The Case of the Ex­treme Christ­mas Lights

Reader's Digest - - You Be The Judge - BY VICKI GLEMBOCKI

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.

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