Beam of Bright: Leo House Lights Pollute Penn South Neighbors

The Leo House lights are noticeably brighter than the Chase Bank entry. Some Penn South residents assumed they were temporary construction lights. | Photo courtesy Amy Jackson

BY REBECCA FIORE | Amy Jackson noticed an unwanted trespasser in her apartment, and she’s had difficulty sleeping ever since.

Managers at The Leo House hostel/hotel (332 W. 23rd St., btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves.) confirmed they added new light fixtures outside the building in November, to illuminate their American flags. Jackson, who has been living at Penn South for five years, never had light trespassing issues before.

“It lights up my ceiling,” Jackson said. “They are down the block and off to the side, they are almost angling at me. I keep my blinds pulled in my bedroom now because it produced more light at night. It’s funny to be keeping the blinds pulled to keep the light out during nighttime. It’s not for privacy, it’s necessity.”

Merrill Peress, Jackson’s neighbor, initially thought the fixtures were temporary construction lights. She’s fortunate, unlike Jackson, that her bedroom window faces north.

“They are a light polluting eyesore from our windows and balconies, and overwhelmingly the brightest lights on the street,” Peress said.

Susan Harder, a light designer and a volunteer for the New York state chapter of International Dark-Sky Association (, has been focusing on issues of outdoor lighting and light pollution for about 20 years. She said currently, there are no laws regulating outdoor lighting, except on state-owned facilities.

In fact, the Committee on Transportation of the NYC Council introduced a bill in 2015, which would require light-emitting diode (LED) streetlights in the city, on streets, highways, parks and other public places “have a correlated color temperature no higher than 3000 Kelvin” (Kelvin is the unit of measurement used to characterize the color of light emitted).

Overexposure to the blue light emitted from LEDs, according to the International Dark-Sky Association, is particularly harmful to humans, as it negatively impacts circadian rhythm, our internal biological clocks, and has even been linked to increasing risks for cancer and other diseases.

While New York City may not the be City of Lights (that’s Paris), it is the City that Never Sleeps, as seen on the far right hand corner of the image above. Susan Harder from the International Dark-Sky Association said light trespassing is a citywide issue. | Photo via

“Even with your eyes closed, if you have light in the bedroom at night, the light still changes your internal mechanism and shuts off melatonin,” Harder said.

Based off pictures of the lights, Harder said she thinks there’s too much light shining on the ground, making either ends of the building nearly pitch black.

“It’s the same thing that happens when you walk out of a movie theater,” she said. “From the dark you come into the bright lights and can’t see as well. Your eyes have to adjust. They have to become accustomed to the brightness again. You can’t see as well after you pass by them, because your eyes shut down.”

Jackson said she asked Larry O’Neill, Penn South’s security chief, to go over and talk to The Leo House, after she briefly tried to but was dismissed.

O’Neill said he received a letter from Jackson on Nov. 30 complaining about the lights, since then he has not received any additional complaints. Sometime before Christmas, he went down and spoke with two men, Warren Le Cruise, facilities manager/fire safety director, and David Smith, executive director, who brought him to the second floor so he could look down at the fixtures himself.

“I believe if they had bigger hoods over these lights it might prevent them from shining upward,” O’Neill said. “They are very bright and they do shine.”

O’Neill added that the two men didn’t indicate the need to fix the lights, as they didn’t see an issue.

“I don’t think [The Leo House] believes it’s as much of a problem as residents believe it is on their level,” he said.

The lights travel up to Jackson’s apartment, illuminating more than just Leo House flags at night. Jackson sleeps with her blinds closed to keep the artificial light from getting into her bedroom. | Photo courtesy Amy Jackson

When told that Jackson sleeps with her blinds closed at night because of the light trespassing, Smith said, “I hope she sleeps with her eyes closed.”

Smith and Le Cruise said, from their perspectives, they don’t understand how the light could get into Jackson’s apartment, since as they said, the lights are pointed down and have coverings.

“We are trying to do everything from our angle, we are trying to do the right thing. Anyone who lives in the city, guess what? You have to deal with lights,” Le Cruise said. He said the only intention of the lights is to illuminate the flags on the building and that there are other buildings in the area that are well lit.

“This ain’t the country, this is New York City. This is unfounded. Move to the country Amy Jackson, or pull down the shades,” Smith said.

Kate Karakassis, who lives off W. 24th St. at Penn South, said that while her apartment isn’t directly affected, she still finds the lights to be “extremely bright and inconsistent with any other lighting along the block.”

“The area is already well lit and The Leo House’s new lights serve no advertising or security purposes. West 23rd Street is not Times Square and that level of lighting is not appropriate for this mixed-use 23rd Street area,” she said. “In the summer, when balconies are in use and windows open for air circulation, this problem will only be worse.”

Harder said that just because New York is known as the city that never sleeps doesn’t mean that lights have to be obtrusive or cause safety hazards. In her past experience, Harder said she has rarely dealt with a situation like The Leo House, where the managers ignored the issue.

“In New York City we are all so close together that there is an implicit ‘be a good neighbor’ law; turn down music or pick up after your dog. But in this case we are going to have to go further because the city doesn’t have lighting laws. It’s not just The Leo House, the problem is all over the city,” Harder said, also noting she thinks that new lower-leveled fixtures would not only benefit the community, but also more likely than not save The Leo House money on energy.

“They’ve got the wrong fixtures. They are positioned incorrectly, too bright. They can light up sidewalks and flags perfectly well with different fixtures, conforming to better light levels,” Harder asserted.

Jackson said she initially felt silly complaining, calling it a “First World problem,” but she has since made a complaint to 311, so the city has a file of the issue.

“It just seems so un-neighborly of them,” Jackson said. “It’s a Catholic organization that’s been in the neighborhood so long. You’d think if some neighbors contacted them that they might take action, but they haven’t. That’s kind of disappointing to me.”

O’Neill and Harder agree that this problem can be easily fixed.

“They should really have someone come in and adjust them down rather than pointing in this direction now. Or have someone come in and keep the lights, but put an extension of the hood,” O’Neill said.

When questioned whether or not The Leo House would consider changing the lights if asked, Smith said, “No, because he [O’Neill] was already over here and did exactly that [ask].”

NOTE: The print version of this article incorrectly identified The Leo House as being between Seventh and Eighth (it is between Eighth and Ninth). The article also failed to correctly identify The Leo House by its branded use of a capital “T” in “The.” We regret, and apologize for, these errors.

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