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Yuma County board eyes dark-sky protections for rural areas

July 27, 2019

YUMA, Ariz. (AP) — Yuma County officials say it’s not too late to save dark skies enjoyed by residents of rural areas separated by a mountain range from the Yuma area where urban lights obscure views of stars and planets.

The southwestern Arizona county is considering adopting an ordinance to impose new restrictions on outdoor lighting despite concerns that it could result in lawsuits by property owners.

The county Board of Supervisors decided Monday to pursue adoption of an ordinance, with Supervisor Darren Simmons saying he agrees with the many constituents who have told him they want more regulation of outdoor lighting, the Yuma Sun reported.

“Where I live right now you couldn’t pay me to move back into town, because I can sit in my yard and see millions of stars,” said Simmons, who lives in Tacna about 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of Yuma. “And that’s why people move out into the county, so I don’t see why it can’t be adopted.”

A staff briefing memo said seven Arizona counties have dark-sky ordinances and that the communities of Flagstaff, Camp Verde, Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek have been certified as dark-sky places.

The Yuma County Planning and Zoning Commission considered an ordinance in 2006 but ultimately came out against pursuing it after Arizona voters that year approved a ballot measure providing property owners new protections against state or local government regulation.

Now a state law, the 2006 ballot measure labeled Proposition 207, entitles landowners to seek compensation from government entities which pass regulations that would affect their property value, often by requiring them to spend additional money in order to develop it.

Deputy County Attorney Ed Feheley said the law exempts building codes but applies to any new zoning regulations. An affected property owner could file a claim, and if the county didn’t pay up, file a lawsuit, he said.

Feheley said most dark-sky rules in Arizona were passed before Proposition 207.

Supervisors Chairman Tony Reyes voiced concerned about possible liability if the county enacts an ordinance.

“I just don’t see how we can put the county in the type of situation where it can be basically sued by almost anyone that knows how to do this,” Reyes said.

Supervisor Russell McCloud said the county could adopt an ordinance but then rescind it later on “if it did present itself to be a problem and it was problematic.”

McCloud noted the state property-rights law allows exemptions for individual landowners, and he said that might be a way to handle any lawsuits or claims.

However, Feheley said that part of the law may not hold up in court much longer. “The problem with waivers is, you treat some parcels different from others, just because they filed a claim,” he said.

The restrictions would apply to parcels along Interstate 8 and the Gila River but not to agricultural land, the four incorporated municipalities or any property belonging to tribal, state or federal governments.

Also, as currently written, it would only apply to new development and not be retroactive.

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