Northampton City Briefing: New lighting rules in effect, survey to guide opioid settlement spending; outdoor dining rules

Professor James Lowenthal,  chair of the Department of Astronomy at Smith College, has been a proponent of Northampton’s new lighting ordinance designed to curb light pollution. The ordinance, approved by the City Council earlier this month, is now in effect.

Professor James Lowenthal, chair of the Department of Astronomy at Smith College, has been a proponent of Northampton’s new lighting ordinance designed to curb light pollution. The ordinance, approved by the City Council earlier this month, is now in effect. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 02-21-2024 11:19 AM

NORTHAMPTON — A new ordinance meant to curb light pollution has officially taken effect in the city.

The standards would ensure that the installation of any new lighting covers the lightbulb entirely. Additionally, the new rules ban incandescent lights and limit the total amount of lumens, or measure of visible light, according to the text of the ordinance.

The previous City Council considered the measure in November, but delays in refining the language meant it was up to the new council to pass the ordinance.

The ordinance had been championed by James Lowenthal, an astronomy professor of Smith College and the chair of the Massachusetts chapter of the group Dark Sky International. Astronomers like Lowenthal often are opposed to light pollution within cities as it obstructs views of the night sky, encumbering observation of stars and planets.

“Wildlife, including pollinators, migrating birds, mammals, fish, all of them are negatively affected by light pollution,” Lowenthal stated during public comments at a Jan. 4 council meeting. “Bad lighting is ugly. Good lighting is beautiful.”

The ordinance passed unanimously, meaning the rules will affect all future lighting from that date forward. One of the first new buildings to have to meet that ordinance requirements is a planned multistory building in downtown Florence, the site plans of which were approved by the Planning Board on Feb. 8.

Survey to determine opioid settlement money spending

The city’s Department of Health and Human Services has released a survey to collect community feedback on how to spend the money the city has received in opioid-related settlements.

Beginning in July 2021, the Massachusetts attorney general set in motion a series of legal settlements with pharmaceutical companies and opioid distributors that would allocate funds directly to the commonwealth’s municipalities. To date, Northampton has received $239,024 and will eventually receive a total of just over $2 million via annual payments through 2038.

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The funding can go toward a variety of interventions — continued harm reduction efforts, recovery supports, early primary prevention, and even plans around increasing transportation or housing, said DHHS Commissioner Meredith O’Leary in a statement.

“However, what is important to us at DHHS as stewards of the opioid settlement funds is that we listen to the voices of our community and those who have been impacted by this epidemic,” O’Leary said.

In addition to Northampton residents, the survey, which runs through March 12 and is in both English and Spanish, is also available to residents of other Hampshire County communities. To take the survey, visit HampshireHOPE.org/opioid-settlement.

Outdoor dining likely to return

The City Council will look to once again allow outdoor dining in the city for the upcoming spring and summer months, enabling the return of events such as Summer on Strong and allowing more seating for downtown restaurants.

The council will vote on an order on the recommendation of Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra to suspend the effect of several city ordinances to allow for outdoor dining rules, something the city has done for the last several years in an effort to stimulate downtown economic activity following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rather than enact a permanent, new ordinance to allow for dining, the mayor and council have instead advocated for temporary suspension of current ordinances due to the upcoming Picture Main Street development, which stands to drastically remake the city’s downtown and would create permanent outdoor dining spaces, according to the text of the order.

The council was expected to vote on the order at a special council meeting on Wednesday. The special meeting was scheduled after the regular Feb. 15 council had been disrupted by protesters demanding the city pass a resolution calling for a cease-fire in the war in Gaza, causing the council to adjourn early without addressing any items on the meeting’s agenda.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.