Barrington Hills wants to turn out the lights and see the night sky

  • The International Dark-Sky Association hopes to turn down the evening lights.

    The International Dark-Sky Association hopes to turn down the evening lights. Gilber R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Published: 10/18/2009 12:01 AM

In an effort to preserve the village's black night sky, Barrington Hills is looking seriously at being certified as a Dark Sky Community, becoming only the third in the nation.

Gaining the designation - and ridding the sky above Barrington Hills of most of its current excess light - would require new standards that range from changing the type of outdoor light fixtures and bulbs used in the community to limiting the number of hours the lights are on.

The International Dark-Sky Association, based in Arizona, is trying to convince American towns that reducing excess light will benefit science, the environment and the health of their residents.

Flagstaff, Ariz. and Borrego Springs, Calif. are designated Dark Sky communities.

Barrington Hills Trustee Steve Knoop, a Dark Sky supporter, said it is about preserving property values as well as being able to see the stars in the inky black sky.

Knoop said when people have a lot of outdoor lighting on their property, they're not only contributing to light pollution but also lowering the value of neighboring houses.

"This (lighting) ordinance is designed to protect our comprehensive plan and the dangers of excess light pollution on our residents, concerning property values, health and freedom to view the wonders of the night sky," Knoop said.

The proposed ordinance calls for minimizing unnecessary outdoor lighting. It has limitations on lumens per acre, the direction lights are pointed and the number of hours lights can remain on.

But for some in Barrington Hills, the cost of becoming a Dark Sky community is too high - in money and individual property rights.

A Barrington Hills group calling itself HALO - Homeowners Against Lighting Ordinances - says it has 50 members and growing and intends to stop the Dark Sky initiative in its tracks.

Dede Wamberg said HALO members will turn out for Monday's zoning board of appeals meeting, at 7:30 p.m. at Countryside School, 205 W. County Line Road.

The ZBA will discuss the proposed lighting ordinance and take public comment. The zoning board will eventually make a recommendation to the village board, which will decide on the ordinance.

Knoop said it could be January before the issue reaches the village board.

Karen O'Connor, one of HALO's founders, said many Barrington Hills homes do not have covered light fixtures and she complains that homeowners would be forced to go get replacements.

O'Connor, a lawyer, said the Barrington Hills government has been irresponsible because it has not conducted an impact study on what adverse effects this ordinance could have on the village.

O'Connor admitted there are homeowners in town with excessive lighting on their property, but she compared the proposed ordinance to killing a fly with a sledgehammer.

Wamberg added she fears less outdoor lighting will cause an increase in nighttime crime.

However, Village President Robert Abboud, a scientist by occupation, said crime statistics show 90 percent of crimes in Barrington Hills take place during the day.

He said darkness could even be useful - because of the village's rural setting, it can be hard for a stranger to get around in the darkness when they are unfamiliar with the area.

Knoop, meanwhile, believes the actual costs would be minimal. He says that most people in the village are already in compliance of the lumen requirement, and if they aren't, the shields cost only $5-$15.

Knoop also said the village's public buildings and roads are already compliant, so no further cost would be needed there. He added more details on the potential costs will be discussed at Monday's meeting.

Johanna Duffek, outreach and educational manager for IDA, said more lighting does not necessarily mean making it easier to see.

She said humans actually see pretty well in the dark; it is moving between very light and very dark places that tend to blind us. In an even light, it is easier to see, she said.

"Rather than just throwing light at a situation," she added, "throw really good light at a situation."

Knoop said the village board would not do anything to jeopardize residents' safety.

"No way do I want to compromise the security of our community," he said.

Audrey Fischer, IDA board member from Chicago, said Barrington Hills has always had the benefit of a dark night sky and the lighting codes would preserve it.

Knoop argues the ordinance is important, not just for the property values but for the children in the community.

"I dread the day when our children look up into the sky and say 'Where are the stars, all I can see is a halo!'" Knoop said. "Our children should experience the wonders of the universe from more than just Disney's Tinkerbell."

Some questions and answers from

What is light pollution? Any adverse effect of artificial light, including sky glow, glare, light trespass, light clutter, decreased visibility of the sky at night and energy waste. Light pollution wastes energy, affects astronomers and scientists, disrupts global wildlife and ecological balance and has been linked to negative consequences in human health.

How can it be harmful to health? Audrey Fischer, International Dark-Sky Association board member from Chicago, said light at night stops the production of melatonin, which is a natural hormone in the body. Lack of melatonin has been linked to higher rates of cancer, Alzheimer's and obesity.

Fischer adds that every living thing on Earth has a circadian rhythm, which follows the light and dark cycle, which can be thrown off when there is too much light present at night.

What is the IDA trying to do? IDA is an educational, environmental, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting. With thousands of members in more than 70 countries, IDA works to stop light pollution's adverse effects, raise awareness about those effects and their solutions and educate the public about the value of keeping the night sky natural. It's Web address is

-Kevin Kovanich