Q: Ace, driving down the 250 Bypass the other night I was blinded by the parking lot lights of our new neighbor, Best Buy. Isn’t there a City code that prevents light pollution? Who approved them or were they missed in the process? Put your investigative skills to work and let us know!—Dazed & Confused
A: It’s indeed tough to miss the brightly lit new movie/music/electronics retailer, Dazed. To answer your questions, yes, the City has an ordinance to stop light pollution and no, Best Buy was not overlooked. It’s perfectly legit as it stands, even if it forces Ace to do his very best Corey Hart/”I Wear My Sunglasses at Night” impression when driving the Acemobile on the bypass. But here’s a bit of good news for all our peepers: Expect some of the Best Buy bulbs to get dimmer in a few weeks. More on that in a minute.
First, some history on Best Buy. The store officially opened on November 7 on the site of the former Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House and Mt. Vernon Hotel on Emmet Street. Construction took just a few months (the Mt. Vernon went down in late April), but planning on the building was finished well before September 15. That’s the date the City’s new zoning ordinance went into effect. The new rules are more stringent on issues like outdoor lighting and parking. But since Best Buy was ready to roll before the beefed-up guidelines came around, it’s exempt from the increased regulation.
According to City of Charlottesville Neighborhood Planner Missy Creasy, the old ordinance under which Best Buy was O.K.’d “was basically just a statement that property [owners] cannot reflect light off of their properties.” Creasy adds that the zoning ordinance changed because it was first created in 1976 and the nature of local development has since changed. Straight up, yo.
Creasy says that the new ordinance’s outdoor lighting section incorporates what are colloquially known as “dark skies” regulations, which aim to reduce light pollution. “It’s about trying to not reflect light up into the skies, trying to make things more natural,” she says.
It’s a good thing for Best Buy that its construction was approved before those rules came into effect, because those blinding parking lot beams wouldn’t pass new standards. Creasy says her office has received complaints from neighbors and drivers to that effect and approached the company. And while technically Best Buy doesn’t have to do anything, believe it or not, it is.
Jay Musolf, a public relations officer for Best Buy, says that the store has ordered four-sided shields to be put on all the light towers shining down on the parking lot. The new guards, which Musolf says will be up “as soon as possible” (they’re just waiting an apparently indeterminate time for shipping and installation), will direct illumination more squarely on the Best Buy property. And away from bypass drivers’ eyes. When that finally happens, the only sunglasses you’ll need at night can be found in the $7.99 CD bin.