Following city council’s passage of what some are calling Brantford’s “Grinch bylaw” last week, it seems there won’t be much joy this Christmas season for Jeff MacDonald or the hundreds of city residents and visitors who enjoy an annual light display at his Joysey Street home.
Indeed, as reported in last week’s Brant News, the chances of MacDonald’s massive light show brightening this holiday season are dim after council voted to implement a bylaw regulating “publicized displays” in the city.
The Christmas light controversy began when some Joysey Street residents recently told city councillors they wanted MacDonald’s holiday display – which was to feature more than 35,000 lights this year – turned down a notch.
Angry neighbours painted a picture of a street under siege during the holiday season, saying the hundreds of people who pack Joysey Street to take in the light show block driveways, shine headlights into living rooms, take up parking spots, choke out access for emergency vehicles and leave garbage strewn about the street. The neighbours used words like “madness” and “nightmare” to describe the situation.
Setting the stage for council’s passage of the bylaw regulating publicized displays was Ward 3 city Coun. Dan McCreary, who after hearing from concerned neighbours on Joysey Street introduced a motion at council directing staff to look at what the city could do to legislate “public nuisances” including “elaborate holiday lighting displays.”
The bylaw passed last week by a vote of 7-2, but not before Coun. Dave Wrobel – who along with Coun. David Neumann voted against it – argued that vague language about the nature of advertising displays and the need for homeowners to insure their displays could open the door to many resident complaints. We believe that is a point city council might have taken a bit more time to consider.
Here’s a bit of what the new bylaw says when it comes to a publicized display creating an issue for the city:
The display must have “a detrimental impact on the use and enjoyment of property in the vicinity of the premises where it is occurring by causing or contributing to at least two of the following nuisance impacts: increase in pedestrian or vehicular traffic; interference with the use of highways and other public places; illegal parking that obstructs the free flow of traffic or could interfere with the ability to provide emergency services; trespass to property; an increase in harassment or intimidation; increase in garbage; noise, including music transmitted through any means to the public; outdoor illumination; activities that have a significant impact on property values.”
Seems to us that these new city rules could have an impact more far reaching than they are intended to, not to mention potentially tie up city bylaw officers investigating what might be frivolous complaints. It’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility that someone with an axe to grind could use provisions in the bylaw to take a neighbourly disagreement to the next level by getting the city involved.
It should also be noted that this new bylaw impacts all city neighbourhoods and residents, even though its creation stemmed from the complaints of a few of MacDonald’s neighbours on Joysey Street. Passing the bylaw seems like overkill considering the minor issue at hand.
Creating, passing and implementing a bylaw takes time and money. In this case, it’s time and money that would surely have been better spent elsewhere. After all, there were other options when it comes to this made-in-Brantford Christmas light controversy. Coun. Neumann was certainly on the right track when he suggested mediation between MacDonald and his upset neighbours should have been attempted, as opposed to creating a costly bylaw in response to one incident.
Surely, the city could have worked to facilitate a reasonable accommodation between neighbours instead of passing a bylaw with as of yet unforeseen consequences. But time for that kind of reasonable solution has come and gone – and it seems Christmas will be a little less bright in Brantford because of it.