Schaumburg ban on holiday displays crossing sidewalks sparks protest
Schaumburg trustees' 5-1 vote Tuesday to enforce a ban on temporary displays that cross sidewalks into the public right of way has sparked a social media campaign by a resident who says it would outlaw his popular holiday display featuring illuminated archways over his sidewalk.
Many have rushed to support Brian Koehler in the Everything Schaumburg Facebook group, and by Thursday afternoon a change.org petition organized by resident Linda Kimble Long asking for a reversal of the policy was approaching 1,300 virtual signatures.
Mayor Tom Dailly and most trustees said the decision was based on complaints the village has received about electrical cords crossing sidewalks and even an extension cord hanging 6 feet above the ground at other displays, not Koehler's.
"As a board, we owe it to the entire village to enforce ordinances that are there for safety reasons," Dailly said.
Trustee George Dunham said Koehler's 20-year tradition of putting arches over the sidewalk in front of his home on the 500 block of Hingham Lane was not guilty of safety lapses. But the majority of board members believed there is no way to differentiate between those who are careful and those who are not.
"The problem is if we do that, we let ourselves in for the potential of having to defend ourselves against people who don't do it right," Dunham said. "I'm not sure I want to obligate the village in that direction, and it grieves me to have to tell these people no because I think what they do is great."
Trustee Jack Sullivan, who cast the only vote against enforcing the ban, said the village staff suggested a $100 permitting process in which those who had such displays would have to demonstrate that they carried insurance.
Koehler said his insurance carrier suggested the village could be indemnified through his policy.
But most trustees remained unconvinced that the village could be spared the costs defending itself against a lawsuit if someone were injured.
Trustee Marge Connelly said that with the research and discussion officials have put into issue, the village has no plausible deniability if sued.
"Because we're on record as saying this thing is dangerous, if something were to happen we would really be fully on the hook," Connelly said. "We've said it's dangerous, we shouldn't be doing this, so I don't think there's any stepping back from it. I think we have to eliminate them."
Dailly on Thursday said many of those opposing the decision misunderstand the village's intent or believe that all holiday decorations are being banned. Still, he said the village would review the merits of any public feedback.
At Tuesday's meeting, Trustee Frank Kozak cited the recent example of metal arches of the kind used for growing vines being removed on Sharon Lane across from Bock Pool because they did not meet village code.
"That is what we're trying to eliminate, because one short wire and those Italian lights, that whole thing becomes a conductor," Kozak said. "And that's the last thing we need is a child running through there, grabbing that arch and getting lit up."
Connelly said she's also concerned about displays, including some featuring costumed characters like Santa, the Grinch or Elsa from "Frozen," which bring crowds and congestion to residential streets.
"To me that's almost more dangerous, that people are crossing midblock between cars and things like that," she said. "I think we have to look at what that is. It's more than just having lights up."
Though trustees Tuesday encouraged Koehler to be creative, he said the archways are what brought people out to see his display.
"I haven't decided what I'm going to do," he said. "It's a little discouraging, to be honest."