The Prairie Village City Council on Monday passed a measure that will require all residents operating “special events” — including popular holiday lighting displays — to get a permit from the city and pay any costs incurred by the city’s police to go “above and beyond” their normal duties to ensure public safety.
By a vote of 10-2, the council approved the new ordinance, which will go into effect prior to the coming holiday season. Councilors David Belz and David Morrison voted against the measure.
The ordinance defines a special event as “a temporary outdoor use of private property in a district zoned residential” that is likely to “generate crowds of participants or visitors sufficient in size to obstruct, delay or interfere with the safe and orderly movement of pedestrian or vehicular traffic,” and requires police to divert officers to the area to ensure public safety.
Prior to the vote, Mike Babick, the Falmouth Street resident whose extensive lighting and animatronic display has been attracting families from around the metro for more than 45 years, made an impassioned speech urging the council to reject the ordinance. Babick’s display has prompted complaints from neighbors who say the crowd noise and car traffic it generates are an undue burden every year.
Flanked by two of his daughters, Babick asked the council for justification as to why the ordinance was necessary, and raised concerns about his ability to cover the costs a permit may require.
“I know I have a few neighbors who, summer, spring or fall, the Babick family can never do anything right in their eyes,” he said. “But I want to know what have I done wrong? If I have done something wrong these 47 years, I want to hear it.”
“If you pass this ordinance tonight,” he said later in his remarks, “that’s the end of Christmas on Falmouth Street. You’ve killed it.”
But proponents of the measure — among them Councilor Michael Kelly, who, along with Councilor Andrew Wang, helped craft the city’s approach to the issue — said the ordinance simply provides a mechanism for the city to be reimbursed for costs required to maintain public safety. At present, the taxpayers of Prairie Village foot the bill for special signage or police overtime required to safely manage traffic in and out of such events. Kelly also said the ordinance was designed to be even-handed — not to single out any particular events or displays.
Police Chief Wes Jordan said he couldn’t estimate at present how much overtime would be required for an event like Babick’s display.
An emotional Babick and several of his daughters left the council chambers after the vote, with one calling “Merry Christmas” to the councilors as the door closed. Two of Babick’s daughters said the family may look into soliciting the financial support of the many families who visit the display each year to help defer whatever costs the city would incur.
“We’re moving forward with it,” she said.