Virginia City council in session on March 1, left to right: Erin Leonard, Ann Grice, council clerk Nancy Stewart, mayor Justin Gatewood, David Bacon and Jon Osborn. (G. Hamill photo)

VC council approves library improvements

VIRGINIA CITY – During its March 1 meeting, Virginia City council approved construction of two street lamps, two bike racks and a flagpole at Thompson-Hickman Madison County Library. Historic Preservation Officer Jim Jarvis presented the library development permit to council for consideration.

Jarvis presented a proposal that included two metal, 87-inch tall lamp posts with solar-powered LED lights, two metal bike racks and a 25-foot flagpole with a flag illumination light. Following discussion, council approved the items, with the exception of the flagpole light.

Discussion centered on the impact of the lights on the neighborhood. “Will the surrounding neighborhood be protected from that light?” asked councilmember David Bacon.

Jarvis said the light fixtures were chosen with aesthetics in mind. “These are what are considered warm solar, meaning instead of that harsh glare, it's a softer LED fixture,” he said.

The HPO reported a library neighbor had expressed concern. “I have talked to Jane, the neighbor, and she has expressed some concern, and that's why we particularly chose this lamp fixture,” he said. “If necessary, we can shield the side of it that illuminates toward her house.”

Bacon said he had done some research on LED fixtures and their impact on dark skies. “This fixture is designed to broadcast laterally, not just down,” he said. “There's a conical prism at the bottom, so when the light comes down and hits it, it goes laterally. Rather than just illuminating the ground under it, you can see that three blocks away at your house. That's my issue and I'm concerned about that.”

Jarvis explained the lights have a low/high switch and the light is a warm 2700 degrees Kelvin.

Mayor Justin Gatewood asked if there was more evening activity at the library, creating a need for the additional lighting. Jarvis responded there is more evening activity and three sets of stairs leading to the library.

Councilmember Amy Grice asked if the lights would be on a timer.

Jarvis said the lights would be controlled with a dusk/dawn switch. “I was thinking lights on all night would be good, as long as it is relatively low level,” he said. “I can certainly look if there's a timer option out there and dial it in more.”

Grice asked if the flagpole light would be on all night. “How would this light fit into the dark sky plan that we've talked about,” she asked.

Jarvis said flag etiquette calls for the flag to be illuminated if flown at night. “Unfortunately, there's no way to illuminate a flag 25 feet in the air without projecting up into the sky,” he said. “All we can do is keep it at the lowest wattage to do the job.”

Grice and Jarvis agreed library employees could bring in the flag every evening, obviating the need for a flagpole light.

Jarvis said a low level of light throughout the town would be optimal. “Lighting philosophy, dark sky perspective, is to create the impression, along main walking areas, of dusk,” he said. “That's the level of illumination they recommend. Not dark, not light, dusk, but constant, so you're not going from light to dark, and dark to light.”

Gatewood opposed the flagpole light. “Personally, I have no problem with the lampposts, but the flag, I just don't like the idea of shining an LED light up into the sky. U.S. flag etiquette wins the day, but they can take it down. You're potentially annoying the neighbors.”

The mayor directed council to vote on each of the library improvement items separately. Council voted 5-0 to approve the flagpole without a light and the bike racks. Council voted 4-1 to approve the two lamp posts, with Grice opposed because she supported timers on the lamp post lights.

In other business:

• Council approved a permit for construction of a minor structure on the west side of the courthouse. Jarvis reviewed Madison County's permit request for the five-foot high, two-by-four-foot ventilation enclosure. “The whole point of this is to create an enclosure to basically hide and protect new ventilation,” said Jarvis. “They're putting in a new boiler for the whole courthouse, and it will have new ventilation that will come directly out the wall, instead of going up through the chimney, which is how the old one was vented.”

Council voted 5-0 to approve construction of the enclosure.

• Following a report from Jarvis, council voted 5-0 to approve an updated building plan for the Village Pump project on Spencer Street. The building setback from the street was increased to provide space for the installation of gas pumps, reducing the square footage of the building by 600 square feet. The roof design was changed from a gable roof to a shed roof.

Bacon asked if the owner had obtained Department of Environmental Quality approval for gas tanks and pumps. Jarvis reported he wasn't certain about the status of DEQ approval, but the latest information from the owner indicated that approval would be granted.

• Council approved a conditional use permit for Michael Ciani for short-term rentals at his house in a historic residential district.

• Council approved a conditional use permit for the Montana Heritage Commission for seasonal, short-term rentals at the Harding House.

• Gatewood requested councilmember's opinions on whether the town had reached its limit on short-term rentals.

“I don't think so, in our situation, because there are such limited options, as far as accommodations,” said councilmember Jon Osborn.

“Things are spaced out pretty well, so it's not like we have seven of them right next to each other on one block,” said Bacon.

“I think it benefits the overall economy in town if they're staying over here,” said Osborn.

“I tend to agree,” said Gatewood. “I hate to envision a scenario where we're kind of a ghost community and it's just a bunch of rentals and we're all somewhere else, renting our houses, living in Sheridan and renting our houses. But I think we're a long, long way away from that.”

• Public works director Bob Rudolph reported he is coordinating with 3 Rivers Communications to prevent problems during the company's installation of fiber-optic cable in town this spring and summer. The project will involve widespread excavation in town, mainly along streets. Rudolph said 3 Rivers plans to start the project in April or May and it could take as long as a year to complete. The director said he is concerned about potential damage to water and sewer lines during trenching, and he is completing a map of town infrastructure, such as manholes, standpipes and water lines, to prevent problems. The director said 3 Rivers will be holding public information meetings in March, prior to starting the project.

• Council heard a complaint from William Doyle about recreational vehicle parking in town. Doyle said there should be an effort to minimize the the impact of RV parking to the appearance of the historic district. “Our town has become Tijuana,” he said. Doyle suggested a town judge be hired to enforce ordinances.

Gatewood informed Doyle that RV parking is allowed at homes in the historic district by ordinance, but said council would investigate issues at two specific properties mentioned in Doyle's complaint.





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