Plantation family gets to keep extravagant holiday display, judge says

Family says city was trying to interfere with their religious freedom rights

By Amanda Batchelor - Senior Digital Editor, Andrew Perez - Reporter

PLANTATION, Fla. - A couple from Planation will be allowed to put up their extravagant holiday display outside their home this year, a judge ruled on Thursday.

Mark and Kathy Hyatt were sued by the city earlier this year, which claimed that the annual light display is a nuisance for the city and its residents.

But a Broward County judge ruled that the Hyatts did not violate city ordinance or zoning code and did not violate state or federal laws.

The city had asked the judge to stop the Hyatts from setting up the display, which has attracted thousands of people to the neighborhood each year.

City officials said neighbors have argued that the display creates lots of noise, traffic and trash.

But according to the judge's final judgment, there was no testimony from neighbors about noise complaints and only a few neighbors said they did not like the display. 

One of the Hyatt's neighbors, Nina Fornalski, testified that she has offered parking on her property for the visitors who come year after year, and said that everything was going well until a safety zone was implemented.

She said it brought lots of confusion with visitors, who didn't know where to park, creating a bit of a traffic jam along the roadway.

"Once they initiated that 'safety zone,' the police would stop traffic," Fornalski said. "And at that point, instead of people taking their families down the sides of the roads, they were under the impression that the road was closed off. That they closed a public road off and then they would walk in the streets. They would walk on the sides, too, but it did put more people in the streets."   

According to the judgment, the Hyatts received a letter from the mayor in May 2012, giving them permission to use a vacant lot for parking as long as they received permission from the landowner.

But the city changed its position in November 2013 and stopped allowing the Hyatts to use the lot, even though the landowners never revoked their offer to allow the couple to use the lot for parking, the judgment said.

The elaborate interactive display consists of billowing snow, a Santa, a Ferris wheel and a reindeer (pony). It was also featured on ABC's "Great Christmas Light Fight."

The Hyatts claimed that the city was trying to interfere with their religious freedom and property rights.

The city argued that they didn't have a problem with the display as long as it wasn't an interference to the community.

Mark Hyatt told Local 10 News reporter Andrew Perez that he is unsure whether his family will put up the display this year, because he has been busy with his campaign to become elected on the Plantation City Council. He said the lawsuit also put them behind on preparing their decorations.

Still, he said that he couldn't give up his fight to keep his family's tradition.

"I think about my father who I lost last year. This is a family tradition that we've had in our family for over 40 years," Hyatt said. "It kept my mother alive for 12 years, who had leukemia, because she looked forward to everything that we did every year. I wasn't willing to give up that tradition, that part of our family, that part of myself. So whatever it took. I mean, I had to sell my boat. I basically sold everything I had to make sure we stood our ground."

Hyatt said his family might put up a smaller version of the Christmas display to thank the community for their support.

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