As the first of the famous Dyker Heights Christmas lights displays went up, community leaders and local officials are stepping up efforts to tame the month-long extravaganza to avoid the craziness of previous years.
“The city has been very supportive of us. What we want is to have a safety plan in place that works,” Dyker Heights Civic Association President Fran Vella-Marrone told this newspaper on Monday.
The end of the long Thanksgiving weekend usually signals the start of the Christmas lights display as homeowners turn their attention to decorating their front lawns with eye-popping holiday decorations in preparation for the hordes of visitors who come and gawk at the over-the-top extravaganza.
Vella-Marrone also sought to clarify the position of the Dyker Heights Civic Association on the Christmas lights.
Following a Nov. 13 civic association meeting during which a crackdown of the holiday display was discussed, Vella-Marrone said she read numerous comments on social networking sites criticizing her group’s efforts and accusing the organization’s members of being Grinches.
People had gotten the mistaken impression that the civic association is opposed to the display, she said.
“We’re not against the Christmas lights display. We’re not trying to shut it down. I couldn’t shut it down even if I wanted to. These are private homeowners doing something on their private property. But we want to make it safe and enjoyable for everyone,” Vella-Marrone said.
The safety plan the civic association is pushing would include traffic enforcement to keep the tour buses and private cars moving as well as enforcement by the New York City Department of Health to crack down on unlicensed vendors selling cider and hot chocolate on the streets.
Working with Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann, Vella-Marrone is also seeking a crackdown on homeowners who lease space in their driveways to the food vendors in violation of city health regulations.
In previous years, the proliferation of food vendors has led to a sharp increase in litter on local streets, according to Vella-Marrone.
“The Department of Health is essential to this plan,” said Vella-Marrone, adding that the agency can levy heavy-duty fines (in some cases $1,000) on people who violate the rules. The fines can serve as a deterrent, she said.
Dyker Heights residents usually unveil their Christmas lights right after Thanksgiving and keep them up until shortly after New Year’s Day. Most are concentrated in the area between 10th and 13th avenues from 82nd Street to 86th Street where scores of homeowners erect two-story-tall Santas, dancing reindeer, giant Nutcrackers, illuminated snowflakes and other over-the-top decorations in front of their houses.
The show attracts tens of thousands of holiday-happy visitors, including many tourists who arrive on tour buses to take in the sights and sounds.
But the holiday extravaganza, while enjoyable, creates major headaches for Dyker Heights residents, according to Vella-Marrone.
The problems include a near-constant flow of vehicular traffic on side streets that prevents residents from getting their cars out of their driveways, children who ignore oncoming traffic and dash across the street, and visitors who carelessly discard cups of hot chocolate on sidewalks, Vella-Marrone said.
Beckmann agreed that the Christmas display has gotten a bit out of hand. “It really has become a hardship for residents,” Beckmann said at the civic association meeting two weeks ago.
The New York Police Department is aware of the situation, according to Deputy Police Chief Charles Scholl of Patrol Borough Brooklyn South. “You’re going to see some resolution to this problem,” he assured residents at the civic association meeting.