Outdoor Lighting Codes and Ordinances in Wisconsin

Last Updated: 10/14/2018

Here are all the outdoor lighting codes and ordinances in Wisconsin that I am aware of.  A big thank you to Scott Lind, PE, of Hollandale, Wisconsin for initially putting together this list in 2007!

Please post a comment or contact me via email if you have additions or updates to this list.

See Sec. 25-53 Outdoor Lighting

Blue Moundsmap





See Section 23.707 Exterior Lighting Standards

Egg Harbormap

Fontana-on-Geneva Lakemap

Fox Crossingmap

Fox Pointmap


Green Lake Countymap


See Section 4.07 Artificial Light and Glare


See Section 10.085 Outdoor Lighting



Mineral Pointmap
Is this lighting ordinance still in effect?  I cannot find it on the Mineral Point website.

See Section e Lighting Standards

New Glarusmap
See Article XVIII Exterior Lighting Plans and Standards

See Section 17.211 Outdoor Lighting

Oconomowoc Lakemap



Shorewood Hillsmap


See sections 9.02(7) Exterior Lighting, and 9.04(7) Exterior Lighting Plan

Sturgeon Baymap
See Section 20.12.(1)(b)12

See Section 17.0608 Lighting


Whitefish Baymap
See Section 16.31 III A2

Williams Baymap
See Section 15.03 Outdoor Lighting and Advertising Signs


The Wisconsin State Law Library maintains a comprehensive list of Wisconsin Ordinances and Codes.  This will be a good resource for us to find additional outdoor lighting codes and ordinances to be added to this list, as well as to check your local government’s codes and ordinances in general.

It is interesting to note that nearly two-thirds of these ordinances are for suburban communities in very light-polluted metro areas.  Another four ordinances are no doubt in place to help protect the Yerkes Observatory (Williams Bay, Geneva, Fontana-on-Geneva Lake, and Delavan).  Where are the rural ordinances and dark sky preserves?  Since there are very few remaining locations in Wisconsin where the night sky is truly dark, shouldn’t we be aggressively protecting those areas?  Wouldn’t it be easier to save a pristine area than to restore an almost hopelessly polluted one? Another interesting point is that upscale suburban communities are much more likely to have a lighting ordinance than more affordable communities.  Some subdivisions even exclude streetlights, but these are almost never places where most of us can afford to live.

17 thoughts on “Outdoor Lighting Codes and Ordinances in Wisconsin”

  1. Are you aware of any others that have surfaced in the last year in Wisconsin?
    I am working on an ordinance in Town of Eagle Wis.
    Enforcement is an issue with Town….do you find more that are enforced by local authority / police / sheriff. Or, do you find zoning to be the muscle behind the penalty?

    1. tom casey,

      as an annoyed, tired, cranky resident of the town of eagle, is there something I could do? the latest for me is an abutter of an abutter who cut down trees in september and now, another light makes night-lights inside my house unnecessary . . . and sleep, I guess, too

      1. let tom casey know, I sent a note with a card and the resident responded positively by screening, or otherwise, toning down the light.

  2. Hi Tom,

    I am not aware of any new or revised lighting ordinances in Wisconsin during the past year, but through a little searching on the internet, I was able to add links to lighting ordinances for the City of Oconomowoc, the City of Appleton, and the Town of Perry. The Town of Perry is particularly interesting as they received a Recognition of Merit from the International Dark-Sky Association for their dark-sky lighting ordinance, enacted in 2009.

    One way to tell that a lighting ordinance was enacted or updated recently is if it addresses LED lighting.

    I am delighted to hear you are working on an outdoor lighting ordinance for the Town of Eagle, Wisconsin. Please keep me apprised of your progress here or via email at mac.com prefix my last name. When your ordinance is passed, please let me know so I can add it here.

    Enforcement is always a problem—that is why the citizens of the town need to be the eyes and ears of the town board and law enforcement. However, the primary purpose of an outdoor lighting ordinance is to set design standards for outdoor lighting. Going through a plan review process before the outdoor lighting is purchased and installed is far better for all parties than going through the expense (and, often, conflict) of remediation. So, to answer your question, I would say that zoning should be the muscle behind the penalty.

    As you consider an outdoor lighting ordinance, ideally it should address the following key areas of concern

    • Light trespass from commercial, residential, and municipal lighting into and onto residential properties
    • All outdoor lighting should be full-cutoff (minimize near-horizontal light—which causes glare, and eliminate direct uplight)
    • Use the lowest effective illumination level needed for the task
    • Use time controls (on/off and dimming) and occupancy sensors wherever possible to save energy and provide illumination only when it is needed
    • LED lighting should have a correlated color temperature (CCT) of 3000K or less (warm white light with less light at the blue end of the spectrum than typical LEDs)

    Existing lighting that does not comply with the ordinance will have to be grandfathered for a period of time (usually several years), unless it is causing objectionable light trespass into or onto a residential property.


  3. I am proud to say that I, with the support of the La Crosse Area Astronomical Society, got the town board of the Town of Holland to promulgate their lighting ordinances . They were very supportive. I now live in Tucson Az. where both the city and county have strict lighting ordinances because of the many observatories in the area. Lighting ordinances are all well and good but you have to keep an eye on businesses & etc. to be sure they adhere to them. We had a large solar farm built near my home and I had to get on their case to correct their lighting. Now we are having a very large scale Bayer/Monsanto facility being built just down the road. I communicated with them to let them know someone was watching. They have a lot of lights but they are full cutoff significantly reducing any L.P. Just have to work on the local high school and their awful athletic field lighting. Don’t expect anything from them till they decide to redo the facility.

  4. Hi Phil,

    I commend your efforts on behalf of good lighting in Wisconsin and now Arizona. As I remember IDA founder David Crawford saying more than once, “our job of education is never done”. Full cutoff is the key, but reasonable light levels are important, too, of course. Overlighting is so common, and disturbing on multiple levels.


    P.S. Based on your comment above, I updated the map link for Holland to the one by La Crosse and not the one by Appleton. I had the wrong Holland but the right ordinance. Thanks!

  5. Hello!
    I found your page through some research I’ve been doing on Link Media billboards in Door County. We have one that went up last August on the border of Sturgeon Bay and Sevastopol. The thing is beaming light nearly directly into the sky. I moved here from horribly light polluted (cloudy too) Seattle three years ago. The darker skies were a big selling point for deciding to relocate here. I am an amateur astronomer also, and built an observatory in my yard.
    The billboard is about 1/4 mile from my house and located on the property of Culvers and a gas station. Not only has the lighting of the gas station become a textbook example of light trespass, but the billboard beams light directly into the sky for about 2,000 feet or so. My SE sky has become ruined with this “death ray” destroying the view, I already see my view of the Milky Way vanishing.
    I’m also VP of the Door Peninsula Astronomical Society in Sturgeon Bay. The club facilities is 1.9 miles south of this light, and it is affecting the sky to the north of our observatory. We have a 16 inch Ritchey Chretien scope, Paramount ME, Cameras…..etc. We have a first class club for a small city. I’ve put a LOT of time into working on this scope to get it collimated and functional (not quite there yet, but close!), and as we come out of the pandemic we have a lot of plans for public outreach, both in person and online – hopefully working with the schools doing live online imaging, and even letting students steer the scope.
    This is all in jeopardy thanks to the city seemingly ignoring the light ordinances. I’ve been in contact with different officials and they basically said “Link has been adversarial to work with” and basically apologized to me saying nothing could be done….so they let them do this anyway?
    Any ideas, suggestions? I’d love to hear from anyone on this list. Seems we are all in the same situation.

    1. Hi Tom, I feel your pain! It would help if we could see some photographs. What is being advertised on the billboard? Unless it is advertising a business that is open all night long, then you could make the case that the billboard illumination should be turned off after 11 p.m. or midnight. That is done in a lot of places. Also, the lights should be mounted at the top of the billboard and shine down onto the sign. If neither of these can be done, then I’m sure at least the wattage of the lights illuminating the sign could be reduced. Or, if the lights are not efficiently illuminating just the sign, lights with a more restricted beam pattern (and lower wattage) should be installed. If the city or county government can’t or won’t do anything, then see if you can find an environmental lawyer in the area who might do some pro bono work. Find allies (both individuals and organizations). This is a quality of life issue. Write a letter to the editor in a local newspaper and see if you can get them to write a news article about how it is affecting the quality of life for you and others. Include how it affects the ability to see the northern lights from the club observatory. And meteor showers such as the Perseids in August.

      1. Hi Tom, just read through your email to me and thanks for the additional details and photos. Here are the photos:

        Offending billboard in Door County

        From the DPAS club observatory 1.9 miles south

        View from a clear night a few nights ago. Stars seen in sky, but bright glare from the billboard is see directed straight up.

        Light seen from my driveway. The Culver’s location is the left light (and the glare from the light pole), billboard on the right – foggy night shows the pattern well.

        1. Thanks for sharing my photos. I’ve been in contact with the local media and spend an hour with a journalist the other night. It was a clear night, and the big scope was behaving (long story, but it’s an RC if anyone knows the fun of collimating a 16 inch!) so I gave a nice demonstration of how it worked and M13 showed up nicely. We stepped out and saw the light pollution display easily. The article should be posted in the next 10 days so I’ll have to share a link when it comes out. I hope I can make some changes.

          1. Tom, this is an excellent article! Should really help the cause for darker skies in Door County. If Link Outdoor Media comes back and says it is too expensive to install or maintain lights on the top of the billboard shining down, please note that those are old arguments that are no longer are valid. A number of billboard companies now routinely offer top-mounted LED lights that shine down on the sign, and the IDA will definitely be able to put you in touch with some of them. LEDs last for many years, and provided that the electronics that drive them are also certified to last for many years, the billboard illumination system should be a zero maintenance proposition—or close to it. Good luck, and please keep us posted!

  6. Than you David! I’ll keep you updated on progress.
    I’m very pleased with the article and I’ve been posting links to it on a few local FB pages, our club page and other places.
    After I really noticed the problem with the billboard, I my travels around I’ve seen many other Link billboards down Door Peninsula along the highway. I was noticing them the other night has heading north, and they all used similar lighting that just skims the billboard, but probably 75% of the light is directed skyward.
    There is another less dominant company (Lamar) that has billboard also. I need to go see one and night still to verify the lighting, but they seem to have longer light bars (maybe about 4 feet long and appear to be no more than maybe 8 inches tall) and the lighting surface is totally parallel with the sign so they may “care” more. I’ll probably drive down late at night and get some shots of those and see. I’ve also got my drone FAA legal with a strobe, so maybe even try a few shots from above. I did test it out from my driveway recently and flew it over the offending billboard. The glare from the sky was extensive and my drone camera couldn’t even properly expose it since it was always overexposed. The strobe worked nicely, I could easy see it from my yard, but need to fly it from closer to avoid powerlines there. Needless to say, I’m absolutely furious about this.

  7. Just another update on this battle. Looks like we won a small victory. I got an email from the Link manager in Green Bay. He said:
    – They moved the lights closer to the billboard
    – Set a timer to turn off midnight to 5am
    – Dimmed the “driver distractor” LED display on the other side.
    So far, the billboard has been off for about 2 weeks now (since I got the email). I’m hoping they just gave up on lighting it at night. I fear that they just haven’t set up the timer yet, but I’m not saying anything! Maybe they realized that even moving the lights closer to the sign wouldn’t do much and to shut me up, they leave it all off? I can only hope.
    Here’s the article: https://doorcountypulse.com/green-notes-stargazers-celebrate-small-victory-for-dark-sky/

    1. This is a great victory, Tom! Your persistence and professionalism have paid off, and Craig Sterrett’s extremely well-written article in the Peninsula Pulse brought some unwanted negative publicity to Link Outdoor Media, so this demonstrates the importance of local newspapers at a time when so many of them are disappearing. Thanks for sharing!

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