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Wasatch County amends outdoor lighting code for new Heber Valley Temple

An artist's rendering of the Heber Valley Temple on display at the Heber Valley Temple groundbreaking in Heber City, Utah, on Saturday, October 8, 2022.
courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
An artist's rendering of the Heber Valley Temple on display at the Heber Valley Temple groundbreaking in Heber City, Utah, on Saturday, October 8, 2022.

After months of debate, the Wasatch County Council has finally approved an update to the county’s outdoor lighting code. The council unanimously voted April 19 to loosen restrictions on uplighting. But those changes also come with some new rules.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints requested that the code be amended last November after breaking ground on its new Heber Valley Temple in Heber City. It wanted the outside building lights to shine upward, a design element the church commonly uses for temples but was prohibited in Wasatch County.

Community members came out in droves to either support lighting up the temple or oppose the changes because of concerns about increased light pollution. The council spent over two hours on public comments regarding the lighting changes on April 5.

While the code previously required all outdoor lighting to be directed down, County Manager Dustin Grabau said there weren’t other restrictions like how bright the light could shine or for how long.

The approved amendments allow uplighting but also require that lights not shine directly into the night sky and instead must be captured by the building. There are also curfew hours for when outside lighting must be turned off, caps for how bright lights can be and rules regarding light colors.

The county hired dark sky consultant John Barentine to help draft the amendments. He proposed tighter restrictions than what the county eventually decided to go with. Grabau said the county saw Barentine’s standards as too conservative, but added the approved changes are more restrictive than what the church proposed.

In all, he thinks the updated lighting regulations are better than what the county had before. Wasatch County is quickly growing and Grabau said as new developments come in, they will have more lighting limitations.

“The hope is that as the county changes from a land use perspective, that you don't see as much change from a lighting perspective,” he said.

The council did not adopt new regulations on residential lighting, but Grabau said that is a likely topic for future conversations.

“I wouldn't be surprised if it's a continual point of discussion of what is the right level of lighting in our community and what is it that citizens want,” Grabau said.

Lisa Bahash with the citizen group Save Wasatch Back Dark Skies said she is disappointed in the decision, but not surprised. She felt the limit the county put on brightness is too high.

“This is purely about preserving the rural nature of the Wasatch Back area and in our case, Wasatch County,” she said. “There are far too many people in our country today that don't have access to viewing the Milky Way anymore.”

Bahash would have preferred Barentine’s original, stricter recommendations and more regulations on residential lighting.

Save Wasatch Back Dark Skies has filed a code amendment request to further restrict lighting, and Bahash said the proposal follows Barentine’s recommendations.

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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