The Township of Muskoka Lakes is updating its Dark Sky bylaw in an effort to strengthen it and is asking the public to provide input.
According to the municipality, its current Dark Sky bylaw, which was enacted in 2014, has posed enforcement challenges and confusion among residents.
“As far as the old bylaw is concerned, there are a lot of sections that are more aptly worded…like a policy statement, rather than an actual bylaw statement,” says Rob Kennedy, Muskoka Lakes’ chief municipal law enforcement officer.
That’s why one of the proposed changes to the bylaw is stronger language. “If you look at the new bylaw, you see a lot of ‘no person shall’ in the sections. The whole ‘no person shall’ creates that prohibition,” Kennedy says. Whereas in the current version of the bylaw, the wording leans more toward recommendations and preferences.
“We can’t enforce something that says recommended or preferred,” Kennedy adds.
The municipality introduced the bylaw as a way of protecting and preserving the area’s environment, especially over Torrance Barrens Reserve, a conservation area at the southern end of Muskoka Lakes.
“Some animals only come out at night, and they feed at night. If people have a whole bunch of lights out shining, then it screws up their vision,” Kennedy says.
Lack of light pollution also ensures a star-filled sky for residents.
Under the current bylaw, any resident within the township installing outdoor lighting must use shielded, full-cut-off fixtures. These are fixtures with a cover over the top that causes the light to point downwards. These types of fixtures are mandatory regardless of whether the outdoor lighting is installed on a cottage, garage, boathouse, bunky, or even private walkway.
Searchlights, strobe lights, and lit-up advertising signs are also major no-nos in the community. Property owners have until January 1, 2024, to transition all outdoor lighting to these types of fixtures. Indoor lighting is exempt.
Residents are still allowed to decorate their properties with non-cut-off lights for holidays, such as Christmas. But under the updated bylaw, these lights, along with all exterior architectural lighting, will have to be shut off between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
If the new bylaw is passed, the maximum fine for disobeying the Dark Sky bylaw could be as high as $50,000. Though it’s unlikely bylaw officers would distribute a fine that high, Kennedy says.
“We enforce the Dark Sky bylaw mainly on complaint unless we see something egregious while dealing with something else,” he says. “Typically when we find the contravention we will send a notice to the owner giving them a time frame to change their fixtures to be compliant with the bylaw and if they fail to do that then charges could be laid.”
The fine for failing to comply would more likely range between $300 to $500. To Kennedy’s knowledge, very few people have been charged under the Dark Sky bylaw since its introduction.
To provide input on the proposed Dark Sky bylaw draft, visit www.engagemuskokalakes.ca. The public has until October 30 to provide feedback.