Effort to Restore Historic `Dark Skies’ View of Mountains at Night Bogs Down in Questions

An effort to restore 19th-century ambience to the 21st-century Cold Spring dock hit roadblocks recently as new critics raised old questions about lighting intended to reduce costs and make mountains and stars visible by night. A project led by the Hudson Highlands Land Trust (HHLT) and village government seeks to bring “dark skies” lighting to the waterfront. Advocates say the new system will not only reduce light pollution and make historic night-scapes again visible but improve maintenance and energy-usage, thereby saving money; increase security, and meet standards for fixtures that can withstand Hudson Valley winds.

But recent small-scale demonstrations failed to allay doubts about the proposed lights, a combination of yardstick-high bollards and “shepherd’s crook” streetlamps resembling those used at the Metro North train platform. “The dock is a very special place. It’s the equivalent of a village square,” Al Zgolinski, chairman of the village’s Historic District Review Board (HDRB), said after a display of the bollards. “I do not think capturing a view-shed takes priority over everything else.”

One option, using bollards, for new lighting on the Cold Spring dock. They could be paired with taller lights along the shore. Courtesy of Hudson Highlands Land Trust and River Architects

 

Everything else, according to skeptics, includes safety, aesthetics, costs, and the continued use of the existing fixtures — tall streetlamps with a curve at the top. “I like the higher lights. I don’t really see” any reason for the bollards, HDRB Member Peter Downey said.

The effort began in 2007, when then-Mayor Anthony Phillips sought input from the Land Trust on village lighting. HHLT began raising funds to underwrite the waterfront improvements. In time it received contributions from the Cold Spring Lions Club, Hudson River Valley Greenway, Hudson River Foundation, Open Space Institute, Entergy, M&T Bank, the HHLT itself, and individuals. As of last summer, HHLT had obtained the necessary $54,900. HHLT Executive Director Andrew Chmar also convened an advisory panel, what he termed “a pretty broad group” to assist in planning. “This is a collective offer to you,” Cold Spring residents, from the Land Trust, village government, and volunteers on the advisory panel, he told the HDRB.

Along with new lighting, the overall scheme includes a better railing for the edge of the dock, where the present railing, cobbled together from police crowd-control barricades, fails to meet child-safety standards. Like the railing, the present lights do not pass muster when it comes to safety, according to James Hartford, a village resident and partner at River Architects, a Cold Spring firm working with the Land Trust on the project. “The existing lampposts are rigged” in rather makeshift manner, as they were when installed a couple of decades ago, he told Philipstown.info on July 22. “It’s kind of a public hazard, actually.”

Lights like the existing fixtures can also create vision and recognition problems at night, given the drastic difference between the bright light and the surrounding darkness, and leave pockets of blackness, another architect, Tim Culbert, told the village board in 2008.

Hartford said that under the new plan a bollard would replace each existing dock lamppost and that four more bollards would be installed to provide additional lighting, two to cover a dark fringe area and two to illuminate the cannon at the center of the dock. He also pointed out that the shoreline — as opposed to the peninsula-shaped dock — would get taller, more traditional-looking lampposts, similar to those at the Metro North station but equipped with better electrical light sources to save money on maintenance and energy. He accompanied Mayor Seth Gallagher and Chmar in demonstrating two of the bollards to the HDRB in the village hall meeting room on July 14. Both bollards cast light in the darkened room, but one shone brightly enough to allow a reporter to continue to take notes and read.

A similar demonstration occurred at the waterfront for the benefit of the Village Board on July 13, a follow-up to presentations in 2008. Two previous village boards endorsed the project; so did the Philipstown Town Board. “To me this is sort of a return to what the dock had been like,” before the changes of the early 1990s, Mayor Gallagher said. He predicted the new system would enhance the sense of community and friendliness of the waterfront.

But doubts remained. “I don’t think the bollards really speak to the safety issue,” Carolyn Bachan, an HDRB member, commented at the July 14 session. “I’m not buying the argument.” Zgolinski said that the advantages of taller lights in promoting better vision are obvious — assertions about glare notwithstanding. Another HDRB member, Kathleen Foley, cited the importance of the vista. “We have an opportunity here to recapture a historic view-shed,” she said. But Zgolinski wanted more public reaction.  “I think this is a major change on which there should be a public hearing,” he said. “I think people will want one to come out and express their feelings. What we’re looking at is the character of the space down at the dock.”

Hartford noted the relatively short time the existing lights have been in place, 23-25 years. “Before that, there was nothing at the dock,” he said July 22. He commented in a similar vein at the July 14 meeting. Chmar urged the village to not delay too long. “This has been going on for almost three years, so we’re looking for some decisions. The money available is finite,” he said July 14. “We’ve got to be very efficient or the village is going to have to backfill” and supply the portion of the $54,900 eaten up by continual tweaking of the design and the resultant consultants’ fees.

The HDRB scheduled a second lighting demonstration at the waterfront, to get a better look. As a proponent of the proposed system, Mayor Gallagher seemed optimistic. “You really have to see this in action,” he said.


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