The (Light) Show Must Go On

Right on schedule, the public debates over Christmas lights on private property is intensifying. Today’s story comes from Manchester Township in York County Pennsylvania. This report from the York Dispatch tells the sordid tale:

Todd Witte’s winter wonderland in Manchester Township is not going silently into the night.

Despite objections by some neighbors to Witte’s spectacular Christmas light show on Burning Tree Court last year, township officials said this week that they can’t do much to stop Witte if he puts the show on at his home again in December.

Township manager and secretary David Raver said based on an opinion from the municipality’s solicitor, the township has limited jurisdiction over holiday light shows on private property.

“There’s not a lot that the board (of supervisors) can do about the light show,” Raver said yesterday.

Several neighbors of Witte have voiced concerns about Witte’s light show, which they say creates a safety hazard because of the large number of vehicles it attracts to the small cul-de-sac.

Witte’s light show is set in his front yard and on the façade of his house and the flashing lights are synchronized with the sounds of music that can be heard over a low-frequency FM radio station.

Witte ran the show from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. through most of the holiday season last year, and it drew hundreds of spectators, many of whom would stop in front of the house to take it all in.
Raver said the board of supervisors has also heard complaints from some of Witte’s neighbors that they can’t get in or out of their driveways during the holidays because of the cars parked on their street for the light show.

Christmas complaints in August: But Raver said the board hadn’t discussed the issue since the end of the holiday season until several of Witte’s neighbors brought it up again at the board’s meeting Tuesday.

Since January, Raver said the township has learned it doesn’t have much jurisdiction over the issue other than the ability to post no-parking signs on the small street.

Before the board could even post the signs, Raver said it would need a request from the residents.

Not interested in moving show: The township has made an offer to Witte to put up his light show at Cousler Park instead of his home as a way to ease the traffic pressure on the neighborhood.

“It was something we had offered as an attempt to keep everybody happy,” Raver said.

But Witte said he doesn’t want to move the show from his property.

“Now I have to load up my kids to go see my Christmas lights; it just doesn’t work for me,” Witte said.

Witte said while some of his neighbors have complained about his light show, he’s also received requests from several people to have the show again this year. He said he plans to put up the lights again this year.

Headed to court?: Raver said if neighbors still object to Witte’s show, they may have to seek private recourse, possibly through a civil suit.

If any of his neighbors decide to take him to court, Witte said he would welcome the opportunity to confront them.

He said he’s tried to accommodate his neighbors with his light show by posting signs asking his audience not to block driveways. On nights when his neighbors held holiday parties, Witte said he would even cancel the show.

Still, Witte said some of the neighbors complained about his lights.

“They don’t like the guy at the end of the street who has the Christmas lights and rides a Harley,” Witte said.

We have noted at least a half dozen similar stories in the media so far for Christmas 2007. In some locations, city councils are banning the display of Christmas lights on private property, citing safety concerns due to high volumes of car traffic on streets not designed to handle the flow.

What to do? How far will this go? Will we see violence erupt more often as it did last year in California?

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