ZTA to Provide for Waiver of Light Pole Height




John Shepherd, Pat Mullaney, Greg Kamptner




AGENDA DATES:  Planning Commission: June 3, 2008 

                            Board of Supervisors:  July 9, 2008



    ACTION:  X                              INFORMATION: 



    ACTION:                                  INFORMATION:   










The County Parks and Recreation Department asked Zoning staff to propose a zoning text amendment that will establish a reasonable process with objective standards to review and approve safe and appropriate athletic lighting. They have potential public athletic field projects which will be dependent on light poles exceeding the current maximum height limitation.  In addition, SOCA is pursuing a plan to build new soccer fields that include lighting in the Belvedere Development. The Board of Supervisors approved a Resolution of Intent to provide for waiver of light pole height on April 2, 2008. (Attachment A)



This ordinance would amend section by adding poles that support outdoor luminaires for lighting athletic facilities as a class of structures that are exempt from district height regulations, provided that a modification is approved by the Planning Commission.  It would also amend section 4.17.5 to establish procedural and substantive requirements for the Commission to modify the height of such poles.



This amendment addresses Goals #1 and #3 of the Strategic Plan.

Goal #1: Enhance the quality of life for all citizens. Goal #3: Develop policies and infrastructure improvements to address the Countyís growing needs.



In the RA, VR, R-1, R-2, R-4 and R-6 zoning districts, structures cannot exceed 35 feet in height.  In the R-10, R-15, the commercial and industrial zoning districts, structures cannot exceed 65 feet in height.  Zoning Ordinance Section 4.10.3 provides exceptions to the district height limitations for structures such as transmission towers, television and radio towers, flag poles, steeples and several other classes of structures.  Poles for athletic facility lighting are not among the classes of structures excepted from the district height limitations.


In an official determination dated June 9, 2006, Zoning staff confirmed that poles for athletic facility lighting do not fall within one of the classes of excepted structures, and that they are subject to the height limitation allowed in the applicable zoning district.  Prior to this determination, the Planning Commission approved full-cutoff modifications under Zoning Ordinance Section 4.17.5 to allow athletic facility lighting on poles that exceeded the district height limitations for St. Anneís Belfield School, Western Albemarle High School, Monticello High School and Brownsville Elementary School.  At some point after these approvals, Zoning staff was asked about light pole height related to a new athletic lighting project and rendered this June 2006 determination.


This determination makes it virtually impossible to construct most athletic lighting under current height regulations. Department of Parks and Recreation staff has found that for our class of play poles can be as low as 40 feet for a sport such as tennis and as high as 80 feet for baseball and football depending on how the stadiums are laid out. While the Planning Commission can modify the requirement that luminaires for athletic lighting be full cutoff, a variance is necessary in order to increase the light pole height.  Approval of a variance is subject to three stringent criteria that relate primarily to the features of the land rather than the proposed use.  Approval of a variance involves a finding that denial of the variance constitutes a hardship approaching confiscation of the property and denies the applicant reasonable use of their land.


The Board of Supervisors approved a Resolution of Intent to pursue these text amendments on April 2, 2008.



In order to safely and effectively light these athletic facilities, the lighting system must provide sufficient illumination to all parts of the field or court so that players can maintain visual contact with the ball. To accomplish that objective, while minimizing the light projected above the horizontal plane, the luminaires must be placed high enough above the athletic facility to provide adequate illumination. The 35- and 65-foot height limitations in the zoning district regulations do not allow the luminaires to be placed high enough over an athletic facility to provide safe illumination for most all sports. 


Therefore, to assure that athletic facilities are safely illuminated, staff recommends that the Zoning Ordinance be amended to allow poles for athletic facility lighting to be taller than the height otherwise allowed in the applicable zoning district.  Rather than completely exempting these poles from regulation, Staff recommends that the Planning Commission be authorized to waive the zoning districts height limitation on a case-by-case basis and allow poles to be erected at a height determined to be necessary to safely illuminate the athletic facility, based on recognized standards of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA).  These standards are specific for individual levels of play for a wide variety of sports. The actual amendments to the ordinance are summarized below:


1. Section within the Zoning Ordinance General Regulations is amended to add poles that support outdoor luminaires for lighting athletic facilities to the uses that are excepted from the height regulations of this section subject to Planning Commission approval.


2. Sections 4.17.5 and 4.17.5(a) within the Lighting Regulations are amended to add the height of the pole supporting an outdoor luminaire lighting an athletic facility to the standards that may be modified or waived by the Planning Commission.


3. Section 4.17.5.a. is further amended to direct the Commission to base waivers for light pole height for athletic facilities on the recommended practices adopted by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America.


4. Section 4.17.5 (a) is further amended to provide that the Commission may impose conditions on such a modification which it deems appropriate to further the purposes of these outdoor lighting regulations.


It is staff opinion that the Planning Commission is the appropriate body to review and approve a modification or waiver for the entire system of outdoor lighting for an athletic facility, including the pole height. This lighting review would typically occur with the site plan review showing pole location as well as other relevant information.  The text amendment removes the Board of Zoning Appeals from the process and recognizes that this particular structure by necessity may need to be higher than other types of structures. The Commissionís decision will benefit from the input of the public and staff analysis based on the recognized standards of the IESNA. Reliance on these standards will assure that any waiver or modification that is granted shall be the minimum that is necessary for any particular application.


Adoption of this amendment will allow the Planning Commission to review and approve lighting for the proposed soccer fields in the Belvedere development as well as other proposals for athletic lighting in the future.



Amendment will have no effect on housing affordability.



This amendment will result in a minor amount of additional staff and Commission time to review light pole height modifications. This is not expected to be a frequent application.  The amendment will reduce staff time that might otherwise be spent reviewing these as variances. 



Staff recommends that the Planning Commission recommend approval and the Board adopt proposed amendments to the lighting regulations (Attachment C).



A. Resolution of Intent

B. April 2, 2008 Executive Summary 

C. Proposed Ordinance Amendments dated May 6, 2008

D. Official Determination of Process to Modify Height of Light Poles

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