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Teton County Residents Can Be Fined Up To $750 A Day If Their Christmas Lights Are Still Up

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By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

Teton County residents who still have their outdoor Christmas lights on are in violation of county zoning regulations.  

Some locals support the rule while others have raised concerns about private property rights, Chris Nuebecker, director of county planning and building services, told Cowboy State Daily in an email.  

The deadline to turn off outdoor lighting on buildings, signs, trees and vegetation was Jan. 10, according to county land use and development regulations.

The rules allow string lighting from Nov. 15 through Jan. 10, but flickering and flashing lights, searchlights and lights exceeding 20,000 initial lumens are always prohibited, the rules state.  

The county’s goal, said Nuebecker, is to reduce light pollution hazards, including disruption to stargazers and nocturnal wildlife.

County Prefers ‘Voluntary’ Compliance

A code compliance officer investigates alleged violations. If a violation is confirmed, the officer will mail an explanatory notice of violation to the property owner or tenant.  

“Most people want to be good neighbors and want to protect wildlife,” said Nuebecker.  

Some violations are spotted by the compliance officer, while others are reported by neighbors, he said.  

Warning and explaining are the county’s preferred methods of enforcement, Nuebecker continued. But without “voluntary compliance through education,” the county will issue a notice to abate, which could lead to an abatement hearing before the Teton County Board of Commissioners.

After that, failure to comply could bring the case before the District Court, where a judge could issue a fine of up to $750 per day, Nuebecker said.  

Jackson Goes Dark

Though the policy dates back to 1994, recent amendments to include signage, trees and vegetation in the list of forbidden string-lighting displays make Teton County eligible for an International Dark Sky Community designation by the International Dark Sky Association, Buckrail reported.

Winning the designation would make Teton County the first county in the world to receive such distinction, the story says. 

Zoning within Jackson, however, allows for string lights from Nov. 1 through April 15, according to the town’s land use and development regulations. 

‘Freedom Still Abounds’ 

Phillip Vrska, a resident of Sublette County who visits Teton County often, told Cowboy State Daily the policy looks a little invasive from the outside, but it’s still a reflection of local control.  

“If Teton County residents desire to have the government regulate their Christmas lights, landscape lights and how they flicker or flash, that is their choice,” said Vrska.  

Vrska said if the government chooses to fine a “widowed elderly lady” who persists in displaying lights, county officials may find themselves unelected in the future.  

He said the county seat of Sublette County has a large light display still up that flashes all night and has festive Christmas lighting traditions.  

“I’m just glad that I live in a wonderful county that is beautiful, and freedom still abounds,” said Vrska.  

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