The Case of the Extreme Christmas Lights
Can a city citing safety concerns pull the plug on a family’s popular holiday tradition?
IT’S NO SURPRISE that the Hyatt family of Plantation, Florida, calls its annual holiday display Hyatt Extreme Christmas. Ever since 2006, on the day after Thanksgiving, Kathy and Mark Hyatt and their two kids have unveiled the full spectacle: more than 200,000 lights, a 30-foot Christmas tree, a 20-foot Ferris wheel, a 20-foot inflatable movie screen that shows Disney movies on a loop, life-size gingerbread men, blowing snow, a giant Nativity scene, Santa’s workshop, a Christmas countdown sign, and live animals, including a “reindeer” horse named Yofi—all packed onto the Hyatts’ just-under-an-acre lot.
The display takes three months to assemble and attracts approximately 2,000 visitors each holiday season. It is lit Sunday through Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m. and until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and it all stays up until December 28, when everything gets packed away for the next year. Some neighbors on the cul-desac the Hyatts share with seven other large homes move temporarily to avoid the five weeks of what one described as a “nightmare” of litter,
blocked driveways, and the din of nonstop caroling and jingle-belling.
The city, though, has been most concerned about safety. When there’s no available parking on the cul-de-sac, visitors walk to the Hyatts’ after parking around the corner on Old Hiatus Road, a dimly lit two-lane street with no crosswalks. Plantation’s police department has tried over the years to make the area safer when the display is all merry and bright. For example, in 2013, the department paid overtime for two officers to control the traffic on a busy weekend and also created a “safe zone” for pedestrians on Old Hiatus, blocking off nonresidential traffic on a stretch of the road. But despite No Parking signs, visitors continued to park there.
In February 2014, the city filed a complaint in circuit court. It claimed that the display’s “carnival-like atmosphere” was a public nuisance, since it posed a public-safety threat. It asked the court to order the Hyatts “to refrain from promoting, erecting, and operating a holiday display at their residence of a nature, extravagance, or size [that attracts] large numbers of the public.”
But attracting the public is the point. As the family explains on its website, “The Hyatts love this time of the year as it give[s] us an opportunity to spread ‘Joy’ and ‘Holiday Wishes’ to so many people.”
Should the Hyatts be forced to limit or even shut down their holiday display? You be the judge.