Bigger, brighter stars in Buda? City contemplating becoming a Dark Sky community

With Dripping Springs becoming the first International Dark Sky Community in Texas in 2014, Buda is now looking to get in on the action as well.

Members of the sustainability commission met on March 1 to discuss their application to make Buda a designated dark sky community. This has been a part of the Sustainability Commission’s two year work plan and the commission is now in the early stages of moving forward with the idea.

Rex Drake, chairperson of the Sustainability Commission, said they started working with the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) a little over a year ago. The IDA is in charge of reviewing city ordinances and making sure they meet dark sky community standards.

“It came up as a broader discussion about what we can do as a community to make life a little more sustainable and more conservation-minded,” Drake said of designating Buda as a dark sky community.

To be designated as a Dark Sky Community, the IDA requires specific language and minimum requirements written into city ordinances, and it also requires a demonstrated commitment to the ordinances from both the city and community.

The Sustainability Commission made a motion during the meeting to request the city council and the planning and zoning committee to look at and amend the city’s Unified Development Code (UDC) with the purpose of complying with IDA standards.

The current UDC, which was recently updated in October 2017, had the intention to comply with the dark sky requirements, Assistant City Manager Micah Grau said during the March 1 meeting. However, specific language required by the IDA was not included in the UDC update.

This is a first step among many on the path toward fulfilling IDA requirements, if the city council ultimately decides to go down this path.

Amending the UDC will be an extensive process as it requires several meetings and public hearings. Additionally, the city will have to begin community outreach to demonstrate community commitment, and also meet with Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) to discuss electricity and lighting options in the city.

“I think all of these items are definitely doable, but it is going to take time to do each one of them, the biggest hurdle that I see at this point is (minimum requirements) and making sure we have all of these requirements amended in place into our unified development code and making sure that’s not going to cause any conflict,” Grau said.

Grau says a second big hurdle will be to identify noncompliant lights within the municipality and come up with a proposal on how to retrofit them. Existing commercial businesses will not be affected by the ordinance. This issue will be on the city council’s agenda at a later unspecified date.

Drake believes an ordinance like this will contribute to making Buda a quality place to live, and help with outdoor lighting design, but without being prohibitive to business.

“I lived in Allen for 15 years and I watched the light pollution grow to where I couldn’t see the stars anymore,” Drake said. “I’ve been in Buda for over three years and I’d like to keep it a nice place to live.”

Dripping Springs and Horseshoe Bay are the only designated dark sky communities in Texas.

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