Lewiston, Maine Lighting Controversy Gets Heated

City leaders will need at least one more meeting to figure out how to balance the rights of two Vista Drive residents to put on a popular Christmastime light show with their neighbors’ rights to come and go.

Councilors were not close to settling on a way to regulate traffic brought on each December by the popular holiday display.

Neighbors urged councilors to act and put some limits on the display, saying the nightly light show draws so many people to their cul-de-sac it shut the street down.

“They have every right to put on this display,” said Jeff Harmon of 34 Vista Dr. “None of the neighbors dispute that. But we have a right to come and go in a reasonable manner.”

Harmon said he’s has sat in his driveway for up to an hour waiting for cars to clear out and let him leave.

“It’s not reasonable for me to have to wait an hour for people to leave, or to wait for the police to come and clear them away,” Harmon said.

But Jamie Loggins of 60 Vista Drive said this issue is one of free speech. He and neighbor Steven Bang have been hosting the displays, with Christmas lights timed to music, on their front yards since 2006.

“You have a right to burn a flag, and you have a right to be mad about burning a flag,” Loggins said. “But I’m sorry, your right to be angry doesn’t supersede my right to burn the flag.”

The shows have proven extremely popular, drawing 1,000 to the street each December. Bang said the two are planning to present a show this year, as well.

The shows haven’t been without complaints, however. The traffic drawn to the lights regularly shuts down Park Avenue and make it difficult for Loggins’ and Bang’s neighbors to get to their homes. Police have responded to 20 complaints made by neighbors, ranging from noise to public urination.

Councilors discussed regulating the displays in June, considering regulating the display as some sort of public business. After that meeting, Councilor Robert Hayes and police Chief Phil Crowell began meeting with neighbors. They had met several times over the summer, settling on a plan to amend the city’s traffic policy.

That would have required organizers of any event expected to draw crowds to file a plan with the police chief, and would also have required organizers to pay for traffic control. Bang said estimates put those costs at $5,000 — too pricey for him.

Councilors objected because they thought the changes were too broad and could be made to shut down any event — from a birthday party to a high school football game.

And two councilors, Belinda Gerry and Dan Herrick, objected to how the neighbors, Councilor Hayes and Chief Crowell came up with the proposal.

“This should not have been done in a closed room,” Herrick said. “It should have been done here, in council chambers where everyone can see.”

Gerry said she was concerned that Hayes and Crowell only spoke to neighbors opposed to the light show.

But neighbors said they are not against the show — just the traffic it creates.

“However anybody wants to celebrate the birthday of our Lord and Savior is their own business,” Kate Benson, of 65 Vista Drive, said. “But there has to be some sort of way to make it work for all of us.”

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