Residents of Huron, Ohio, began complaining to local politicians and city administrators two years ago about light emissions from an area greenhouse operation. They said the light and glare made it difficult to get a sound night’s sleep. They were angry.
The city acted quickly and told the greenhouse operator it could take the necessary steps to reduce light emissions on its own or face a moratorium on future expansion.
The operator took the steps and complaints about light pollution saw a noticeable drop.
The greenhouse operator was Kingsville-based Mucci Farms, which also owns a sprawling greenhouse complex along Road 2 between the Graham and Kratz sideroads.
On Monday, Kingsville council will review a proposed nuisance bylaw it hopes will give it some clout in curbing light pollution.
In July 2019, Huron — a city of just over 7,100 south of Lake Erie — passed an ordinance to further strengthen light-pollution regulations.
The ordinance says greenhouses won’t be permitted to emit more than 10 per cent of the facility’s maximum unshaded light.
It says penalties for non-compliance could mean forcing the operator to shut off lighting until violations are corrected, revoking of zoning permits and fines of $1,000 US a day until there is compliance.
George Dekker, projects manager for Mucci Farms, said the greenhouse operator has no issues with the Huron ordinance and would not oppose similar regulations in Kingsville.
“Yes, we would welcome that,” he said.
Dekker said of the 95 acres of greenhouses the company operates along Road 2, 75 are covered with blackout curtains. He said the remaining 20 acres have side curtains and that the top shade covering is not due for replacement for another four or five years. Shade covering restricts only 50 per cent of light emissions.
“I don’t know, but I suspect when people hear that they’re going to have to put up with this for another four or five years, they’re not going to be happy,” he said.
However, he said replacement may be pushed forward if Kingsville passes a bylaw similar to the ordinance in Ohio.
Dekker said the 20 acres in question was built “quite some time ago” and complies with the existing site plan bylaw.
He said the company earlier this fall installed blackout curtains for 30 acres of greenhouses.
On Facebook, Kingsville Deputy Mayor Gord Queen said lights should be shut off until there is compliance with any future bylaw. In an interview Thursday, he said he stands by that statement.
Dekker said Mucci would oppose shutting off the lights because it would disrupt the “growing regime” of tomato plants already planted this fall.
Queen said he wants a bylaw with teeth.
“We’ve tried doing things nicely and it hasn’t worked,” he said.
According to background information accompanying the proposed bylaw, eight greenhouse operations have been “repeat violators with respect to light nuisance.”
Cottam resident Bill Jamieson also wants a bylaw with some teeth to it. He said site plan controls are often vague, open to interpretation and allow operators to fall back on the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Farms and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) definition of normal farm practices.
A nuisance bylaw is about saying, you can’t have light coming off your property and causing a nuisance to your neighbours.
Jamieson, who lives near a greenhouse, wants a duplication of the Ohio ordinance.
“It should be identical to the one in Ohio, otherwise we’re making it wishy-washy … we’ve done that with all these site plan agreements … the problem with (site plant agreements) is it leaves things open to interpretation. There is no wording in the site plans that explains what dark sky compliant means.”
Kingsville CAO John Norton said the proposed nuisance bylaw town council will review Monday calls for municipal enforcement officers to visit a greenhouse operation subject to a light pollution complaint, view light emissions and interview surrounding neighbours.
“A nuisance bylaw is about saying, you can’t have light coming off your property and causing a nuisance to your neighbours.“
“So, if you’re going to do that … a bylaw enforcement officer will go out and inspect it, maybe take statements from neighbours and take photographs. The way the bylaw is drafted right now is (the bylaw enforcement officer) will be able to issue you with a ticket or give you a warning. Or they’ll be able to issue an order to comply within a certain period of time.”
Norton, who is a lawyer, said the town could, as a last resort, file “an information” with a court which could lead to a judge-imposed fine up to $100,000.
He said the town plans to publish the proposed bylaw before Monday’s council meeting.
“Then the public can weigh in on it and council will have to make some decisions on Monday. They may decide to pass it, they may decide to amend it, they may decide to wait and do some public consultation or they may decide to reject it. I’m fine with whatever council decides to do,”
In an email, Christa Roettele, an OMAFRA spokeswoman, outlined the scope of what municipalities can do.
“In Ontario, municipalities have tools under the Municipal Act and the Planning Act to regulate health, safety and nuisance issues” such as odour or light, she said. But those bylaws “can’t unduly (affect) normal farm practices as per the Farming and Food Production Protection Act administered by OMAFRA.”
She said that when a municipality seeks to place restrictions on agricultural operations, the operator may ask for a ruling from the Normal Farm Practices Board on whether the practice affected by the bylaw is a normal farm practice. The board is the only authority to make that decision based on evidence presented at a hearing, she said.
Norton said the bylaw that council will review Monday was drafted after consulting with other Ontario municipalities and analyzing what has worked in those jurisdictions.
“We have looked at the law and which ones have been effective … which ones seem to be working in the courts, and we have created a bylaw which we think (is) similar to some of the best bylaws out there.”
He said the town didn’t consult with Huron officials because Huron is in a different country with different laws.
Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald said Leamington council will be reviewing its own light-abatement bylaw Tuesday.