Supervisors to revisit streetlight policy

After hearing the details of a proposed revision to the county’s streetlight policy last week, the Board of Supervisors voted to revisit the policy at its Sept. 22 meeting.

William Dupler, interim deputy county administrator for community development, presented the revised policy to the Board of Supervisors at its July 28 meeting. The policy revision has been a long time coming, he said. He noted that streetlights that are already in the process would be grandfathered to the old policy.

Three issues prompted the policy’s revision, he said: Renewed interest in energy conservation and light pollution, the fact that the policy was last revised in 1988 and increasing costs.

“In our current environment, controlling costs is really going to be imperative for the continuing viability of our community,” he said. “If we can direct our illumination on the ground, it’s a much more efficient use of energy, much more efficient use of our resources.”

Dominion Virginia Power has several basic styles of streetlights. Light radiates from the colonial acorn style streetlights in all directions and can cause glare for drivers, he said. The basic colonial style reduces the amount of light radiating up and reduces glare. The semi-cutoff and full-cutoff streetlights, which are on taller poles, direct most or all of their light downward, cause less glare and are the least expensive lights to operate and maintain, he said.

Currently, the county spends about $650,000 a year operating and maintaining streetlights, Dupler said. At the current pace, which assumes about an 8 percent annual growth in the number of streetlights, “our projection out to 2020 is we’ll spend about $1.7 million” annually on operation and maintenance, he said.

About one third of the county’s streetlights are the colonial acorn style lights, he said, but they account for more than half of the county’s streetlight operation and maintenance costs.

Under the current policy, the county pays for the operation and maintenance of all streetlights regardless of whether their installation was required by the policy or voluntary, Dupler said.

The proposed policy would require developers to install streetlights at subdivision entrances where intersections are formed and permit only enclosed or basic colonial style types of lights, he said. Streetlights that are installed but not required by the policy would be operated and maintained at the expense of a homeowners association. Also, for each streetlight the developer would pay five years of operating costs up front, which would be in the range of $470, he said.

The proposed policy for streetlights requested from the supervisors, which are paid for with supervisors’ district improvement funds, would require that the lights be located at an intersection; the current policy says they should be at an intersection, he said. The proposed policy relaxes or eliminates the “vehicles per day” requirement, requires a petition from the homeowners and stipulates that only private streetlights at residential intersections can be incorporated into the county program, Dupler said.

Implementation of the policy would slow the streetlight growth to about 4 percent annually, giving the county the opportunity to save in the neighborhood of $4.5 million in the next several years in operation and maintenance expenses, he said.

Dupler said he thought the revised policy would give the board more flexibility in approving streetlights and give residents better guidance on where streetlights are supposed to be. The supervisors can still approve streetlights that don’t meet the policy, he said. He also noted that the purpose of streetlights is really to light the streets for drivers, not necessarily increased security.

Bermuda District Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle said she knew streetlights were really supposedly for traffic purposes, but whenever the police meet with neighborhoods that want to become safer the police suggest getting streetlights installed. She said it concerned her that the proposed language required streetlights to be located at intersections, as sometimes it’s more expensive to place them there.

Matoaca District Supervisor Marleen Durfee said she was a little concerned about some of the recommended language. She said she wouldn’t want to limit the ability to install lighting that might be more efficient.

Durfee also noted the size of the Matoaca district, which has more subdivisions than most and produces a lot of requests for streetlights. This year, each supervisor got $35,000 in district improvement funds, and Durfee has already received about $20,000 in streetlight requests, she said.

“We have to really look at the streetlight policy with our district improvement funds, as well, because it’s not all equal,” she said.

Dale District Supervisor Jim Holland said he thought cost containment was an important goal, and he urged the staff to consider all costs associated with the streetlight program, including the $50 administrative fee that hasn’t changed since 1988.

Supervisors Chairman Dan Gecker said he thought there ought to be more public engagement in the process, and he’d like to see some data on where the board is putting streetlights and why it’s putting them there. The panel voted to take the matter up again at its September meeting.

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