The proposal was significantly pared down after several community meetings and town halls. The changes will only apply to future lights on properties located within a half-mile of the observatory.
Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said he was satisfied with the proposal, which he called a “very reasonable approach” to the challenge facing the community.
“It’s not unanimous in the community, but I will say that the opposition is much less almost justified than it was when this thing started,” Foust said.
Under the zoning ordinance amendment, motion-activated outdoor lights must be 1,500 lumens or less — a drop from the current limit of 4,000 lumens or less.
Additionally, all lights need to be fully cut off — meaning the bulb can’t be exposed — which is currently not required. Still, an exception to the cut-off and shielding requirements will remain for lights at a door or a garage of up to 1,500 lumens per fixture.
The regulations would also set limits on the number of up-lights or spotlights allowed. Currently, any number are allowed as long as they’re fully cut off or shielded to confine light. The changes would limit each fixture to 300 lumens.
Unlike at previous public hearings, divisive testimony was limited. Several testifiers spoke in favor of the changes to the zoning ordinance.
Jennifer Falcone, a representative for the Great Falls Citizens Association, said the proposal is integral to protecting a “treasured community resource.”
“I live within this area,” Falcone said. “Given the evolution of lighting technology and the introduction and popularity of LED lighting, GFCA believes this measure is especially appropriate.”
Eileen Kragie, president of Dark Sky Friends, a nonprofit organization that aims to preserve dark skies, emphasized that the changes are sorely needed.
“Light pollution is growing at twice the rate of the population,” Kragie said. “In 20 years, stars won’t be visible.”
Mount Vernon District Supervisor Daniel Storck said the proposal’s approval could pave the way for future changes.
“This is in my mind…the start of a process that is mostly voluntary,” Storck said. (The spelling of Supervisor Storck’s name has been corrected.)
The amendment’s passage came on the same day that the Board of Supervisors approved zoning changes that will permit brighter electronic signs in more urbanized and commercial districts.
An effort to preserve dark skies in Great Falls recently got a vote of support from the Fairfax County Planning Commission amidst contention within the community.
At a heated Oct. 18 meeting, the commission unanimously recommended approval of regulations to preserve dark skies around Turner Park Farm Observatory Park. Public testimony, however, was divided into two camps.
Proponents called the proposal a necessary step to preserve dark skies, reduce light pollution, and ensure astronomers can continue to get clear views. Opponents said the changes would decrease safety, were being considered without direct community engagement, and did little to result in a meaningful impact on light pollution.
The regulations, which limit outdoor lighting with a half-mile of the observatory, have been in the works for years. The latest version was pared down after several town halls and an online community survey.
Under the proposed zoning ordinance amendment, motion-activated outdoor lights must be 1,500 lumens or less — a drop from the current limit of 4,000 lumens or less. Additionally, all lights need to be fully cut off, which is currently not required.
Still, an exception to the cut-off and shielding requirements will remain for lights at a door or a garage of up to 1,500 lumens per fixture.
The regulations would also set limits on the number of up lights or spotlights allowed. Currently, any number are allowed as long as they are fully cut off or shielded to confine light. The changes would limit each fixture to 300 lumens. Changes would apply to future lights.
But some residents said they were in the dark about the proposal. They also said they were concerned about the safety impacts of reduced lighting.
Laszlo Zsidai, president of Foxvale Farm’s homeowners’ association, said the neighborhood of 115 homes received no direct engagement from the county on the amendment, noting that an online community survey conducted by the county found 50% of respondents were not supportive of the changes. A survey conducted by the HOA of its own community found similar levels of support, he said.
He also questioned if regulating lights near the observatory was effective in the shadow of other high-rise, luminous developments in surrounding areas like Tysons.
“Their light pollution will eat us up,” Zsidai said.
Great Falls has a visibility level of around 6 when judged on a Bortle scale where 1 means excellent viewing and 9 means poor viewing.
Dranesville District Commissioner John Ulfelder emphasized that Great Falls has one of the lowest crime rates compared to other parts of the county.
“Crime in Great Falls is not rampant. It’s not even serious. But it’s important to feel that they have a sense of security,” Ulfelder said.
Others, including the Great Falls Citizens Association and several astronomy organizations, expressed support for the proposal.
Thomas Reinert, president of DarkSky International, described the regulations as a compromise. He noted that students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology near Lincolnia can no longer use a telescope on their facility due to the increase in light pollution over the years.
The observatory at Turner Farm is among a handful of facilities in the area where astronomical viewing can continue — for now.
“In no sense are these rules onerous,” Reinert said.
Dr. Peter Flavchan, a professor of phusics and astronomy at George Mason University, emphasized that light pollution has doubled in just the last 10 years. He compared the community to a “proverbial frog” sitting in water that is slowly reaching a boiling point.
The proposal heads to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for a final vote on Nov. 21.
At a Tuesday (Sept. 12) meeting, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors announced public hearings on a proposed regulation that would limit outdoor lighting within a half-mile of the observatory at 925 Springvale Road.
A hearing before the Fairfax County Planning Commission is set for Oct. 18, followed by a Board of Supervisors’ meeting on Nov. 21.
If approved, the amendment would apply to 525 lots near the observatory.
The Fairfax County Police Department “has advised that proper lighting can be a deterrent for criminal activity, but over-lighting is not needed to facilitate a safe environment,” according to a staff report in the board agenda.
Staff say light pollution interferes significantly with the ability to complete astronomical observations at the observatory. For example, a single light bulb located one half-mile from the observatory has the same impact as four bulbs one mile away or almost 200 bulbs in Tysons, which is roughly seven miles away.
According to the draft proposal, motion-activated lights must be 1,500 lumens or less — a drop from the current limit of 4,000 lumens or less. Additionally, all lights need to be fully cut off, which is currently not required.
Still, an exception will remain allowing lights at a door or a garage of up to 1,500 lumens per fixture.
The regulation would also set limits on the number of up lights or spotlights allowed. Currently, any number are allowed as long as they are fully cut off or shielded to confine light. The changes would limit each fixture to 300 lumens.
The draft text was developed after several town halls and an online community survey. The scope of the proposal was changed after discussions with stakeholders.
For example, the current version lets legally existing lights remain until replaced, superseding a previous version that required existing lights to comply within five years of the policy’s implementation.
In a statement to FFXnow, a Great Falls Citizens Association representative said the introduction of the proposal represents a milestone after eight years of works.
“This has special significance for the Turner Farm, where the Fairfax County Park Authority made a major investment in a roll-top astronomy building,” GFCA said in a statement. “If adopted, the proposed amendment will affect the brightness of future outdoor lighting of homes within a one-half mile radius of the county’s observatory.”
GFCA also acknowledged that, while not all residents in the affected area will agree with the county’s plans, county staff made “significant changes in the proposed requirements.”
“GFCA believes that the amendment offers reasonable measures to address concerns while preserving dark skies near the observatory,” the association said.
Residents will have the chance to view an annual meteor shower next week in Great Falls.
“The Perseid showers are among the most plentiful showers with upward of 100 meteors per hour,” the Fairfax County Park Authority said.
The meteor shower is active every year from mid-July to late August. It’s caused by the Earth passing through debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle, which passed closest to Earth in 1992.
Participants are encouraged to bring a lawn chair or blanket to watch the showers under the night sky. Warm dressing is encouraged for the night temperatures.
The event will be canceled in the event of rain. Although registration is not necessary, large groups should contact the Analemma Society to coordinate attendance.
The observatory is located at 925 Springvale Road.
A project to reduce light pollution at Turner Farm Park Observatory will soon kick off.
The project, funded by the Mastenbrook Volunteer Matching Fund Grant Program, will provide $7,515 to retrofit 26 light bollards to replace current fixtures with LED lights.
“The retrofit project will position Turner Farm Park to apply for designation as one of seven Urban Night Sky places by the International Dark Sky Association,” the Fairfax County Park Authority said last week.
The Analemma Society, which conducts astronomy and science education programs for more than a decade at the observatory, will pitch in a little over $5,100 toward the retrofit.
When applying for the grant, representatives of the Analemma Society explained that the retrofit is the “last piece” needed to meet the criteria for an Urban Night Sky Place, a label awarded to parks, open space or observational sites near an urban environment that “actively promote an authentic nighttime experience in the midst of significant artificial light.”
The park began the application process to obtain the designation over two years ago.
“Light pollution is a major environmental problem,” the grant application said. “This project aims to reduce light pollution by creating demonstration lights showing proper dark sky lighting design to help educate the public on this. In doing so it also improves the lighting at the observatory to provide better views of the night sky for participants in our astronomy outreach programs.”
The park is located at 925 Springvale Road in Great Falls.
The grant was officially approved by the park authority’s board of directors on May 31.
The board also approved roughly $2,400 for improvements at Lewinsville Park in McLean. It will fund the installation of 230 linear feet of black privacy slats on the existing pickleball courts to create a windscreen for players.
The Mastenbrook grant program supports public-private ventures. Grant amounts range from a few hundred dollars up to $20,000.
The county is in the midst of changing light regulations around the observatory. The draft policy aims to amend zoning standards for outdoor lighting within a half-mile of the observatory.
Fairfax County staff have presented an additional round of amendments to the draft policy, which would amend zoning standards for outdoor lighting within a half-mile of the observatory, which is located at the intersection of Georgetown Pike and Springvale Road.
The proposed changes add flexibility for outdoor lighting while still reducing exemptions from dark sky-compliant lighting, according to the county.
The changes were proposed in response to mixed community input.
“Community input on the proposed amendment has been mixed, with some in favor of additional regulations and some against,” the county said.
Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) Vice President Chris Rich told FFXnow he was pleased to see the changes in response to concerns raised by the association and residents.
“Reaching common ground on how to protect the dark skies in the area, especially around the County observatory, is a goal of the state law that authorizes this local legislative action,” Rich wrote in a statement. “It’s also consistent with one of GFCA’s goals to recognize the importance of promoting public awareness and benefits of guarding against excessive and misdirected artificial light at night.”
Compared to the August version of the changes, the latest amendment allows legally existing lights to remain until replaced and removes a previous requirement that stated existing lights must comply within five years of the policy’s adoption and implementation.
Rules for motion-activated lights on single-family houses remain the same, reducing permitted lumens to 1,500. For other lights on single-family homes, the latest change states that lights need to be fully cut-off and comply with setback requirements, unless they’re 20 lumens or less or located on a door or garage.
The August version created exceptions for lighting in a driveway or walkway of 10 lumens or less and one light at each exterior door or garage. Both proposals capped the light limit to 1,500 lumens per fixture.
For uprights and spotlights, the proposal allows any number of fixtures with a maximum of 300 lumens per fixture. The previous plan limited lights to 15 light fixtures per lot.
Jennifer Falcone, a member of GFCA’s land use and zoning and environment and parks committees, said that an official position on the new draft language is still up in the air.
“The process continues and won’t be concluded until formal public hearings are conducted following a decision by the Board of Supervisors to advertise the proposed amendment,” she said. “Because of that, GFCA’s Board will await publication of the final draft language of the proposed amendment before it submits its position.”
Discussions have been underway for more than a year on the proposed ordinance. The observatory is working towards becoming an official urban night sky place through the International Dark Sky Association.
The issue has sparked a wide spectrum of opinions, from concerns about built-in protections to deter criminal activity to the need to limit light pollution and efforts to balance the observatory’s needs.
GFCA held the first official public meeting on the issue last March. The association has historically supported efforts to preserve the area’s dark skies.
The county will hold a virtual meeting on the proposed changes today at 7 p.m.
Construction has officially begun on equestrian parking at Turner Farm Park (927 Springvale Road).
Contractors began working in the area Monday (Oct. 17) to install stormwater and drainage elements, a new driveway entrance, and a gravel parking lot.
The project is expected to wrap up by the end of December. Work will be limited between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays. The contractor might work on Saturdays to avoid project delays.
Construction access to the site is primarily through Springvale Road.
Turner Farm Park spans 40 acres, and the ground are open to the public. The park was a former dairy farm that is open for general riding.
The facility includes a playground for small children and a picnic pavilion and shelter.
An effort is underway to preserve the dark skies around the Turner Farm Park Observatory in Great Falls.
To reduce light pollution in the area, Fairfax County is considering amending zoning standards for outdoor lighting within one-half mile of the observatory, which is located at the intersection of Georgetown Pike and Springvale Road.
The observatory has several telescopes and a former National Defense Mapping Agency observation tower. Since the spring of 2018, the facility has served more than 3,700 people with educational programming.
Changes would largely impact residential development — roughly 500 properties — surrounding the observatory.
So far, county staff indicate that residents appear split about possible changes to the zoning rule. An official proposal expected in the winter of this year.
“Comments received in support of additional regulations expressed that the amendment would be an important and valuable step in protecting dark skies and the use of the observatory,” staff said in a memo. “Comments in opposition indicated that additional regulations are not needed, and concerns were expressed about several issues, including safety and security, and whether additional regulations within ½ mile of the observatory would be meaningful, given the overall light pollution of the area.”
The county held a public meeting on the issue on Monday (Sept. 19). Residents and community organizations offered feedback on the existing conditions near the observatory and possible changes that could affect properties within a one-half-mile radius of the observatory.
Representatives for the Fairfax County Police Department noted that proper lighting is a deterrent for criminal activity, but overnighting and uplighting are not required to facilitate a safe environment.
The Great Falls Citizen Association held the first official public meeting on the issue on March 24. The association has historically supported efforts to preserve the area’s dark skies.
“Because this proposed amendment involves a unique set of circumstances, GFCA is in the process of evaluating the County’s preliminary concepts on the amendment and considering its impact on the community, following two Town Hall sessions GFCA hosted,” Peter Falcone, a spokesperson for the association, wrote in a statement.
The observatory is also working toward becoming an official urban night sky place from the International Dark Sky Association.
Case Against Park Police Who Shot McLean Man Dropped — “Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) on Friday dropped the state’s federal appeal in the manslaughter case against two U.S. Park Police officers, effectively ending any attempt at criminal prosecution of the officers who fatally shot unarmed motorist Bijan Ghaisar in a Fairfax County neighborhood in 2017.” [The Washington Post]
Hundreds Help Pack Ukrainian Refugee Donations — “Hundreds of volunteers gathered this weekend in Oakton to help pack approx. 1800 boxes with donations collected for displaced Ukrainians. Huge thanks to our community members for donating, these wonderful volunteers, and to Paxton Co. for generously shipping these items.” [Chairman Jeff McKay/Twitter]
Mount Vernon Fire Started by Hair Dryer — A house fire in the 3700 block of Nalls Road on Wednesday (April 20) was started accidentally by an electrical event involving a hair dryer in the basement bathroom, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department says. There were reported injuries or displacements, but the fire caused an estimated $37,500 in damages. [FCFRD]
Medical Reserve Corps Volunteers Critical to Covid Response — “Since February of 2020, over 1,400 MRC members volunteered more than 65,000 hours at vaccination clinics and testing events, and assisting with outreach, isolation and quarantine efforts, logistical support, and so much more.” [Fairfax County Health Department]
Merrifield Nonprofit Gets Boost from Football Fans — “Wolf Trap Animal Rescue keeps receiving donations from the public in honor of Dwayne Haskins, the former Washington quarterback who died in an accident on a Florida highway on April 9. Haskins…selected Wolf Trap Animal Rescue as his organization to represent for the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats campaign.” [Patch]
Turner Farm Observatory Seeks “Dark Sky” Designation — “To help reverse the trend of growing light pollution, the Great Falls observatory applied to become an Urban Night Sky Place with the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA)…If approved, the observatory would become the first IDA-designated place in the Washington region.” [Greater Greater Washington]
Construction Starts on Woodley Hills Park Playground — “The Fairfax County Park Authority will begin the installation of a new playground and removal of the existing playground the week of April 25, 2022. Construction access to the site will be from Old Mount Vernon Road. It is anticipated that the playground replacement will be completed by early June 2022.” [FCPA]
Reston Library Book Sale Starts Wednesday — The Friends of the Reston Regional Library will host its biggest book sale of the year, starting with a members-only night from 5-8 p.m. on Wednesday (April 27). The sale will be open to all starting at 10 a.m. Thursday through Sunday (April 28-May 2) and include 35,000 to 40,000 books. [Friends of the Reston Regional Library]
It’s Monday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 75 and low of 55. Sunrise at 6:19 am and sunset at 7:57 pm. [Weather.gov]