Kansas City Passes New Ordinance Effectively Killing Popular Light Displays

Gawkers come by the busload to see the Prairie Village house that owner Mike Babick has turned into a Christmas spectacle over the past 47 years.

Children gape at the thousands of twinkling lights. Grownups stare with joy and amazement at the hundreds of holiday figures and the robotic elves toiling away.

“Elves with hammers,” Babick said. “Elves with saws. Elves with candy canes. Elves with…”

Elves aplenty. Reindeer out the wazoo.

Yet Babick’s house at 7611 Falmouth St. may no longer be a must-see stop on the unofficial holiday lighting tour of Kansas City.

This week the Prairie Village City Council passed an ordinance that, Babick says, might make it unaffordable for him to carry on the tradition this Christmas. And he’s mighty bitter about it.

“It stinks,” he said Tuesday. “They’ve killed Christmas for me. Just killed it.”

City officials say that was not their intent in passing regulations Monday night that would require permits for any “special event” lasting five days or more that “is likely to or does in fact generate crowds … sufficient in size to obstruct, delay or interfere with the safe and orderly movement of … traffic.”

Babick consulted with an attorney Tuesday afternoon to consider his options. Also, the American Civil Liberties Union is having a look to see if Babick’s free speech rights are being infringed.

“It’s the goofiest permit ordinance that I’ve ever seen,” said the ACLU’s Doug Bonney. “Pretty clearly, this is targeted at this one guy.”

It’s easy to see why Babick might consider himself singled out. Only two other events currently held in the city would now fall under the ordinance, both Christmas displays: Candy Cane Lane and the Dorr Family Christmas Show near Shawnee Mission East High School.

But only Babick would likely have to hire off-duty police officers at the rate of $44.69 an hour, police spokesman Capt. Wes Lovett acknowledges, to handle issues associated with the large crowds that gather in his yard.

There’s a three-hour minimum, Lovett said, and Babick would most likely have to hire officers most Friday and Saturday nights, when the crowds are the largest, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s.

“It’s become a real safety hazard,” Lovett said of the display’s popularity.

In addition to complaints from neighbors about blocked driveways, litter, trespassing and public urination, the street becomes so clogged that, at times, it would be hard for an ambulance or fire truck to get through, police say.

However, Babick contends those problems are highly exaggerated. He picks up the litter each night and urges visitors to keep the street and driveways open.

“They’ve created a monster out of nothing,” Babick said.

For him, it started in the mid-1960s with one string of lights around his front door. Then he added another string and another. Within three years, Babick gave over his garage to those electronic elves.

Later, up on the rooftop, click, click, click, Babick installed a set of panels that he calls Christmas in Comicville. Soldiers stand sentry over candy canes in the front yard.

As his display grew, so did the crowds. By the thousands they came, causing friction within the neighborhood.

So the city stepped in. To help with traffic flow, Prairie Village decided in 1990 to turn that section of Falmouth into a one-way street for the holidays.

Police enforced new, temporary parking restrictions. Even some of the neighbors got tickets.

In answer to complaints about visitors tromping on neighbors’ lawns, the city poured a sidewalk on Babick’s side of the street. Minivans gave way to limousines and tour buses.

“The limos would pull up at his place and he just thrived on it,” recalled former neighbor Bob Myhre, who moved to Bella Vista, Ark., last year.

Babick doesn’t apologize for his enthusiasm.

“It’s because I love Christmas,” he said. “I love every part of it.”

Two years ago, Prairie Village police met with neighbors to hear suggestions on making things better. Police agreed to ease parking restrictions in front of their houses and to advise tour operators that they couldn’t idle their buses while passengers got out to look.

But problems remained, and work began on the ordinance that passed this week.

For now, most of the ornaments, figures and other elements of Babick’s display are where they always are this time of year, in a warehouse in the West Bottoms. Whether the retired AT&T technician hauls it all home Nov. 1 for the 48th annual installation will depend a lot on the opinion of his legal counsel — or whether he can raise the money to pay off-duty police.

If the holiday lights do go dark on Falmouth Street this year, Mhyre, the former neighbor, will have mixed feelings.

“It’s kind of a neat thing he does,” says Myhre, “but it wears on you.”

4 thoughts on “Kansas City Passes New Ordinance Effectively Killing Popular Light Displays

  • September 30, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    This is a Notification of ERROR on your title.
    The city that passed this ordinance is NOT Kansas City, but a very small suburb on the Kansas side.
    There are two Kansas City’s, one in Missouri (the largest) and one in Kansas. Neither of these entities passed the ordinance. This is very bad publicity to be posting on a city so you should be obligated to at least get the facts straight in the banner line. It is like saying SANTA RAPED A YOUNG GIRL in a banner line, when the story was about a rapist who put on a santa hat and did the deed, not a real Santa.

    NOT a happy Santa in Kansas City, MO

  • September 30, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    Is Prairie Village NOT a city in Kansas? The problem with the headline does not lie with the headline itself, but rather the interpretation of it. It isn’t KANSAS CITY but “a” Kansas city being talked about in the headline. Sorry if this headline leads to confusion, that was not our intent.

  • October 7, 2012 at 6:59 am

    If you are “DEFENDING CHRISTMAS” at least get your targets right. I am sorry, but the headline WAS confusing and some people ONLY read headlines and not the articles – this is not right, but it happens.


    Prairie Village MAY be a city in Kansas, but it is not KANSAS CITY. IT is not even A Kansas City as you tried to point out. THE Kansas City (both Kansas City, MO and Kansas City, KS) did NOT pass this. The small town that passed it is a suburb that is not a legal part of either city, but a town of it’s own right.

    The Total defined Kansas City METRO areas has a population of 2.1 million

    Kansas City, MO is 316 square miles with a population of 463,202 people and is the largest city in the Metro and lies across Jackson, Clay, Platte, and Cass Counties

    Kansas City, KS has a population of 145, 786 and is the third largest city in the metro area. and consists of Wyandotte county – Kansas City, KS and Wyandotte County are a merged entitiy.

    Prairie Village, KS has a population of 21,447 people and is in Johnson County, KS

    As you can see, Prairie Village is in a different county than either of the two Kansas Cities, It is a separate entity than either one although it happens to lie within the defined “Metro” area.

    Let’s get your facts right before attacking someone!

  • October 7, 2012 at 7:10 am

    Indeed, getting the facts is a good idea before attacking anyone, although we don’t believe in that either. And we don’t believe the size of Kansas City or Prairie Village was ever in dispute either. We stand by our assertion that Prairie Village is a city in Kansas and that our intent all along was never anything other than to point out that a city in Kansas banned this man’s lights.

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