DYKER HEIGHTS — A new city law banning street vendors from selling food and souvenirs in the prime viewing area for the Dyker Heights Christmas lights display will face its first test at this year’s holiday event, and local officials said they’re confident it will make a big difference.
“I do expect the new law to help,” Capt. Robert Conwell, commanding officer of the 68th Precinct, told residents at a Dyker Heights Civic Association meeting on Nov. 12.
The 68th Precinct covers Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge.
The new law also gives the NYPD teeth to enforce the ban on vendors, according to officials.
“If they refuse to leave, they are subject to arrest,” Conwell said.
The City Council voted last month to approve a bill sponsored by Councilmember Justin Brannan to impose a ban on vendors in the area of Dyker Heights located between 10th and 13th avenues from 81st Street to 86th Street from Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Day, the height of the viewing season.
The Dyker Heights Christmas lights display, also known as Dyker Lights, has put the neighborhood on the map.
Dozens of homeowners decorate their front lawns and balconies with thousands of twinkling lights, giant Santas, dancing reindeer, enormous “Nutcracker Suite” figures, snowflakes and glowing angels. Many of the homeowners add to the festive mood by playing pre-recorded Christmas songs on sound systems.
The Christmas season event attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, including tourists who arrive in Dyker Heights on tour buses.
But along with the festive lights show there are traffic jams, noise and lots of trash, residents said.
Dyker Heights Civic Association President Fran Vella-Marrone and Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann worked for months with Brannan and city officials to find solutions.
The vendors have caused numerous problems during the Christmas season and cracking down on them was a necessary step to bring a sense of order to the event, according to residents and local officials.
Tourists buy food and beverages from vendors and then toss the food wrappings, cans and bottles on the ground, Brannan said when his legislation was approved.
In addition, Jonathan Yedin, a senior advisor to Brannan, told residents at the civic association meeting Tuesday night that the vendors increase noise and air pollution in the neighborhood by parking their trucks in one spot for lengthy periods. “They sit there and idle their car for hours at a time,” he said.
Conwell agreed. “They would come at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, get their spot and stay there all day,” he said.
Beckmann said the new law was instituted out of concern for public safety. “There are safety issues, pedestrian safety,” she said, adding that the exhaust fumes from the vendors’ trucks are harmful. “There are fumes and smoke. We had [concerns raised by] parents with kids with asthma,” she said.
The new law “gives the NYPD and the Department of Health a good, clear-cut way to ticket and enforce,” Yedin said.
Brannan carefully crafted the bill to pass constitutional muster, Yedin said.
Technically speaking, the ban is in place from 2 p.m. until 6 a.m., not 24 hours a day. The bill was written that way, according to Yedin, out of concern that a full-out, 24-hour ban might cause a vendor to challenge the ban in court.
Residents expressed concern that vendors could circumvent the law by setting up shop in homeowners’ driveways, rather than on the street. Beckmann sought to calm those fears. “You cannot vend there, even on private property,” she said.
The community board plans to send out a large mailing of informational fliers to Dyker Heights residents to familiarize homeowners with city regulations, Beckmann said.
State Sen. Andrew Gounardes told Dyker Heights Civic Association members that while the Dyker lights situation is primarily a city issue, rather than a state issue, his office is standing by ready to help residents.
“The Dyker lights are a great tradition, but they’ve also caused a major headache for the neighborhood,” Gounardes told this paper in a statement. “With new city legislation to stop vendors from operating and a proactive approach to sanitation and quality-of-life issues, we hope to help alleviate residents’ concerns. My office is here to help and we urge Dyker Heights residents to reach out should they need assistance.”
Residents at the meeting said they were grateful for the new law but expressed concern over vehicular traffic on the narrow, one-way streets at the height of the season, as well as the problems caused by tour buses parking on 86th Street near 12th Avenue.
Conwell said the tour bus operators are free to travel anywhere they wish.
“We have to be realistic. We can’t make the traffic disappear. All we can do is control it,” he said.