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City Hall doesn't appreciate my lights


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My husband and I had a meeting with city hall today and it was supposed to be about the "lovely" neighbor I have next door and how he calls the city pretty much daily trying to get us in trouble - for about two years now. This was supposed to be a brain storming session to try and eliminate this man from harrassing us constantly instead the first question was... "Are things back to 'normal' around your house? Are all those lights gone?"

I honestly was really surprised. So I asked what the problem was and was informed that I was not allowed to raise money for a charity without approval from the city and the city would not give me that approval. Please keep in mind that before I spent countless hours programming my LOR and putting up lights, I called the city and asked if I needed a permit and was told that I did not need one. We did raise over $2000 and a trunkload of toys for the children's hospital - all in our first year. I guess the city receiveda lot of calls and told me that I was lucky that the traffic started just as they went on vacation or they would have fined me. They also told me that next year if I put up lights and LOR that is fine as long as I do NOT raise any money for a cause. They explained that if I raise money for a cause this would be considered an "activity" and needs approval which is not permitted in residential areas.

So I am left with two options, 1) put the show up next year with no donations, just for the spirit of the season (I started this partly as a way to show my son the spirit of the season of giving, he "helped" as much as a three year old could to put up the lights and really enjoyed bringing the trunkload of toys to the hospital and the check to the hospital foundation - he also went through all his toys and donated them to a shelter because he thought Santa brought him a little too many toys.) or 2) cave to the neighbors and shut down.

One last note, I spoke to my neighbor two doors down and he told me that the only reason that people were upset was because it was us that had done it, I guess thisproblem next door neighbor has gone to all the others on the street smearing our name. This same neighbor said that if we don't put up a show next year he will stop talking to us too.

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Definitely call the media. Get them on the story now, in fact, and they can decide if they want to run it now or next season.

I'd like to hear the city explain why the hospital will be short at least $2000 plus toys next year. It's not like the traffic is going to get less without the charity angle...

-Tim

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I am more determined to put up my display next year, I am going to set out today to start filling out paperwork for the city to get a permit for next season (I was advised I could do this but would most likely NOT get approval from city council). Then, once they turn me down, I will take that to the media. I was really lucky that my first year actually brought me one spot on the local news, two seperate radio stations covered the show and four local newspapers. I made sure to keep all contact info for all these places so I guess I will see what happens with the city council.

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That is great to hear. I hope you show them that some government rules are silly. I would bet that you will prevail in the end and the city will look like the a$$. As for your neighbor. I would play his/her game, but nothing to get the cops called on you. Maybe next year, get a grinch inflatable and point it at his house.

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One possible alternative is to have another friend or a neighbor who approves of your display be the one who collects the donations for you. Make a big sign that says you are not allowed by the city to collect donations but you know of a place that does collect, and give the address. As long as you are just making a suggestion about a drop off location, you'd buffer yourself from fines. The fact that you hadthe sign would publicly demonstrate how rediculous the township's actions and threats are.

I agree with all the other posts here about the media. Tim's sugestion to call them now is a really good one IMO. Is there any chance the meeting was recorded? Our town meetings are played on a cable channel, and the TIVO is a really good tool when it comes to giving the media the word right from the horses mouth. (Or whatever orafice they happen to be talking from...)

It really amazes me how things like this happen. I can't imagine what goes through a person's mind when they see someone collecting for charity, and get offended by it. What is it, jealousy? It makes no sense to me at all. The Christmas light display is beside the point. But then the township thinking there won't be a backlash if the media gets ahold of it is even more amazing to me. It's like they don't think about what they're doing. It's just plain sad. Tim goes through it every year with his neighbors. It really breaks my heart to hear about it.

jeff

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Scott Loftus wrote:

As for your neighbor. I would play his/her game, but nothing to get the cops called on you. Maybe next year, get a grinch inflatable and point it at his house.

I am liking this idea - I was wondering what I could do to help people understand that it wasn't me without seeming too mean. This man has made our life a living nightmare for two years and will not let us breath without the city approving it so I am not surprised that he has gone overboard on the lights. I am now looking all over for a grinch for that side of the property.

Plus, I wish someone would speak up to the other neighbors, hopefully going to the media would help to inform them we are not such bad people (some of the things he has told others about us - if they were true -I would want me off the street too).

I also wrote a letter to each of the neighbors last week and mailed each one, hopefully that will at least open their eyes on our side of the story.

Thanks to all that have responded - any more ideas would be great, the support from this community has reassured me I am not a total nut for doing these lights.

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Another possible solution would be to team up with the Hospital and maybe do a display on some property they own and still do the donations. It would certainly quiet things down in the neighborhood, still show your child the importance of giving and helping and maybe get more traffic. With the Hospital involved it may be eaiser to push permits through too.

Just a thought!

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Don wrote:

The obvious (sarcastic) answer is to go ahead and do the display next year. However, you have a sign in your front yard explaining that the city will not allow you to raise money for sick kids.

Then call the media.

This is an excellent idea

There is nothingradio shows & reporters like better then to show the government as Scrooge. If this gets rolling in the media properly they properly they will be begiingh for your forgiveness

Make sure you notify stations well in advance to have them their the night you light up

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Scott Loftus wrote:

As for your neighbor. I would play his/her game, but nothing to get the cops called on you. Maybe next year, get a grinch inflatable and point it at his house.

Or have a sign saying you due to the city and your next door neighbor, with the grinch pointing over towards his house, you can not take donations for the kids.

Pretty sad that we only do this for a month or so out of the year and there has to be a GRINCH>>>>>>>>Next door

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Well, I just got off the phone with the inspecter from the city and he said he is going to look into what permit the two other city officials are talking about. He told me that because this is at a residence, there is no need for a permit with or without accepting donations. I think that the main problem the city is having is that we also have our business running out of our house (small office space only). The problem may have been that when a local radio DJ came to our show, he used our company website - which does have a link to our family light show on it - to tell people how to get to our house. So, if that is their only concern, I will get a website with just the light show and nothing that would reference our company. I will admit that having the light show did give our family great press and it can only help our small business (we install inground sprinkler systems) within the community but we made sure to not include our company in any of the coverage that we knew about (the radio thing we found out about 2 days after he raved about us on his morning show- when the traffic really increased).

Well I am off to write a letter of thanks to the community that will run in the two local papers. I figure the more thankful I am, the more people will realize I live on a street with grinches if things don't pan out on the donation side of things.

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The idea of this was not to get publicity for the company, but good press is never a bad thing. Our main goal was to try to start a family tradition while my son and daughter were young enough to enjoy throughout the years. I will admit that I knew my neighbor was probably not going to like this (he hates everything I do - including breathing-LOL) so we thought that we should raise money for a good cause. We thought this would help us to not get "shut down". As it turns out this is the main problem the city is having. My problem is trying to explain to a 3 year old that we are no longer to help little boys and girls that are in the hospital during the holidays. (The reason we chose the local children's hospital was because my niece was severly burnt on Christmas eve 5 years ago, she has scars to this day and my son knows this story and wanted to do something for other little boys and girls that are not able to be home at Christmas).

I have called the city and am anxiously waiting for a response about what I assume to be a ficticious permit that I will need but we will what Monday will bring for me

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If it ends up that they won't let you collect for charity from the house, youcould alwaysinclude a paypal link on your website that goes directly to an account set up by and for the hospital. You won't get toys, but you'll still be helping the hospital.

What in the world can this neighbor be saying about you to other neighborsthat would make them not want you to do a Christmas Display collecting for a charity? And why hasn't someone told him to stop slandering you?

-Chris

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I guess I'd let sleeping dogs lie.

Keep planning your display for 07 and when Oct/Nov rolls around, set it up just like you have in mind as if nothing has happened. Continue to take donations.

If they shut you down, then you have a story. You've already gotten a ton of press from this past season, so you have a bit of a following (and a great donation story to fall back on). I really think that's the time that a scrooge story makes the biggest splash, not now when they might not issue a permit, or might fine you if you set it up. Make them blink first.

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I have a couple of questions to ask you that may help you with your problem. Actually, it could prove that you are not required to fill out any paper work. So here are the questions:

1. Does your local high school or band have car washes? Do they get the required permits?

2. Does the local Girl Scouts sell cookies in your town? Do they get the required permits?

3. How about church fundraisers i.e. bake sales, raffles, (Bingo for some)? Do they all get the required permits?

My guess is that none of the above have ever been required to obtain a permit. In fact if you look around I am sure you can find many more examples.

In March there will be the American Cancer Society Relay for Life. Do people in your town obtain a permit for this "activity"?

How about the Salvation Army, American Red Cross, United Way and Toys for Tots? All have fundraisers and activities to raise money. My guess is that when presented with this the good city leaders of the city will understand that what they have begun is "selective enforcement" of one of their ordinances.

I would fill out the paper work and then when you are denied (and you will be) you now have the power to make change.

Good luck and please keep us informed.

Penny

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Just a little update for everyone... got a call back (of course I wasn't home), finally, from one of the inspectors that I had my meeting with that told me I needed this permit - he said that it is not a "permit"that I need from an inspector in city hall - I need to write a letter to the mayor to ask permission to have a fundraising "event" in the city. So, I am currently sitting here wondering why to even bother. In my calls this week I have spoken to three people, all inspectors for city hall, they all agree that putting up as many Christmas lights as humanly possible is not against the law, they also concur that I can synchronize it music, and last but not least they agree that I can accept donations at my home because it is a private residence.

I guess I am writing this letter as a nice gesture? I am not really sure why if there is no law against what I am doing - why do I have to ask the city council for permission? Any ideas?

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Christmas Angel wrote:

I guess I am writing this letter as a nice gesture? I am not really sure why if there is no law against what I am doing - why do I have to ask the city council for permission? Any ideas?

I think at this point I would discuss this with my attorney. These people who are jerking you around apparently don't even have knowledge of the supposed law and/or regulation that they are "enforcing". No legitimate law would specify that "you must write a letter to the mayor for permission in order to have an event on your property". That is completely stupid. Talk with your attorney so that he/she can explain to you exactly where you stand on this. I'll bet that you have no obligation to write this letter.

TED

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Scottsgrfx wrote:

Or have a sign saying you due to the city and your next door neighbor, with the grinch pointing over towards his house, you can not take donations for the kids.

I would NOT make mention of the neighbor especially in writing on a sign. The sign should simply request that donations be made directly to the charity due to city ordinance. Referencing the neighbor could be perceived as inflammatory which you want to absolutely avoid. The neighbor could possibly have grounds for a lawsuit on the basis of slander. He did not make the city ordinance (if it actually exists).

TED

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  • 4 months later...

My comments may be a little late for this year but here are some idea’s for you to ponder.

First, instead of fighting city hall,try getting them on your side by sponsoring a city-wide house decorating contest with you putting up the grand prize (maybe a $100 to the winner or a gift certificate for a Christmas dinner etc.....or ask for donations from local companies to be given away as prizes). Then enlist the help of kids from the boy/girl scouts, youth league, local clubs, school sports teams or some other recognized group in your location) to be the judges. Make sure that city hall knows you are having local kids judge the event. Then after the judging, treat them to a trip to the local skating rink or maybe a pizza place. Get the mayor to attend and make the presentation of the award (don’t forget to have the paper there for the “political coverage”).

Second, find an agency that usually collects toys for children (fire department, police fraternities, military, social groups, etc). Ask them to be the drop off point for donations. Ask the radio station to promo the idea and don’t be afraid to advertise for them at your display with a sign that reads “For details on the city lighting contest be sure to tune to XMAS 123. 4 on your dial.” Get the local paper to run a human interest story on the children that need help at Christmas. Tie that into your display and how you plan to help kids with donations. Ask the paper to run a photograph of the kids who will be the judges and the house they picked as the best.

Third, if possible get some of the neighbor kids to help you decorate your house or leave some room for them on your lawn so they can put up their own display. Take pictures of the kids and their accomplishments and print them out on a computer, put the pictures in an inexpensive frame and give them something to remember their hard work.

Fourth, try asking for volunteers to help with the planning, traffic control, transportation of the judgesand other requirements. There are many organizations who do volunteer work (in your area you could try the Yacht Club, local churches or any senior citizens who would like to join the fun).

The idea here is to have as much involvement as possible. The more people that are helping the less there are to complain. We are lucky here in my community as the city sponsors a house decorating contest and the city does the judging. The paper comes out and photographs the winning houses and prints a full page of color photos in their weekly edition (which gets more coveragefor the paper. They also put the photos on their web site which draws more people to read about what the city is doing). I don’t know if this will help with your situation but thanks for trying to make Christmas a fun time for all.

Good Luck,

Darrel

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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 1 month later...

I thought I should give everyone a little update... I am just about to type up the "letter" the mayor requested I write about my upcoming Christmas light show, I have decided to expand this year from 2 16 zone LORs to 8 LORs and from 10,000 lights to about 40,000. This information will not be in the letter. I am hoping to present this letter in either September or Octobers town council meeting, by then I should be good and pregnant (I am due December 10th) and I hope they are gentle with the little pregnant lady. I know that one hang up they had was that I had signs to direct people to the house and I won't be doing that this season. We are still planning to raise money for the local chidren's hospital so I am hoping they won't havea problem with all this. Needless to say this fall/winter should be plenty busy for this family (triple the light show, baby on the way and two kids under 4). Wish me luck!

Any ideas/suggestions for the letter would be greatly appreciated.

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Christmas Angel wrote:

Just a little update for everyone... got a call back (of course I wasn't home), finally, from one of the inspectors that I had my meeting with that told me I needed this permit - he said that it is not a "permit"that I need from an inspector in city hall - I need to write a letter to the mayor to ask permission to have a fundraising "event" in the city.

So, I am currently sitting here wondering why to even bother. In my calls this week I have spoken to three people, all inspectors for city hall, they all agree that putting up as many Christmas lights as humanly possible is not against the law, they also concur that I can synchronize it music, and last but not least they agree that I can accept donations at my home because it is a private residence.

I guess I am writing this letter as a nice gesture? I am not really sure why if there is no law against what I am doing - why do I have to ask the city council for permission? Any ideas?

I would thank the city for its response in this matter, that you have been given two sets of information: 1) that you could not conduct a private residential fundraiser in conjunction with your light show; and 2) that there was no record of any ordinance provided by city inspectors. Based on this information, that you will continue to engage in the practice of raising funds for your [fill in the name] charity

In your letter, be sure to have thank you's from the organization that you send the $$$ to. If they have pictures of "poor starving children" that you can include, even better.

As you live in Canada, the laws may be a bit different up there. I have read where there are some incidences of pastors being proscecuted for "hate speech" just preaching in their services. I am not sure if that is a national ordinance or one that varies by providence.

I would also carbon copy the editor of the local newspaper for publication, as well as an attorney and all members of the city council. I would mail it to him as opposed to presenting it to him in a meeting. You may find that they will railroad you in a meeting. In addition, by mailing it early, you could find yourself included on the agenda as a discussion item.

If you have to go to the city council meeting, have all your "ducks in a row" regarding every ordinance and fundraising. If it is not specific to your application, you would have a way out (at least in most cities in the USA).

Good Luck

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