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Orem citizen petitions for ordinance change to reduce nighttime light pollution

By Carlene Coombs - | Oct 17, 2023

Carlene Coombs, Daily Herald

Cars drive down University Parkway in Orem past the University Place Mall on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023.

Over the last couple of years, RoMay Allen has observed business signs and billboards in Orem becoming brighter and brighter at night, sometimes impacting her ability to see while on the road.

Allen, an Orem resident, said she began seriously considering taking action on the issue after a brightly lit business sign near 800 North on Interstate 15 impaired her vision while driving.

“I was like, I have to do something,” she said. “I can’t just sit back, because somebody is gonna end up getting killed and that would be terrible.”

To address the issue, Allen began a petition asking the city to change its lighting ordinance to require businesses to turn down their electronic business signs at night. She hopes this will not only reduce light pollution in the city but also conserve energy.

Her petition calls for the city to update or create an ordinance to find a balance between reducing the brightness of business signs after dusk but also taking safety into account. The online petition currently has 80 signatures, but Allen said she has gathered nearly 300 signatures on paper.

According to the current city code, electronic message center signs — signs that display electronic images or videos — may only be 0.3 lumens above ambient light.

As examples of troublesome signs, Allen mentioned a sign near Wiggy Wash on Center Street and a large sign near the University Place Mall on the corner of State Street and University Parkway.

“People have talked about living close to the mall and they’re like, ‘It lightens up, you know, inside my house,'” she said.

Allen said she has talked to the mayor and some City Council members about the issue and said they have been supportive of making a change. She also gave the petition to the council during the public comment portion of a recent City Council meeting.

She added she hopes to get something done before the upcoming general election because she doesn’t know if new council members would be as supportive.

Gary McGinn, assistant city attorney, said the council was interested in the issue and instructed city staff to look over the petition and information and then report back.

The process of considering an ordinance change will include reviewing the materials provided by citizens like Allen and evaluating the impacts of a new ordinance, McGinn said.

The city may also reach out to other communities and see what they have done to address light pollution in their cities and look for easy solutions that could have minimal adverse effects, he said.

“I think it’s an issue that is serious. … You’ll frequently hear, ‘Oh, we don’t want our community to be Las Vegas,'” McGinn said. “But they’re also legitimate concerns businesses have about investments that they’ve made.”

According to Allen, all the citizens she has approached about the lighting have supported her initiative, with most signing the petition. Over the last couple of years, the city has faced what she described as “divisive issues,” and Allen hopes this is an issue that residents can come together on.

“Our whole goal is to kind of try to unite us again, because Orem is amazing,” she said.

While Allen is currently petitioning to regulate business signage, she said she would also like to eventually work with the city on reducing light pollution from other sources, like city lights.

“I used to go out and see all of the meteor showers and there’s no way you can see it in Orem anymore,” she said. “So I thought, you know, if we can maybe even reduce some of the city lights, not just the business lights, it would be sure nice to be able to see the sky again.”


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