Stricter lighting rules for Hilton Head beachgoers and properties under consideration

Hilton Head Island’s lighting ordinance could be getting a facelift — and it’ll affect nearly everyone who uses the beach.

The Town of Hilton Head Island’s public planning committee heard the first potential changes to the lighting ordinance Wednesday in a meeting heavily attended by both the Hilton Head turtle trackers group and local home builders.

Town leaders were responding to advocacy by organizations like the turtle trackers to update the lighting standards for sea turtle protection — which were put into place in 1990.

Don’t run out and buy all new lightbulbs, though.

Changes are still available for public comment and will need to come back to committee later this summer before going to Hilton Head Town Council for a vote.

The preliminary deadline for beachfront homes to come into compliance would be May 1, 2020.

“I’m concerned about the expense we were pushing on private property owners in less than a year,” Ward 6 representative Glenn Stanford said. “Typically we don’t need someone to change until they do major construction.”

Here are some of the proposed changes to the lighting standards on Hilton Head:

First floor windows would need tinting or covering

The new ordinance would require beachfront property owners to install tinting, solar screens or curtains on first floor windows to prevent artificial light from reaching the beach during hatching season.

Brad Rocco took this photo of a sea turtle hatchling making its way to the ocean on Hilton Head Island. Brad Rocco Submitted

Currently, beachfront properties are required to have screens or tinting if they are located above the first floor.

The town’s senior planner, Anne Cyran, said this because the first floor of many houses was originally thought to be covered by the dune system on the island. Now, she said the dunes don’t always cover the first floor, “especially after the hurricanes and beach changes.”

But some pushed back on the window-tinting.

“With the labor shortage and the labor pool required to make these changes, are there going to be any unintended consequences on property values?” Brian Kinard, Realtor and president-elect of the Hilton Head Area Realtor’s Association said at the meeting. “Anything that diminishes the view (of the ocean) can diminish property values.”

Bill Ludwig, the assistant vice president of the Hilton Head Area Homebuilders Association, said he’s concerned that tinting some windows impacts the manufacturer’s coverage of the product.

“If you have a 20-year warranty and you put that on, it’ll be void,” he told members of council.

Turtle advocate Linda Kerns — who cited falling hatching numbers since 2016 — said “we have a year to close our curtains,” referencing the less expensive options in the proposed ordinance.

All beachfront lighting would have to be directed downward

This change would affect all new and replacement light fixtures to be directed toward the ground, according to Cyran.

turtle 6.jpg
A Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle makes her way back to the water after she nests on Hilton Head Island on April 26, 2019. Melissa Krauss Released

If a light has a moveable shield, the proposed change would require they be adjusted to face downward. It would not require property owners to replace existing lights with shields that cannot be moved, according to Cyran.

All beachfront bulbs would need to be amber

This change would require all lamps or bulbs visible from the beach to have a a long wavelength light of 560 nanometers or greater by May 1, 2020.

In other words, that’s an amber, orange or red light.

Beach flashlights would need to be red

One of two education-oriented changes would include encouraging people who use flashlights on the beach to cover the lights with orange or red material to make them “sea-turtle friendly.”

Cyran suggested the ordinance include this information so code enforcement officers and turtle protection groups can tell visitors to the island about the ordinance and pass out stickers that tint phone flashlights and other devices.

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Katherine Kokal moved to South Carolina in 2018 after graduating from the University of Missouri and loves everything about the Lowcountry that isn’t a Palmetto Bug. She has won South Carolina Press Association awards for in-depth and government beat reporting. On the weekends, you can find Kati doing yoga and hiking Pinckney Island.