The rumors of the Dyker Lights’ demise have been greatly exaggerated.
After over 100 Dyker Heights residents packed a Monday, October 30 meeting regarding the outcome of the community’s recent push to permit the famous Dyker Heights Lights to gain access to better resources, citywide news outlets reported that the storied spectacular might be in trouble.
However, despite the tradition’s fair share of contention, the reality is quite the opposite.
“The reality is that it’s getting bigger,” said Dyker Heights Civic Association President Fran Vella-Marrone who, at the meeting explained to residents that the permit request she and Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann submitted to the city earlier this year had been turned down by the New York City Police Department with no further explanation than that the request does not meet the required guidelines.
That permit, she explained, would have garnered additional resources for the Lights in terms of sanitation, traffic control and police presence as well as the means to implement things like vendor-free zones or a curfew.
“The purpose was to get more resources into the district to deal with the increase in tourism that we’ve seen, really over the last two years specifically,” said Beckmann, adding that the permit would have mirrored what is allocated to events like Bay Ridge’s Weekend Walks, where there is a cap on vendors and increased police presence. “From tour buses to commuter vans to Groupon sales, it’s really exploded and what residents are feeling is that they can’t access their homes and their driveways, or really traverse the community at all some nights.”
“I’m very disappointed that the permit was denied,” Vella-Marrone told this paper. “I think that if we had the permit in place, that would’ve been a very good framework for us to work with; that would’ve given us something concrete to point to and to enforce and, most importantly, that would’ve given us the resources that we need.”
In turn, the majority of the crowd – packed into the meeting room at Saint Philip’s Episcopal Church – spoke out against the decades-old Dyker tradition, many of them citing quality-of-life concerns about trash, traffic and noise, and some of them even threatening to shut their lights this year.
“It used to be a neighborhood thing and it was nice,” remarked one 85th Street resident. “[Now] I can’t even get home from work. People are parking everywhere, urinating in driveways . . . It’s a complete nightmare.”
But, Dyker Heights resident Vincent Privatelli told this paper that, “at the end of the day, [ending the Lights] isn’t gonna happen.”
Privatelli, who said he attended the meeting out of curiosity, has lived at the corner of 83rd Street and 12th Avenue for more than 20 years and, year after year, revels in the holiday display – so much so that he even dresses like Santa.
“Can it be annoying? Yes. Do you have people that throw garbage on your curb? Yes. But, at the end of the day, you’ve gotta take the good with the bad,” he said. “It’s amazing how a community that is so well known for its Christmas Lights can become so divided. At the end of the day, I’m doing this for the community. It’s good for local businesses, it’s good for children. At the end of the day, inconveniences aside, it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Since the late ‘80s – though no residents are really sure of when the lights sparked such a buzz – those from neighboring communities have made the trek either by foot or by car to Dyker Heights to marvel at the holiday masterpieces, which typically run from 10th Avenue to 12th Avenue and across the 80s, some hung as early as Thanksgiving weekend.
Today, spectators make the trip not just from other neighborhoods but other states, a number of them utilizing organized bus tours that have only grown in popularity since the famed Lights first made headlines.
Local resident Renea Gargiulo, who started the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Facebook page “on a whim” four years ago, told this paper that, amidst the contention, she has been on the receiving end of the same negativity Privatelli told this paper he witnessed Monday night.
“I have received some not so pleasant feedback implying that I should discontinue the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Facebook page and that its posts and presence contribute to the crowds,” she explained, “but if those complaining about the page had some integrity and spoke the truth, it is clear to see that the majority of the posts communicated to visitors over the years were all to support the community on all issues and help rally for resources and assistance. It’s one of the main focuses because these are not new issues and the tradition continues on.”
“It’s one month out of the year,” said Privatelli, adding that he will be outside of his house as early as this Saturday to get a head start on this year’s decorating. “There’s no one out there that’s going to stop me.”
Members of the 68th Precinct were also on hand at the meeting to outline their plans to improve on what many have already lauded as successful oversight last year.
Though nothing has been outlined yet, Vella-Marrone also hopes that those houses that participate this year might be willing to agree to a voluntary curfew and, ideally, shut their lights at the same time.
“We want to make sure that these residents know that we are on their side,” she said. “We are trying to help as best we can.”
At this point, Beckmann said, neither the board nor the civic association has received a formal response to the permit request, though they were told at a meeting they thought was its finalization that it has been axed.
In the meantime, she and Vella-Marrone “are going to continue to advocate for additional services, despite the disapproval.”
Gargiulo hopes to take it a step further.
“I’m personally going to start a community fundraiser, and put a call to action out to visitors and the greater majority of people in the community who are in favor of the tradition to raise funds to purchase more trash receptacles and possibly porta potty rentals,” she told this paper. “I will do what I can in my spare time to support the community, but welcome all the help I can get.”
Gargiulo can be reached via the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights Facebook page.