SPRINGFIELD — Massive Christmas lighting displays might impress many holiday visitors across the region, but they often raise the ire of neighbors fighting for their right to peace and quiet and unfettered access to their homes.
It's a battle that has been waged every winter for decades as communities try to balance the desires of those who create large displays, those whose annual holiday treks include the brightly-lit arrangements and people who aren't happy with strangers traipsing on their laws and clogging local streets for the better part of a month.
Sometimes the neighbors win out, like in Prairie Village, Kan., where the City Council enacted restrictions, including more than $500 in fees, that prompted a man known as "Mr. Christmas" to unplug an elaborate display that started 44 years ago with a few strands of lights on his house.
At other times, angry neighbors are told by city officials they will look into complaints but the displays are allowed to continue.
That's the case in Springfield, where a local man's massive display causes traffic to back up for blocks as visitors slow to see the lights and listen to Christmas carols played over a radio station are synced up to the display.
Springfield resident Joan Cologna told the Springfield News-Leader that she doesn't want to come off as a Scrooge, but she thinks a huge display about half a mile from her house is a nightmare.
"It's turned into a traffic hazard, and it's night after night after night," Cologna said.
She said she has nothing against Christmas lights but that the display commonly known as the "Bagwell Lights" has outgrown the neighborhood.
Cologna said backed-up traffic around the display creates a "standoff" that prompts some drivers to speed by in the wrong lane to pass the line, while others get annoyed when she tries to pass the line herself to get home.
"People don't let us in or out because they think we're line cutters," she said.
She said neither she nor her husband has approached the Bagwells directly.
Henry Bagwell said his son, Michael, puts up most of the lights for the display. He acknowledged the display causes congestion but said the response from visitors — especially children — makes it worthwhile.
"You see the looks on their face — they don't want to leave," he said.
A city spokeswoman acknowledged receipt of the Cologna letter and said the city was evaluating whether any action needs to be taken. Legally, spokeswoman Cora Scott said, there's nothing wrong with the display.
"The city does not have any specific regulations regarding the public decor," she said, adding that officials had received no other recent complaints about the Bagwell display.
In Prairie Village, Kan., Mike Babick — also known as Mr. Christmas — decided to dismantle and move a giant display that had been bringing thousands of excited visitors by each year to view the lights.
His display, which was prominent enough to be featured on the online tourism site kansastravel.org, had prompted complaints for years from neighbors annoyed by the bright lights and clogged streets that brought traffic to a standstill each new holiday season.
Babick, who suggested that Prairie Village officials didn't want Christmas in their town, moved his display across the state line to a site near Country Club Plaza in Kansas City.
Even though his lights are shining brightly elsewhere now, Babick told KCTV in Kansas City in September that his own city's decision had brought him to tears.
"It means everything to me that I could give this to the people, a free great Christmas present for everybody," he said. "But now it's taken away."