DYKER HEIGHTS — Firefighters had to abandon their truck and walk to the site of a 911 call.
A resident with asthma was choked by the fumes of an idle ice cream truck.
These were just two of the stories told Thursday as the City Council’s Consumer Affairs Committee heard testimony on the notorious Dyker Lights holiday display and a bill that would ban vendors from clogging up the annual end-of-year affair.
The legislation — introduced this summer by Councilmember Justin Brannan, who represents the area and is a member of the committee — seeks to ban food trucks, souvenir sellers and other types of vendors from operating between 10th Avenue and 13th Avenue, from 81st Street to 86th Street, the heart of holiday-light country.
Since the late 1980s, those from neighboring communities have made the trek by foot, bike, subway and car to Dyker Heights to marvel at the displays, many exhibited as early as Thanksgiving weekend.
Today, spectators travel from other states and countries to the neighborhood The New York Times has called the “undisputed capital of Christmas pageantry” — a number of them using organized bus tours that have only grown in popularity since the famed lights first made headlines.
“Local residents who for so many years have loved viewing the Christmas light displays now feel completely overwhelmed by these tour buses that bring hundreds of thousands of tourists and a parade of ice cream trucks and street vendors that combine to cause a traffic congestion Christmas nightmare,” Brannan said Thursday. “This creates a monthlong street festival-like atmosphere in this quaint residential neighborhood.”
Local residents for the most part welcome the tourists, but are unhappy with the congestion they bring and the litter they leave behind, according to Brannan, who said he drafted the vendor ban bill after hearing complaints from constituents.
“Just imagine the joy of a 40-day ‘unofficial’ street festival happening outside your door on a quiet tree-lined block or the noise and fumes from an idling ice cream truck for 10 hours a day — not exactly the Norman Rockwell Christmas of your dreams,” he said.
The committee said that more than 150,000 visitors are expected to attend this year. And if local residents can’t get a cap on the chartered tour buses, they say the city can at least put an end to the vending.
Aside from prohibiting vendors, the bill would also help the community manage the event, supporters said.
“It must be understood that this is an organic event, occurring as a result of homeowners expressing their faith and joy for the season, that has turned into a full-blown New York City event,” said Community Board 10 member Barbara Vellucci, who shared testimony from Dyker Heights Civic Association President Fran Vella-Marrone. “However, because the city does not recognize Dyker Lights as an [official] event under the permit process, it has become more and more difficult to manage.”
Brannan’s bill would allow responding city agencies to properly police the process, he said, explaining that when a resident thinks a food vendor might be breaking the law, so many different agencies respond that it’s hard to figure out which laws, if any, the vendor is breaking — and who can enforce them. The bill, Brannan said, would make clear that previously “gray area.”
It would also help curb other hazardous situations, like those recounted at the hearing by leaders of CB10.
“The vendors idle in front of homes for 12 hours per day for the 40-day duration,” CB10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann said, stressing that trucks with generators create “chokepoints” that force pedestrians into the streets and block cars from getting through. “One resident submitted a video to our office of the Fire Department, who had to walk to a call because they could not get through the intersection.”
CB10 Chair Lori Willis echoed Beckmann. “The trucks run until whatever time the viewers leave,” she said. “I had a very disturbing account from a resident who has asthma who could not escape the fumes. He said ‘I have no where else to go, I am in my own home choking.’”
Councilmember Rafael Espinal, who chairs the committee, said that while he admires the “entrepreneurial spirit” of street vendors (they are crucial to the city, he said), something must be done to help Dyker Heights residents reclaim some sense of normalcy throughout the holidays.
“Look, it’s fantastic that hundreds of thousands of tourists want to come see Dyker Heights but at what cost to the residents who live in this great, quiet, and tight-knit neighborhood 365 days a year? It is completely unfair to them,” he said. “This bill will make sure 2019 is different.”
The committee will likely vote on the bill before the end of the month, the councilman told the Brooklyn Eagle, with a full vote on the council floor to follow. Brannan and other committee members said they hope to move the process along quickly enough to enact the ban by the start of the new Dyker Lights season.
Additional reporting by Paula Katinas.