Carefree considering gas lamp district, sundial sign

by Curtis Riggs | July 2, 2008

CAREFREE – Town officials intend to “brand” downtown as a tourist destination by creating a gas lamp district and directional signs modeled after the famous sundial that sits at the east end of Easy Street.

gaslampA crowd of 50 downtown business owners and concerned residents attended a public hearing last week about the first major change to come to downtown since the $5.5-million Town Center was built in 2000. The idea for the gas lamp district, which is modeled after one in San Diego, was well received at the meeting, even by residents who fear the loss of the night sky from light spilling out into residential neighborhoods.
The plan is to install 13 colonial-style gas lamps, which will actually be powered by electricity, on 10-foot poles along Easy Street and throughout the downtown area. The “branding” signage element being considered consists of signs modeled after the signature sundial, which is the largest ancient timepiece in the western hemisphere. 
Carefree lighting consultant Don Happ, of D.H. Lighting Solutions, said the gas lamps will be placed 100 feet apart and thrown off 45-foot circles of light around them.
“They will create large pools of light and give a comfortable visual presence,” Happ said while adding that 95 percent of the light from the new poles will go straight down thus minimizing the amount of light that will go up into the dark night skies. Happ, who also was the consultant for lighting in D C Ranch, said the lighting in downtown Carefree will be “dimmer and warmer” than the lighting in the north Scottsdale development.

Carefree Town Councilman Bob Gemmill stressed “the idea is to keep the lights below the rooflines so it does not go out into the residential areas,” when discussing one way to preserve the night sky while making downtown safer and more inviting at night.
“We are falling back to our roots because we have many gas lamps within the town,” said Gemmill, who is the town council liaison to the downtown business community.
“We thought it would be a good tool. No town in Arizona has gone with a gaslight district. We will have ownership of a powerful tool for the town merchants,” he said about how the gaslight branding will help to attract business to downtown Carefree.
When pressed about who will select the poles, and bulbs, for the gas lamps, Gemmill said, “We wont do anything until we get the right lighting source and everybody agrees on that.”

A sample light pole just outside the Town Center has been converted into a gas lamp pole so residents can get an idea of what the poles will look like. Electricity will soon be connected to this pole to give people an idea of how much light will emanate from the gas lamps. A 50-watt bulb will be used on the gas light sample pole.
Town officials have earmarked $160,000 for the 13 poles in this year’s budget.
Carefree Planning Director Gary Neiss pointed out the gas lamps will be on a timer as another way of keeping town much light from spilling out of downtown.

“I imagine they will not be on all night,” he said.

Carefree businesswoman Melissa Price told the council they were “on the right track” as far as lighting and signage.

The monument signs proposed will be replicas of the signature sundial. Directional and business signs will hang off of the slanted sundial post.

Town officials are also considering three deceleration (right-turn) lanes into the downtown Easy Street area. They will be at Tom Darlington and Wampum Way, Tom Darlington and Lucky Lane and on Cave Creek Road at Hum Road (just east of the Shell station).

Neiss said he would like to see the signs and gas lamps installed before the beginning of the tourist season this fall. Carefree transportation consultant Patrick Neal said the right-turn lanes will be finished by mid-September.