Judy Cartwright writes the Community Watchdog column
The phrase "after dark" lost its meaning in one Rockville Centre neighborhood when new lights at a revamped car dealership shined from dusk 'til dawn.
Neighbors hadn't anticipated such bright nights. After all, when Mercedes-Benz of Rockville Centre announced plans a few years ago to expand the building to two floors, the dealership offered them assurances over a steakhouse dinner that there would be no harmful effects on nearby homes.
From Sunrise Highway, the new structure is stunning: Glass walls showcase a two-story interior with a glow that draws attention to cars arrayed on a new mezzanine.
But as work neared completion in the spring, and new lights were turned on, neighbors were seeing red.
The neighborhood has a view of the back and sides of the facility, with lights positioned along the white-sheathed exterior and large windows that never went dark. In the parking lots, lights shined from atop stanchions several feet taller than their predecessors.
One neighbor, Jennifer Jankus Denni, said the dealership initially responded to concerns by vowing to plant tall evergreens and install window shades.
Another, Patrice Malone, shared copies of email correspondence, dated in April, in which the dealership said plantings to screen out the lights could be expected in two months. That would have been June.
When we visited the first week of this month, no window shades were in evidence and only a handful of evergreens were in the ground. Denni said she was told that no more could be planted because so much of the property had been paved for parking.
The site's brightness appears to be at odds with Rockville Centre's Village Code, whose building design review standards include this section: (2) Exterior lighting, to minimize the impact upon public and adjacent properties.
Our first call was to Village Administrator Keith Spadaro, who told us the village continues to work with the dealership to get the exterior lights shielded and the interior lights dimmed.
The matter is on the agenda of a planning board meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Village Hall.
A telephone inquiry to Mercedes-Benz USA seeking the rationale for such bright overnight lighting prompted this email response: MBUSA does not regulate the duration or intensity of lighting for Mercedes-Benz dealerships. We rely on our dealer partners to conform to municipal standards and code as well as local customary norms.
Peter Rubin, the attorney who represents the dealership, returned our phone call last week to report that the dealership is taking the steps mentioned earlier, including shades for the windows.
And, he said, the dealership has begun shutting off most of the interior lights overnight, a practice that will continue until shades are installed. The custom-made window coverings, which will be programmed to close automatically each night, had not arrived when expected, he said.
"We are aware of the neighbors' concerns and, as a result, until the shades come in the lights have been turned off," Rubin said. "We're working on getting this fine tuned."
The dealership has ordered shields for some of the parking lot lights, he said, and also is working with the village regarding the planting of more trees.
The all-night lights first came to our attention in June. At the time, neighbors expressed optimism based on the dealership's earlier statements.
As months passed, and the lights continued to shine, Denni showed us the effect on her living room "even when I shut the blinds." The neighborhood's hope was fading and its patience wearing thin.
When we paid a visit a few nights ago, the building's lights had been dimmed. But the row of parking lot lights directly outside Denni's windows continued to shine bright.