Dark-Skies Lighting Returns to Village Board

4 years after first efforts

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Cold Spring’s “dark-skies” waterfront illumination project returns to the Village Board on Tuesday, nearly four years after initiation of efforts to restore traditional nightscapes and enhance safety while cutting lighting costs. Led by the Hudson Highlands Land Trust (HHLT), the dark-skies proposal began in January 2007 under then-Mayor Anthony Phillips, who teamed up with the HHLT to explore lighting improvements. Intended to decrease light pollution around the dock and make stars, river, and mountains visible, the project would replace the existing, deteriorating lights with a combination of new, high-efficiency, low-maintenance LED lights housed in tall, goose-necked shepherd’s or bishop’s crook lamp posts and slender waist-high bollards. As a secondary part of the project, the non-standard railing at the dock would be replaced by a fence designed to increase safety and improve views of the Hudson River.  Through $70,000 in contributions, many from local donors, the HHLT would pay for the changes, sparing village taxpayers the expense. Before the current lights were installed in 1992, no lights stood on the dock.

A brief history
Initially, the project called for all the new lights to be bollards. But objections arose and the HHLT subsequently made concessions to include streetlight-type lamp posts as well. “I think every effort has been made to find a compromise,” HHLT Executive Director Andrew Chmar told the village Historic District Review Board (HDRB) at a public hearing on Nov. 3. According to James Hartford, a Cold Spring architect working with the Land Trust, the virtue of the bollards is that “we bring the lighting down low, so that people can enjoy the night-time views, and actually light the area more evenly.” As he outlined it to the HDRB, the proposal envisioned bollards to “fill in these dark areas” on the dock, a man-made peninsula.

Joined by Cold Spring Mayor Seth Gallagher, Hartford and other proponents of the dark-skies lighting conducted three waterfront demonstrations over summer and early fall, including one for the specific benefit of the village’s Historic District Review Board. Following a public hearing on Nov. 3, the HDRB voted 3 to 2 to reject the new lighting but accept the new railing.

A bollard lights part of the dock, beneath the moon

That left the Cold Spring Village Board to take up the issue. During the board’s Nov. 23 meeting, Mayor Gallagher announced that Chmar “would like to come in and pitch to us” on Dec. 7, given the setback at the HDRB.

“We’re supposed to override them?” Trustee J. Ralph Falloon asked, referring to the Historic Review Board. “Is that what he’s looking for?”

“Yes,” Gallagher replied. Then, as Trustee Charles Hustis posed a similar question, the mayor elaborated. “It’s not a question of over-riding” the HDRB, he said. “They really don’t have jurisdiction for us. We sent them [the HHLT] there as a way to get their [HDRB] input. We got their input and but now it’s in our lap.”

A compromise in the works
As November ended, a potential, further compromise took shape:  The project might proceed, but two bollards, near corners of the dock, would be installed on footings that would allow them to be removed after a year and replaced with tall, bishop’s crook lamp posts, if the village government choose to do so. Money for two additional taller lights would be placed in escrow. Gallagher said Dec. 2 that the Village Board would consider the compromise on Tuesday. If the village decided after the 12-month “trial” that the bollards did not work, “they would be switched-out,” he said. “The goal would be that they would not be” [removed.]

The proposed bollards stand about 3 feet tall and resemble black lantern posts with a triangular top from which the light shines. Some viewers have praised the bollards for their unobtrusiveness, energy efficiency, light quality, and contribution to darker skies. But the devices also have drawn adverse reactions. In an undated memo to the Village Board, HDRB Chairman Al Zgolinski, who voted against the proposed lighting, wrote that the majority of his board thought “that the bollard fixture was a modern fixture which was not sympathetic to the style and character of the neighboring structures. In addition, they felt that the light being bounced of the ground is a method of lighting which has no historical precedent and is not appropriate to a space of public assembly. These board members stated that the overhead bishop’s crook-style fixture, which was also dark-sky compliant, would have been an acceptable alternative.”

HDRB members weigh in
At the Nov. 3 meeting, which included a lengthy public hearing, HDRB member Carolyn Bachan said that “I feel the only thing that’s appropriate is a light on a post,” to reflect the historic nature of the village. “I don’t think the bollards do that.” Zgolinski, too, said that “I have a problem with the bollards. I find for events this light would be very disconcerting. I find the fixture itself is not appropriate. It’s a type of lighting that never happened in a historic setting. I think the lighting it throws is inappropriate for the dock as a public gathering place.” During the waterfront demonstrations, the sample bollards provided enough light, without glare, to read and write on the dock after dark.

A proposed new shepherd crook fixture

The village’s Architectural and Historic District Design Standards instruct residents that “flood and spot lights shall be . . .  directed at signage, the ground, or your structure.” The National Register Historic District guidelines, covering the section of village on the National Register of Historic Places, further explain that “when no documentation of original fixtures is available, inconspicuous fixtures are preferred to inappropriately ornate or fanciful, nostalgic reproductions not original to the site.” They also state that “quality reproductions or new fixtures appropriate to the building site will be accepted.”

HDRB member Kathleen Foley, who voted for the lighting proposal, observed that the dock is of contemporary construction. “There is nothing about it that is historic fabric” and “the low form, the material” of the bollards fits and “is entirely deferential” to the surroundings, she said. Mayor Gallagher noted that during his renovation of the old carriage house on Marion Avenue, once part of the estate of 19th-century entrepreneur Robert Parrott, the village Planning Board instructed him to use bollards. “You guys never talked about the quality of the light” in that context, he told the HDRB.

Pubic comments
At the hearing, members of the public offered contradictory opinions on whether the bollards promote safety. “Lower lighting is a safety feature,” Susan Peehl said at the HDRB hearing. “You can actually see things more easily,” whereas the existing lights create problems of shadows and glare. Upon seeing the illumination capabilities of a bollard, “I was just so impressed because it did light up the area,” Gallagher said.

Dar Williams said that “the subtle lighting illuminates the eye level of people to people.” She described the whole project as something that shows that Cold Spring “loves its nature, loves its architecture, loves its history.”

But Karen Phillips, who lives on New Street adjacent to the waterfront, questioned how the bollards could ever provide enough light, especially for someone watching from a distance. “If you can’t see what’s going on, on the dock, that’s a huge safety issue,” she said. “You need to see out on the dock.” She requested that any new lights installed be in the shepherd’s crook design. “I’m asking as a village resident. I think as a village resident we should have a little more say.”

Mesh style railing
Victorian-style railing

Huntley Gill, a Kingston architect and trustee of Fireboat.org, which operates the historic John Harvey boat, offered a mariner’s perspective. “I think the designs for lighting are wonderful,” he said. Aboard the John Harvey, which has visited the Cold Spring dock several times recently, “we’re really enthused about this project. Coming into a dock, this is what we want.” On the water, anything to reduce light pollution and glare is helpful, he told the HDRB.

“I have a hard time being very concerned about that” given the plans to use the bishop’s crook lights as part of the improvements, Zgolinski said. He also twice reminded the audience that “safety is not in this board’s purview. Karen Phillips suggested the village proceed with the railing replacement and address the lighting issue separately.  However, the HHLT has consistently coupled the two components.

Funding is tied to lighting improvements
“We raised the money for the lights,” Claudio Marzollo, a dark-skies supporter, replied. A boater, he, too, said the present lighting can be blinding from the river. “If we don’t meet the objectives ” of the donors and “don’t use the money for what they intended, then we have a problem,” the HHLT’s Chmar said at the hearing. “The trick is the funding is tied to the lighting– as was made clear through the application” to the Historic Review Board, Hartford said Nov. 17. “No lighting, then no funding for lights; the village will have to find funding for the railing if that is to proceed.”

In addition to the endorsements voiced at the hearing, supporters of the dark-skies initiative circulated a petition on the Highlands Chain website, to collect online endorsements. More than 110 persons had electronically signed it before the HDRB meeting. “I wholeheartedly support the project. Don’t let this money go to waste!” Luke Fiske said in signing the petition.

“This will be a much-needed improvement,” Candace Cole wrote. “It makes sense for so many reasons. It is both pragmatic and aesthetically pleasing. I can’t wait to see the stars and Storm King unimpeded.”

Existing lighting has aged
As the village has pondered the lighting project, both the current lights and railing have aged. In the existing lights, Hartford said, “the gaskets are all dry-rotted so that water gets in,” and other key parts “are rusted/corroded to the point that they will have to be cut out with a torch, new connections would have to be made, and threads would have to be tapped into the steel for bolt connections. All this work, plus refinishing the poles themselves would not be cost effective.”

“Water is leaking down inside the fixtures,” Andrew Pidala told Philipstown.info. An experienced local electrician, he has donated his time and expertise to help with the dark-skies project. The existing lights “have to be changed. It’s not worth it” to try to repair them, he said. “We have the opportunity; it’s better to put the new fixtures in.”  Hartford also explained

A poster from River Architects shows the old dock, used for the filming of a movie about 60 years ago.

last summer that the lamp posts do not pass muster for withstanding heavy winds while the railings do not meet standards for child safety, since they were cobbled together from old police-barricade fencing, with bars widely spaced enough to allow a small child to fall through.

Chmar noted that one factor that led to the project was then-Mayor Phillips’ dissatisfaction with the current light fixtures. “He lamented the state of the existing light poles and the fact that they cost a fair amount of money for the village to maintain,” Chmar said at the hearing. He reminded the audience that the then-Village Board approved the project in concept, including the bollards, in 2008. “We need to get beyond this point, which we have been waiting four years to get to, and get to a final decision,” he told the HDRB. Pidala expressed confidence that everything would work out. “We’ve got to get the thing done. We’re almost there,”  he said. As for the doubters and their criticism, he predicted, “once they see the stuff up, that’ll go away.”
Photos by L.S.Armstrong

2 thoughts on “Dark-Skies Lighting Returns to Village Board

  1. A petition to support the lighting is at — please show your support by Tuesday, December 7!

  2. Great coverage of the long haul to get to approval- thanks for your excellent reporting, Liz.

    The breaking news is- We did it! The Village Board of Trustees heard 2 1/2 hours of debate, and then voted to approve 4-1!

    Thank-you all who showed your support, and thank-you to the HHLT for putting the funding together!