In case homeowners are feeling lazy about taking down the Christmas lights this year, there's a new motivation — Boulder's outdoor lighting ordinance, which went into effect Nov. 15.

While enforcement won't officially begin until November, the ordinance is front and center right now as city officials strive to alert residents of the new rules and bring properties into compliance before penalties come into play.

Strings of lights on porches and fences aren't the focus or motivation for the new rules, but they do get a mention in the law that was passed in 2003 with a 15-year implementation period. The regulations govern brightness, color and direction of lights.

Guidelines differ by property type, but essentially, bulbs can't be brighter than 900 lumens, which translates to 60 watts for incandescent bulbs and 15 for LED. They also need to be under 3,000 Kelvins, a measure of where the light falls on the color spectrum. Yellower is better than bluer, said Karl Guiler, senior planner.

Fixtures need to direct light toward the ground or diffuse it. Basically, Guiller said, "we want it so you don't see the bulb clearly."

There are separate rules for things like security lighting and motion-triggered lights.

The goal is to reduce light pollution that is harmful to animals and, some argue, humans. When fully implemented, Boulder's outdoor lighting rules should ensure a "view (of) the stars against a dark sky so that people can see the Milky Way," according to a staff memo on the subject.


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There are some exemptions for ornamental lighting; Christmas lights get a special carve out, each year from Nov. 15 to Jan. 30. After that, they'll be subject to enforcement. It's not a top priority for the city, said spokeswoman Gretchen King, but complaints about out-of-season lights could result in a visit from a compliance officer.

No violation will result in fines or penalties until next year. Enforcement begins Nov. 16, 2019. This year will be spent helping larger properties get in line. Roughly 21 percent of non-residential properties and 32 percent of residential properties are not in compliance, staff estimated earlier this year.

Since 2003, certain building permits have triggered lighting compliance. As of Nov. 15 of this year, no permits were issued to lights that didn't fall in line with the ordinance. Rental licenses, too, are tied to the regulations; special, one-year licenses are available for landlords still making changes ahead of the full enforcement date.

The Boulder Area Rental Housing Association, which represents property owners, has been working to educate its members, said Government Affairs Coordinator Meghan Pfanstiel. She encouraged those with questions to contact the association.

Changing lighting across multiple properties is a months-long process, according to Luke Arrington, director of property and asset management for W.W. Reynolds.

"Beyond several weeks of design work it takes eight to 12 weeks once an order is placed for the lighting package," Arrington said. "So once you can get them installed, it can take five to six months start to finish."

The city has nearly finished its lighting upgrades. More than 90 percent of municipal lighting is compliant: all that remains are the globe lights on the Pearl Street Mall (unlikely to be replaced due to their historical value) and lights at the Stazio ballfields, which would cost more than $2 million to replace and would not allow for tournaments to be held there, due to league regulations.

More information about the lighting ordinance can be found at bouldercolorado.gov/plan-develop/outdoor-lighting-ordinance. Another good source of knowledge Guiler suggests? Local hardware stores.

"(They) are really good about these ordinances," he said. "Staff are knowledgable they have these compliant lighting fixtures."

Shay Castle: 303-473-1626, castles@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/shayshinecastle