CAMPTON HILLS – The village of Campton Hills has been in a 14-month legal battle with Brian Larsen – known for Larsen’s Christmas Lights Show – citing him for 10 alleged zoning violations over a combined 29,634 days and warned it “could seek a fine as high as $22,225,500,” according to a pre-trial settlement memo.
None of the alleged zoning violations have to do with the Christmas light show, the village said.
“While that amount would admittedly be excessive,” village attorney Ryan Morton stated in the memo, the fine should be enough to compensate the village for staff time to address the issues and discourage further violations.
Instead, Morton offered a compromise of sorts: A fine of $8,136,750.
Morton gave the memo to Larsen’s attorney at a Jan. 31, 2023 pre-trial settlement conference that was unsuccessful, as the lawsuit is continuing, court records show.
From the village’s perspective, the amount is justified based on the 10 alleged zoning violations it has accused Larsen of since 2008, according to a pretrial settlement document. Larsen’s house and landscaping business are located on in the 42W800 block of Beith Road in Campton Hills. The property is 9.76 acres and split between zoning for rural residential and agricultural related sales.
The 10 alleged violations include an unauthorized light show manufacturing business – not the Larsen Christmas Light Show itself – but materials built on site for other light shows.
- The other violations cited in court documents include:
- Excessive electrical installations.
- Pool and patio installation.
- Storage of materials.
- Fuel tanks above ground.
- Inviting customers onto the property for County Wide Landscaping Inc.
- Excessive vehicles on the property.
- Hydrologic disturbances that cause flooding.
- Failure to remove a masonry mailbox.
- Unauthorized parking.
“It’s one false thing after another,” Larsen’s attorney James Newman said of the village’s accusations. “It’s like he’s not allowed to have unicorns in his back yard. We could stipulate almost everything in their complaint … because we don’t do any of those things.”
Not so fast, said Morton.
The lawsuit, filed Feb. 15, 2022, has generated more than 200 pages of legal briefs and motions filed back and forth with another court date pending on May 15.
The document Newman provided – which included the millions of dollars of proposed fines – was given in a pre-settlement discussion and was not part of the court record, Morton said.
“We have come down significantly from that,” Morton said, but he would not say by how much. “He (Newman) is still at zero.”
Morton said the village spent years trying to work with Larsen outside of the court system to correct the violations, but “hit a brick wall” and took it to court.
“The reason for the $22 million settlement number was for the cost of enforcement,” Morton said. “If Mr. Larsen had complied with our code, we would not be in this position where we are assessing fines. … It has to be known that if you violate the village code, you are liable for it. Compliance – that is our goal.”
Larsen’s light show
To be clear, the village’s lawsuit has nothing to do with Larsen’s Christmas light show, Morton said.
Larsen began his light show in 2005, but became famous after he won $50,000 in a 2013 contest on ABC-TV’s, “The Great Christmas Light Fight.”
“He continues to try to spin this back to his light show to continue to gain sympathy,” Morton said. “This is not about the light show.”
For Larsen, though, it’s all about the light show.
“I stopped because I was tired of the harassment,” Larsen said. “They violated me for putting in a parking lot which they told me to put in. … I want nothing to do with the village of Campton Hills.”
The village took issue with hundreds of cars lined up on Beith Road, a two-lane highway, that caused a miles-long traffic jam that posed a danger to motorists and made it difficult for emergency vehicles to get through, former Campton Hills Police Chief Daniel Hoffman had said in 2016.
The solution at that time was for the light show to have shorter music and lights cycles and assistance from police providing traffic control. Larsen also put in a gravel parking lot so people could watch the show without blocking Beith Road.
In 2020, current Campton Hills Police Chief Steven Millar had said Larsen’s neighbors had issues with the light show.
“They’re trying to have a peaceful life and the lights are in their house all the time,” Millar had said then. “People are using their driveways to turn around and to urinate on their lawns and in the driveways.”
Larsen sold the light show and moved it from his house in 2022 to Goebbert’s Farm in Pingree Grove, where it is known as Goebbert’s Light Show.
The village also has accused Larsen of changing the topography of his land without proper approval, a move they say has caused flooding on his neighbor William Beith’s property. Beith had been the village’s deputy clerk after its incorporation in 2008.
“There has never been a flooding issue until now,” Beith said.
While Larsen denies that anything he did on his property caused flooding, Morton said the zoning for that portion of Larsen’s property is for agricultural use, not for storing landscaping materials or creating hard surfaces that cause stormwater runoff.
“William Beith has had multiple incidences of flooding since 2019 and 2020 that he never had until Larsen changed the topography of his land,” Morton said. “We are just trying to make sure the neighbors are protected and the zoning codes are followed.”
Newman dismissed the idea that his client caused flooding, saying there was a flood – but it was caused by a blocked culvert after a big rain. And once the culvert was cleared of leaves and sticks, the flooding was over.
Still pending before the court is Newman’s motion to dismiss Campton Hills’ complaint.
“If the judge denies my motion, we will be at the exact same spot as the moment they filed the complaint,” Newman said. “I have not answered the complaint.”