There are over 100 days until Christmas, but even in August Dyker Heights residents are preparing for the excitement and stress of the holidays.
At the forefront of their preparations, next to light display planning, is working out the details of the recently approved city permit that will provide Dyker Heights with access to additional city resources to control traffic, increase sanitation and implement standards to control the crowds that continue to grow each year.
“The chaos the past couple years has just grown … the popularity has grown so much it’s nationwide,” said Fran Vella-Marrone, president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association, who has been working on the permit and said that media coverage, the rise of social media and the offering of bus tours have drawn in thousands of viewers. “We can’t sustain that.”
In the past several years, the Dyker Lights have made it onto media lists of must-see light displays and with that popularity came additional stress on community services and residents.
“Many people [visitors] forget this is a residential area. People’s driveways are constantly blocked, people are urinating on lawns, knocking on your door asking to use the bathroom. It’s getting a little out of hand,” said Nick Nikolopoulos, a 20-year resident who didn’t decorate his home last year in hopes of relieving some of the traffic on his block and stress in his life. “We pay taxes. We live in a nice area. We want to keep it nice and clean. People have to remember to respect the neighborhood.”
After complaints from residents about noise, litter and blocked driveways, steps were taken last year to implement some control over the bustle. Tour buses were diverted to a designated bus area on 86th Street at 12th Avenue, an increase of cops from the local precinct controlled some of the crowds and some temporary waste baskets were provided in areas with heavy foot traffic. But, Vella-Marrone said these new provisions weren’t enough – trash was still scattered and driveways still blocked, and questions of safety were raised.
“You have crowds you can’t control any longer… You have vendors coming in and selling food and drink and so forth, which adds to the debris in the area, to the garbage and the trash. You have people blasting music,” said Vella-Marrone. “So it sort of becoming a Time Square effect when that’s not really what we want.”
Josephine Beckmann, Community Board 10 district manager who worked on the permit, said the crowded streets made her worry about the safety of visitors and residents. Crowded roads deny easy access to emergency vehicles.
In the weeks after the 2016 holiday season and the stress that came with it, CB 10 and the Dyker Civic decided to start the process to permit the Dyker Lights to gain access to city resources. After two meetings with over 100 area residents – the first, January 28 and the second, March 29 – mailings were sent to residents to gain their input. According to Beckmann, the response was overwhelmingly positive. The permit was approved in June and a meeting with residents to brainstorm the specifics will be held in September.
The new permit will focus on traffic control, pedestrian safety, as well as eliminating vending, early morning visitors, blocked driveways and noise, according to a presentation about the permit given at CB 10.
The permit will call for more police personnel and traffic control officers for crowd control, traffic control and safety; prohibit vending; implement a curfew for the lights to discourage late-night visitors; add additional public receptacles and daily collection; and prohibit amplified sound permits, according to the presentation. In discussion is redirecting tour vans in addition to tour buses to designated areas on 86th Street.
Vella-Marrone said the chaos of the past couple of years has taken away from the experience for both residents and viewers.
“[This permit] will allow for the resources we need to come in,” said Vella-Marrone. “We’ll have more police resources. More traffic control resources coming in. In addition to that we will have more sanitation resources coming in. But also we can set the guidelines for what we want and don’t want.”
The permit will be flexible, allowing resources to be changed and adjusted throughout the season and in following years, according to Vella-Marrone and Beckmann.
“[Dyker Lights] It’s a beautiful thing. The neighborhood loves to do it. We somewhat compete against each other but it’s all in good fun,” said Nikolopoulos. “But I think the permit is long overdue.”
Nikolopoulos has high hopes and does not plan to sit this year out.
“We want to make it safe and fun for everyone,” said Vella-Marrone, “the people who live there and the people who are coming to view the lights.”
There will be another CB 10 meeting in the fall with residents to discuss the permit.