PORTSMOUTH – A small group of city officials and staff toured the city’s new Foundry Place Garage to discuss ways to address concerns from some neighbors that the facility’s lights are too bright.
They were joined on Wednesday’s early evening tour by representatives of Walker Consultants, the project’s engineers.
Department of Public Works Director Peter Rice pointed out that the garage’s design went through site plan review and “the lighting meets the requirements.”
“But even with that because it’s a open concept structure, lighting does spill out and it does change the skyline in people’s view from across the (North Mill) pond and there’s concern relative to that,” Rice said.
“We’re receptive to that and like any project when we’re starting out, we try to adjust and mitigate any impacts associated with that.”
Several city residents living near the five-story, 600-space garage reached out to the City Council this week to complain about the bright lights from the city’s second downtown municipal parking garage.
Sparhawk Street resident Jonathan Morse told the council he lives across the street from the new garage.
“The lights at night are so bright that it illuminates the inside (of) my house. I understand that lights are necessary for safety and I am not asking to remove the lights, I am asking to find the balance between safety and brightness,” Morse said in an email to the council. “Maybe put up a screen so the lights are not so bright. Or perhaps have the lights pointed in such a way that they do not overwhelm the surrounding area.”
City resident, Joe Famularo, who lives on Mill Pond Way, described the lights at the new parking garage as “extremely bright.”
He said “pretty much everyone who lives on the North Mill Pond” is being affected by the lights from the new garage.
“Our shades now have to be drawn at night in our bedroom for the room to be dark enough to sleep. The light from the parking garage now lights up the whole Mill Pond,” he said. “If I placed lights in my back yard that illuminated the pond like those in the garage, the city would be on my throat like a pit bull on a piece of meat to shut them off.”
City Councilor Ned Raynolds, who went on the tour, asked if the light structures in the garage allowed for dimming the lights.
Sarah Morkos, a project architect from Walker Consultants, replied “no they do not.”
But other attachments could be added to the light structures “to make them dimmable,” she said.
During a tour of the top floor of the garage, Morkos told the group that it’s important to remember “that this is day one of the fixtures.”
“The fixtures are as powerful as they can be,” she said.
“We try to model them with a 20 percent depreciation, after they have collected dust and dirt and things piling up on them,” Morkos said.
She added that depreciation, plus normal wear and tear, and the lights will “start to get dimmer.”
But she acknowledged it will probably take five to six years to get the lights down to where their brightness is at 20 percent of where they’re at now.
It would be possible, she said, to attach shields to the three lights structures on the top floor of the garage.
The shields could help block the lights from spilling out in the direction of the North Mill Pond, she said.
Asked about lowering the light fixtures, Morkos said that would result in a “spotlight effect.”
It would be “much brighter” closer to the fixtures in that case and “less brighter” the farther away people got from the structure.
“When you look around it’s pretty uniform, which is what we want it to be so people can feel safe and comfortable, that would be everyone’s first priority,” Morkos said about the existing conditions.
Rice told the group that “viewing the garage from Sparhawk (Street) where the majority of complaints came from, the roof lighting was not the most visible lights.”
He believes that the lights that create the most impact are the “tin pan” lights on the lower floors.
Those lights, he said, “were much more visible than the roof lights.”
“In my mind, if there’s anything contributing to people’s concerns it was these lights,” Rice said.
He noted there are 6-inch extensions on the tin pan lights, and suggested lowering them to lessen the impact.
He called it “a potential solution without overly impacting the visible lights in the garage itself.”
That could be done, Morkos said, but the result would be seeing “much brighter and much darker areas” in the garage.
Raynolds asked about the option of installing automatic dimming and motion-sensing options for the lights.
“We have an enormous garage that at long stretches, a lot of it is unoccupied,” Raynolds said as the group stood on one of the upper floors where no cars were parked. “When no one is in the garage, why have it all fully lit up.”
City Manager John Bohenko said city staff would “put it on the list of things to look at.”
“What we’re going to do tonight is not obviously solve the problem, we’re going to identify some of the ideas which Ned and others have given,” Bohenko said. “We’ll look at that and come up with a couple ideas to do some piloting.”
The garage was built as part of a public/private partnership between the city and Deer Street Associates, which has proposed building four mixed-use buildings around the new garage.
DSA sold the city the land for the garage for about $5 million. Foundry Place now joins the city’s High-Hanover parking garage as Portsmouth’s second downtown municipal garage.
The City Council in 2015 approved $23.2 million to buy the land and build the new garage, but in 2017 it had to approve another $3 million for the garage due to cost overruns, making it a $26.2 million project.