City shuts down Pevely Halloween display, considers light display a business

PEVELY, Mo.  – A Halloween light display, synchronized to music on a radio station, on a Pevely home is being forced to shut down. The city of Pevely’s attorney Robert Sweeney said a letter was sent to the homeowner after a citizen complaint.

The letter from the city stated in part: “We have found that you will need to acquire a special use permit as we are considering this light show a business. We have come to this conclusion due to the fact that this has been advertised along with having specific time slots of operations. You will need to cease operations immediately until you obtain a special use permit issued by the City of Pevely.”

The city of Pevely referred Fox 2 to the city’s attorney, Robert Sweeney, who represents multiple cities in the St. Louis area, for further comment.

Both Lenhard and Sweeney said the light show had been turned off, prior to the letter being sent, but Sweeney said, “It was suggested to the city by legal counsel that they sent him a notice, sort of memorializing these facts that this occurred.”

 “Am I angry, am I frustrated, absolutely, but the word I would love to describe is silly, this is silly, this is holiday lights, that’s all it is, its holiday lights to music,” homeowner Justin Lenhard said.

He said he spent thousands of hours and dollars on the display for people to watch for free. Lenhard placed a donation box outside of his home for people to donate to the Jefferson County Rescue Mission if they wanted to.

“In addition to advertising, setting hours, he was apparently collecting donations, which on the surface, arguably makes it look like a business,” Sweeney said.

He claimed that Lenhard collecting donations, posting hours the light shows would be on, and posting the light show on a Facebook page, looked like a business.

“More importantly, and more immediately, was that the event the display was causing a public nuisance and putting the public at risk,” Sweeney said.

He claimed the light show caused traffic congestion and safety hazards and first responders couldn’t access the street if needed. Lenhard claims that is not the case.

“They’re saying they can’t get EMS or a firetruck down here if we have an emergency, but that’s not true, our city, our street is very wide,” Lenhard said. “Not one neighbor has come up to me and said this traffic is an issue, not one, instead they wanted to go to city hall and complain.”

Sweeney said, “People have been doing this for a long time. This is the first time I’ve ever had this situation. I didn’t see the display, I cannot comment on its robustness, but it’s been described, I guess, over the top.”

Lenhard said he put a sign outside of the display and reminders on the radio station that asked those watching to not block traffic and not turn up the radio. 

“I did whatever I could to prevent this from happening to just be neighborly,” he added.

Lenhard said it was tough on his two young sons and also difficult to shut down after other families shared stories about the display.

“He was very hurt because of what he created, because of what we created as a family, so it’s really affected him and that hurts, that hurts it really hurts, to see as a father, that hurts,” Lenhard said through tears.

“I received a phone call from a gentleman whose 8-year-old daughter has brain cancer and he found out that the show was canceled and her one wish, she would come every single night when the show was on, that’s what she wanted.” 

Sweeney said, “I don’t mean to be the Halloween equivalent of the Grinch. But, you know, public safety has to be considered.”

Fox 2’s Zara Barker went to Pevely to ask neighbors how they felt about it. No one wanted to go on camera, but of those that answered, two said they didn’t have any problem with the display, and two other neighbors said they believed it was a nuisance. 

He said his Christmas light display was already done and ready to be put up. “We’re trying to save Christmas, I want to save Christmas for my boys,” Lenhard said.

Lenhard said he plans to fight against this and attend the next Board of Alderman meeting.

“I don’t want this to happen to somebody else. If somebody else wants to put up Christmas lights, Halloween lights, they should have that right, and not have that silly letter saying you need to be shut down because we consider you a business now,” Lenhard said.