Mood darkens under security light's glare
By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 16, 2001
CRYSTAL RIVER -- For the six months a year that Della Bruens' seasonal neighbors spend in Florida, sunset brings a nightly ritual. The sun goes down, the neighbors' outdoor security lights come on, and the six slide projector screens on Bruens' porch go up.
Bruens says the slide projector screens, the old retractable kind that she bought for $5 each at a thrift store, are her best bet to block out the glare from her neighbors' lights.
"It's terrible," said Bruens, 65, a retired Lutheran Church secretary who lives in a remote corner of the Suncoast Mobile Home Park, just south of the Home Depot on U.S. 19. "It's like when they show in the movies that you're being interrogated with the bright light shining in your face -- that's exactly what it feels like."
Neighbors joke about showing movies on Bruens' projector screens, and Bruens says she knows that people think she's crazy. But in a park where 54 mobile homes and 37 recreation vehicles sit with just a few feet of grassy walking space between units, Bruens said the neighbors' lights are bright enough to keep her up at night, despite the dark tinting and venetian blinds on her windows.
Though she has never spoken directly to her neighbors about it -- that's the park manager's job, she says -- Bruens has been on a letter-writing campaign for more than two years to lessen the glare of the lights.
Her letters to county, state and federal officials have all elicited the same response: No one has the authority to tell her neighbors to turn off their lights. So Bruens has asked the county to create a light pollution ordinance that would limit outdoor lights to shielded, non-glaring fixtures, preferably ones that are activated only by motion detectors.
Bruens argues that the night sky is a natural resource that should be regulated just as air and water are, but county officials are not so sure that's their place.
"I'd rather see it done on an individual level, on a park level," said Commission Chairman Roger Batchelor, whose district includes Bruens' mobile home park. "I don't think it's necessary on a county level."
Some neighbors wonder whether a countywide ordinance would be overkill. The light near Bruens' porch and the other one behind her home, near her bedroom, are 13-watt fluorescent bulbs that emit the same amount of light as a 60-watt household bulb.
"It's the smallest one I could find," said Earl F. White, 69, who installed the light over his gardening shed three years ago, after his wife saw the silhouette of a person looking into her bedroom window.
"We're not doing this to invade her privacy," added Jeanne A. White, 70. "We're doing this for security purposes."
Donald "Robin" King, 73, put the light over his woodworking shed a couple of months ago to deter burglars, wife Lois King said. Someone broke into the couple's mobile home last year while the two snowbirds spent the summer in Toronto, Ohio.
"I think the more lights the better. The lights don't bother me," said Mrs. King, 65, in a telephone interview Friday. "I don't think there should be a (lighting) ordinance. That's getting kind of Gestapo-like on what you can have on your own property and what you can't."
The two John Taylers, father and son, who bought the Suncoast Mobile Home Park last May have found themselves in the middle of the lighting dispute. Bruens has sent them six letters complaining that the lights are too bright, but other residents have said the far end of the 10-acre park needs more mercury vapor lights, John Tayler Jr. said.
"Two and a half weeks ago, an elderly lady tripped over a speed bump because of the darkness back there," he said.
So the Taylers are talking about installing more lights along Bruens' street, but to "keep peace," Tayler Jr. offered to buy and install black-out blinds for Bruens' bedroom.
Bruens said she already has blinds and was insulted by the offer.
"There's no sense in living in Florida if you have to be a prisoner in your own house," she said.
The Kings turned off their security light when they left for Ohio earlier this month, and the Whites plan to unplug their light when they go up to Ohio next week. Bruens says she is thrilled that for the six months while her neighbors are gone, she will be able to sit on her porch without the projection screens and get a good night's sleep in her own bed, not on the living room armchair.
The neighbors and Bruens each get what they want for half of the year, and that may be the only workable compromise in this neighborhood spat, Tayler Jr. said.
"We do not condone the use of exterior lights, but if it makes somebody sleep better at night, so be it," he said. "But I cannot see, in this day and age, how we could go around and selectively say, 'You must turn out your light.' "
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