In some NJ towns, crazy holiday displays can violate ‘light trespass’ laws
It seems to happen every year in at least one New Jersey community.
Somebody will decide to go all-out for the holidays, erecting a bright and elaborate display of lights, music and moving figurines to celebrate Christmas and the winter season.
Most of the time this doesn’t cause a problem. But sometimes there are disagreements that occasionally lead to arguments among neighbors. (Just ask the residents of this Old Bridge neighborhood.)
“It’s usually handled through common sense but in some situations it goes beyond that,” said Mike Cerra, the assistant executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities.
He said in those instances where there’s a serious situation, “municipalities do have discretion to regulate it in certain ways. There are very technical ordinances out there regarding outdoor lighting. The term is called light trespass.”
Different towns have adopted a variety of ordinances to deal with light trespass issues.
In Hopewell Township, the governing body has adopted a regulation to control outdoor lights to prevent “negative impacts caused by misdirected or excessive luminance.”
In Eatontown, an outdoor light ordinance prevents “misdirected or excessive artificial light caused by inappropriate or misaligned light fixtures that produce glare, nuisance lit or unnecessary sky glow.”
In fact, the state of New Jersey defines light trespass as any form of artificial illuminance emanating from a light fixture or illuminated sign that penetrates other property and creates a nuisance.
And of course there are other local ordinances to stop unwanted noise and any activity that creates a traffic jam.
“Municipalities by state statute have discretion to regulate the ringing of bells for disturbances, there’s also road control ordinances, municipalities certainly have broad authority to control its streets,” said Cerra.
“Towns can close off streets if necessary in order to ensure health, safety and welfare of residents.”
He said some towns have amended light trespass rules during the holidays “but also require that the lighting be turned off between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., so by ordinance that lighting needs to be off by a certain time.”
He said even if a town doesn't requires holiday lights to be turned off at 10 p.m., hopefully people will cooperate if there’s an issue.
“You may just knock on your neighbor’s door and say my kid needs to go to bed at 9 o’clock, could you please turn it off at that point? Most neighbors will honor that.”
But he noted that if your holiday display is attracting big crowds, “at some point it does become a problem for the residents, but also for people in the cars and pedestrians, as well.”
Cerra said that in the rare circumstance where there needs to be some sort of regulation, there are tools to fill the gap.
“Most people enjoy these lights but no one wants to be the Grinch, so use common sense, turn off the lighting at the right time, and happy holidays.”
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com
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