Neighbor's lights too bright? P&Z debate spotlights lighting regulations

A hearing on a proposal to exempt one and two-family dwellings from the city’s zoning regulations for lighting has been held open to the Planning and Zoning Board’s (P&Z) Feb. 20 meeting.

Elected officials and residents urged the board at the Feb. 6 public hearing to retain the current regulations, saying they are needed to protect the quality of life for homeowners.

City Planner David B. Sulkis said zoning staff recommended the change, saying the current regulation is unenforceable and not enforced because single-family homes are not subject to the site plan review process. These properties do not have photometric surveys on file, and the city cannot compel a homeowner to provide such information in the case of a dispute involving lighting levels, he said.

“Further, staff does not have the ability to inspect and make a determination of lighting issues after business hours, which is typically when there is a light complaint,” wrote Sulkis in his memo to the board.

He indicated the city attorney supports this decision, as the zoning office does not typically bring to court actions that come from disputes between neighbors.

Seven people spoke on the topic and asked the board to retain the current regulation. Two of those speakers asked the board to hold open the hearing to allow time to research the issue further. No one spoke in favor of the text change.

Attorney Barbara M. Schellenberg, who said she was representing William and Tammy Maruottolo of 18 Chelsea Circle, urged the board to retain the current regulation.

Schellenberg said the Maruottolos have a problem with a neighbor who has bright lights from his property shining in their bedroom window and their backyard, which affects their ability to enjoy their home and yard.

Schellenberg said if the board rescinds the regulation, a message is going to be sent “to other residential property owners in Milford that this kind of behavior is acceptable.” She said, “It could also undermine a lawsuit,” saying a defendant could point to the regulations, saying such lights are not prohibited.

Schellenberg said the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) overturned the decision of the zoning enforcement officer on a complaint filed by the Maruottolos.

According to the ZBA minutes of June 13, 2017, the board voted unanimously to overturn the decision of Stephen Harris, the enforcement officer.

At the ZBA hearing, William Maruottolo presented evidence on the lights from the property at 24 Chelsea Circle, owned by John Flanagan, asserting that the lighting placement was intentional. Maruottolo indicated Harris issued a violation, but there was no response from Flanagan.

In response, Harris said at the meeting that he felt sympathy for the Maruottolos, but can only enforce the regulations as they are written. Harris said the P&Z could amend the regulations.

ZBA Chairman Joseph A. Tuozzola Sr. of 116 Gulf St., referenced the ZBA meeting on June 13, 2017, and said the concern was excessive lighting directed at the Maruottolo’s home. Tuozzola said perhaps the city could find a way to enforce the lighting regulation, saying the lack of a regulation “could lead to harassment against a neighbor.”

ZBA member William Soda of 35 Edgemont Rd., said the “blinding LED lights” on Chelsea Court are so bright “you couldn’t even live in this house.” Soda said 100-watt LED bulbs are comparable to 400-watt halide bulbs.

Alderman Bryan N. Anderson (D-5) of 49 Ingersol Rd. said he and the mayor became involved with and resolved a lighting dispute in 2011 in which a resident “was using lighting in a punitive manner against a neighbor.”

Anderson said many times he has called the zoning enforcement officer to successfully deal with lighting complaints, a process that can sometimes take a couple of months. He said the city has “not fully seen the results” as people convert to high intensity LED lights “that are lighting up the night in a major way.”

Anderson said, “I think this text change is a non-solution in search of a problem.”

Stephen Povroznik of 312 Wheelers Farms Road said he was on the P&Z when the last regulations were written and he said he understood the intent of the lighting regulation. Povroznik said lighting levels are easy to detect using a light meter that can be purchased at a hardware store.

“To have a high-pressure light shine straight into your bedroom, what a nuisance that would be,” said Povroznik.

The proposed change to Sections 5.2.1 and of the zoning regulations would exempt “light emanating from one and two family dwellings in residential zones from light regulations.” The change applies to the following zones: R-5, R-7.5, R-12.5, R-18, R-30, R-A, and SFA-10.

The other proposed change would rework the wording discussing how the regulation would apply to other uses to clarify the maximum illumination permitted from an adjacent property that is not a single or two family use.