue in two weeks after the changes are made.

“The ordinance doesn’t apply to commercial existing buildings,” said Verrue. “It applies to new buildings or changes to existing buildings. I’d like to see that exception go away, but I don’t know how the community would feel about that.”