IONA, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - A popular neighborhood attraction in Iona is at the center of a big online controversy.
The Belnap Christmas Light Show has found itself at odds with some neighbors, and now the city is weighing in.
Spectators from far and wide have made a tradition of coming to see the dazzling lights, on display at the Belnap home every year between Christmas and Thanksgiving.
"We started our light show 12 years ago, after Iona had a contest for Christmas lights, and we put up lights, and we put out a nativity scene," Loann Belnap said.
The show has only grown in the years since, as have the crowds that come to see it. That has presented a few problems.
"So, you know the Belnaps, and you and I, we have the right to enjoy your property and do with it what we, more or less, what we please," Iona Mayor Dan Gubler said. "As long as it falls under the rule of law. Right? But we also as long as what we're doing doesn't infringe upon other people's rights, we're free to do that."
At least one neighbor filed an official complaint this last year, and the city drafted a letter to the Benlaps, offering a few options if they wish to proceed with the tradition this year.
"First one was, you can just discontinue the show. The second one was, you can provide a description of everything the show entails to all of our neighbors impacted by the show those, those are joining your property, up and down the street, and even across the street and provide the city with a written approval of all of them. Or we can consider other alternatives, moving the show to another location," Mayor Gubler said.
The Benlaps fear that these conditions preclude them from being able to put on a show this year, a prospect that has their online following up in arms. Especially considering adjustments made in the past in an effort to work with neighbors.
"Our show only goes from Thanksgiving to Christmas, four hours a night 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and then we're done," Loann Belnap said. "We've purchased signs that say, "caution light show ahead," and the city, actually it was great this last year, they put up 15 mile per hour signs."
Mayor Gubler denies the letter was an attempt to shut the show down entirely.
"The intent was to let's get into the party sitting down again let's have a meeting in the future, we'll, we'll have a conversation about what we can do to alleviate the concerns of the neighbor plus the concerns at the Belnaps," he said.
A determination as to whether the show will go on, will come after that meeting is held later this month.
The Belnaps will meet with the Iona City Council in a work session on August 18.
The City of Iona has also released the following statement:
The City of Iona, Idaho, understands that there is significant
interest in the Belnap Family Christmas Light Show. Three months ago, in May 2020, the City sent a letter to the Belnap Family describing some concerns that the City has for the Christmas Light Show in 2020. The City has discussed many of these same concerns with the Belnap Family in
prior years and together the City and the Belnap Family have tried various solutions in years past.
However, the solutions have constantly evolved. In 2019, the Belnap Family told the City Council that all of their neighbors supported the Christmas Light Show. A recent complaint from one of the Belnaps’ neighbors is a changed circumstance that must be addressed.
Accordingly, the City sent the letter on May 20, 2020, to the Belnaps stating these changed circumstances and that the Belnaps’ neighbor was raising potentially legitimate concerns. While the Belnap Family Christmas Light Show does so much good every year, that cannot outweigh, override, or overrule legitimate concerns. As a result, the City wrote the letter to “offer [the Belnaps] some options about how we can proceed” with the Christmas Light Show. As in prior years, the City anticipates working with the Belnap Family to resolve these concerns an circumstances. While offering some options, the letter specifically notes that “the City remains open to other ideas” from the Belnap Family or the public that can address the current situation.
Originally, the City Council had planned on discussing this matter with the Belnap Family and other interested parties in July 2020, in order to discuss concerns, ideas, and options for the Christmas Light Show. However, the Belnaps could not attend and the City rescheduled the discussion for the City Council Meeting in August 2020. The public are welcome to attend the City Council Meeting on August 18, 2020, at 7:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at 3548 N. Main Street, Iona, Idaho
83427, and provide constructive comments within the time limits of that meeting.