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Santa Fe board approves lab’s sign, pending review

SANTA FE, N.M. — The philosopher Rene Descartes once said, “Perfect numbers like perfect men are very rare.”

And so it was that Santa Fe’s Historic Districts Review Board on Tuesday approved a sign for Descartes Labs without knowing the precise numbers used to quantify the luminous intensity of the sign as measured in foot candles.

While members of the review board felt certain the sign above the entrance of the Firestone Building on North Guadalupe Street in downtown Santa Fe met city standards, the board approved the brightness of the sign on the conditions that the Land Use Department determines whether the sign falls under city’s night sky ordinance, and if it does that the amount of light emitted by the sign complies with the ordinance.

Members of the review board visited the site after dark Monday to gauge what it considered an acceptable brightness of the sign. Then at Tuesday’s meeting board member Buddy Roybal made the motion to approve the sign based on the setting of the device that controls the sign’s brightness. The motion was for the company’s logo to be illuminated at up to 33 percent of maximum brightness and the lettering at up to 50 percent. A friendly amendment from board member Ed Boniface requiring the sign to be turned off at 10 p.m. each night and not turned on again until daybreak was added.

But before the vote, it came to light that the sign may fall under the city’s night sky ordinance, which measures illumination in candle power. That almost caused the board to postpone a decision.

“I’m not comfortable doing this on the fly,” said Frank Katz, the board chairman. “My best guess is that it’s well within limits, but that’s a guess.”

The board ultimately decided to approve the motion, but with the condition that the Land Use Department have the final say as to whether the sign is subject to the night sky ordinance and if so whether it complies with the ordinance. If it doesn’t, Descartes Lab would have to make adjustments, Katz said.

Not everyone was happy with having such a sign on the side of a building in the historic district. Four people spoke out against the sign during a public comment period.

“Over-commercialization, that’s what I don’t like about the wattage of this sign,” said Bill Deutsch. “It’s contrary to what Santa Fe represents.”

Raymond Herrera said if Descartes Labs’ sign was approved, other businesses would also want their signs to shine bright.

“We’re opening up a can of worms if we allow this one,” he said.

Descartes Labs, a startup company that uses proprietary data analysis technology to turn satellite-based feeds into information it can sell to clients, moved its headquarters from Los Alamos to Santa Fe last year. It had previously been granted exceptions from the review board for the height of the sign and the number of colors it could contain.

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