A look back at this year’s Dyker Heights holiday lights saga

December 26, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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A lot happened in Brooklyn this year — from environmental policies to infrastructure changes to housing reform. We’ve wrapped up the key pieces for you in “2019: Year in Review.” 

DYKER HEIGHTS — The extravagant Dyker Heights holiday lights display — often referred to as simply “the Dyker Lights” — may only come once a year. But, the annual affair is on many locals’ minds all year and 2019, arguably one of the most important years for the affair, was no exception.

Here’s a look back at what went down around Brooklyn’s very own Winter Wonderland this year.DAILY TOP BROOKLYN NEWSNews for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Local leaders plan ahead

While no one knows exactly when the lights went viral (they’ve been featured everywhere from Time Out New York to the Daily Mail), those from neighboring communities have made the trek by foot, bike, subway and car to Dyker Heights since the late 1980s to marvel at the displays, many exhibited as early as Thanksgiving weekend.

For decades now, dozens of homeowners have decorated their front lawns and balconies with thousands of twinkling lights, giant Santas, dancing reindeer, enormous “Nutcracker Suite” figures, snowflakes and glowing angels. Many of the residents add to the festive mood by playing pre-recorded Christmas songs on sound systems.

The Dyker Heights holiday light display has achieved local fame.
ebrooklyn media/Photo byPaul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Today, spectators travel from other states and countries to the neighborhood The New York Times has called the “undisputed capital of Christmas pageantry” — a number of them using organized bus tours that have only grown in popularity since the famed lights first made headlines. To top it all off, vendors slinging everything from souvenirs to hot chocolate, have taken up residence at the event.

To mitigate skyrocketing complaints of congestion, noise and pollution from neighbors, local elected officials, civic leaders and police began meeting as early as the New Year to find solutions that would better organize the event, while keeping its holiday magic in tact.

A bill was born

Councilmember Justin Brannan, a Democrat who represents Dyker Heights, Bay Ridge and parts of Bensonhurst, introduced a bill in August to ban food trucks, souvenir sellers and other types of vendors from operating between 10th Avenue and 13th Avenue, from 81st Street to 86th Street, the heart of holiday-light country.

The local lawmaker had hoped the bill would cut down on the amount of litter and trash that accumulates on local streets and sidewalks during the monthlong holiday lights display, while also reducing vehicle congestion and bettering air quality for Dyker Heights locals who’ve had to breath in the fumes since the vendors’ arrival a few years back.

Soon after the City Council’s Consumer Affairs Committee heard testimony on the notorious Dyker Lights holiday display in early October, the City Council voted to green-light the vendor ban, which would go into effect from Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Day, the height of the Lights’ display season.

Barbara Vellucci, Lori Willis and Josephine Beckmann from Community Board 10 speak at a hearing on the Dyker Heights holiday lights.
Photo: New York City Council Flickr by Emil Cohen

At the oversight hearing, Brannan estimated that more than 150,000 spectators would attend this season.

“Just imagine the joy of a 40-day ‘unofficial’ street festival happening outside your door on a quiet tree-lined block, or the noise and fumes from an idling ice cream truck for 10 hours a day — not exactly the Norman Rockwell Christmas of your dreams,” he said at the time.

The ban’s first season

The new city law is currently facing its first test at this year’s holiday event — and (as they expected) local officials have already said it’s made a huge difference.

Dyker Heights holiday lights display.
ebrooklyn media/Photo by Steve Solomonson

“Whether it’s the new vending ban, NYPD controlling traffic and tour bus flow or DSNY increasing their basket pick-ups, we are covering all the bases to make this event as enjoyable as possible, not just for the tourists who come from around the world but especially for the people who call Dyker Heights home the other 11 months a year,” Brannan said. “As the Dyker lights get bigger and bigger, we are going to do everything we can to make sure it is safe and as orderly as possible. We just want everyone to have fun and be safe. That’s all that matters.”

But, not all has gone according to plan.

A legal loophole comes to light

At the height of another viewing season, at least a few food trucks have taken up residence regardless. In a story first reported by the Brooklyn Eagle, police said their presence is technically legal — because the vendors are employing veterans. Disabled veterans, under city law, are exempt from certain restrictions on street vending in order to give them an edge on the competitive licensing process.

“The vendors are paying disabled veterans to work on their trucks,” Capt. Robert Conwell, commanding officer of the 68th Precinct, told the Eagle. Local cops noticed the strategy at the first sign of a seller this season. “We summonsed and seized a truck the first night, and then the vendor told us he would be hiring the veterans,” Conwell said.

A new law bans vendors at the Dyker Heights holiday lights display — but some have found a loophole.
ebrooklyn media/Photo by Paul Frangipane

Police have cracked down on “rent-a-vet” schemes in tourist-saturated areas, such as Midtown Manhattan, in years past. Locally, those who helped craft the bill which would’ve effectively banned all vendors at the lights hope police will crack down on this new loophole as well.

“Nobody is allowed to vend in the Dyker Lights zone,” Brannan said. “What’s happening here is an unscrupulous vendor is trying to use a legal loophole to get around the law. These vendors don’t care about our community; they just want to make a quick buck. Now they are exploiting veterans? It’s wrong. The law is clear. The city needs to enforce it.”

At a Community Board 10 meeting in mid-December, Brannan told attendees there is a team of lawyers looking into the loophole.

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