ST. PETE BEACH — A citywide streetlight conversion program, designed to install new LED fixtures on existing Duke Energy poles, will be a shocker for some residents, city officials told commissioners at a recent meeting.

City Manager Alex Rey explained a pilot project will be conducted by replacing all of the streetlights in the area known as District 1, bounded by 76th Avenue to the south, Blind Pass Road to the east, 93rd Avenue to the north and the water on the west. 

Following a review of the pilot project, the rest of the city will be transitioned into the project, with the approval of the City Commission.

Public Works Director Mike Clarke told commissioners as old high-pressure sodium lights have burned out, they have been replaced with new white LED streetlights. High-pressure sodium lights are no longer manufactured, he said. “Recognizing that the replacement process will continue, city staff recommends we plan to replace all of the streetlights with new LED lights.”

Clarke said two light colors are available, amber and white. The amber light is available in two intensities, 110-watt and 70-watt, with the city choosing 70-watt amber fixtures. 

During the May 24 commission meeting, Rey noted a public survey was recently conducted by staff to determine which of three light fixture combinations was preferred by residents. The amber LED fixture with a 70-watt intensity was preferred by 54.5% of the respondents over a white light. 

The city manager told commissioners the new LED fixtures will create a significant change in how the community will look at night.

“It’s going to look very, very, different than what it looks like today,” Rey said. “People are going to have to get used to going out at night. People are going to find it kind of eerie that there is not a lot of light spillage … there’s going to be less of that, so as you’re walking the street it is going to be illuminated, (but) you won’t be able to look into people’s yards.

“Your visual angle is going to get narrower,” he explained, “so people feel a little discombobulated at the beginning that you don’t get to see as much as you have seen before.” However, “it’s great for the person who lives in the house, because then you don’t have that light pollution through your window.”

Clarke said it is the first step “to transform our entire city into the lighting of the future.”

Commissioner Ward Friszolowski said he has already heard complaints that LED lights are too bright — even indoor lights. “We have already seen people in other communities complain they are too bright, and on the converse side, some people want more light because they walk a lot at night. There’s this delicate balance that’s really important.”

Friszolowski also questioned why District 1 was chosen for the pilot, saying it is “a pretty big test area.” 

Clark said District 1 was chosen because of its rectangular grid system, which doesn’t have the density of canopy of other areas, so the lights will be more visible.

“From that experience, we’ll go ahead and propose a map-out of the rest of the city, kind of run through that process and bring it to you,” Clarke told commissioners. 

Clarke noted in the District 1 neighborhoods, “some houses are not as set back from the light, some houses are farther, some are on corners, some are midblock.”

Commissioners voted unanimously to proceed with the test project in District 1, using the 70-watt amber LED fixture.

Utility burial proceeding 

City commissioners also unanimously agreed to allocate $215,886 to Duke Energy for Phase 1 of the Gulf Boulevard utilities undergrounding project.

Clarke explained the invoice from Duke Energy contains the Contribution in Aid of Construction fee required by Duke to perform the conversion of power to existing streetlights from overhead to underground along Gulf Boulevard from 55th Avenue to 75th Avenue. 

“This cost covers the installation of pedestals for current and future pole locations, conductor installation, and reconnection of lights to the underground power system,” the public works director said.