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Christmas light show expansion approved

South Boston News
SoVaNow.com / October 13, 2021

A request by Michael “Zeb” Elliott for a special exception permit that would allow him to add new attractions to his annual Christmas light show near South Hill was approved by the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors by an 8-1 vote on Tuesday.

Claudia Lundy was the only board member to vote against the application. She said she supported the expansion of the light show but was not in favor of allowing persons to camp on the property even for short stays. “We have enough campsites in Mecklenburg County,” Lundy said.

In August, Elliott submitted a special exception permit application to Zoning Administrator Robert Hendrick to expand his Elliott Family Holiday Light Show Extravaganza to include a new “Santa Experience” and provide four campsites to accommodate out-of-town guests visiting the holiday show that he and the family set up each year at their home at 1899 Callis Road.

The campers would be limited to two-night stays on the weekends, according to Elliott. They would book a stay through a website that allows him to approve or disapprove any request. There would be no week-day campers and he and his wife would be home on those nights when campers would be on the property.

The Mecklenburg County Planning Commission unanimously approved the request at its meeting on Aug. 30 and recommended final approval by the Board of Supervisors. The planning commission found that the county has approved similar events in the past, and the proposed activities would increase tourism in the area.

Planners also found the light show expansion would not adversely affect the health and safety of persons in the neighborhood, was not detrimental to the public welfare, and that Elliott would be responsible for monitoring additional traffic flow from the events.

The recommendation was made notwithstanding letters from Ryan Callis and Patrick Callis, Elliott’s uncles, objecting to Elliott’s desire to allow campers on a small portion of his 32-acre parcel adjacent to his home. Elliott said he was adding the campsites to offset some of the cost he incurs each year with his light show.

His uncles said they were concerned with trespassers to their portion of the Callis family farm which abuts Elliott’s land, and the potential for fire burning their timbered acreage from campfires lit by those staying on Zeb Elliott’s property.

Elliott said he’s installed a fire pit for use by the campers and will provide portable fire mats and fire extinguishers to campers. No fires would be allowed during periods of high winds, excessive dryness or when burn bans are in place.

The nearest timbered land is more than 100 feet from where the campers will be staying, Elliott explained.

Elliott said he has cameras positioned around the property to guard against trespassers on land he does not own. He also will personally greet each camper and review the rules for staying on the property. He said he can and will ask visitors to leave the property if they fail to follow the rules.

The uncles’ other concern — that visitors would bring motorbikes, ATVs and golf carts onto their land — was not an issue, according to Elliott, as no such vehicles would be allowed on site.

In response to questions from board chairman Glenn Barbour, Elliott said he carries a commercial liability policy to cover any claims for personal injury or property damage and he assured Barbour that he has a “vested interest” in keeping the event, his property, and neighboring properties safe.

In a post on social media, Elliott described his newly expanded Holiday Light Extravaganza: “We have created an indoor light show and Santa Experience just for all of the little ones around here to experience Santa in a way that they never have.”

The Santa Experience includes a visit with elves, story time with Santa and an indoor light show set up in a greenhouse. “Santa will welcome all of the little ones to his area and tell them stories of his Christmas Eve adventures. He will then have time with each child to take photos and listen to their Christmas wishes.”

Elliott, who for his day job is director of technical services for VCU Health in Richmond, said this year he will use his technical skills to do “something very unique.” At the start of the Santa Experience, parents will be asked to complete a short questionnaire that shares “a little bit about [their child] that only the real Santa would know. Santa will be wired to hear this info and will call each child by name, ask them about their Christmas presents received last year and ask them about a pet, teacher, or their elf on the shelf.

While the outdoor light show will remain free to the public, tickets for the Santa Experience cost $12.99 per person if purchased by Oct. 31. Otherwise the price is $14.99 per person. Tickets can be purchased online at https://magicalsantamoments.com/south-hill-santa-on-the.../

The Elliott Family Holiday Extravaganza began about six years ago after Elliott’s wife Diane asked him to install some icicle lights on the house. It grew from there. The once small lighting display has become a huge undertaking that he begins designing and installing in late August. In 2020, Elliott said more than 20,000 families viewed the light show.

“We love Christmas and Christmas lights, but there are not a lot of people in our area who go all out anymore, and we wanted to do something different,” Elliott explained adding it’s the way his family spreads “love and joy.”

The light show, and Santa Experience begins Friday, Nov. 26 and runs daily from 6-10:30 p.m. To learn more about the Elliott Family Holiday Light Extravaganza go online to facebook.com/elliottfamilyholidayextravaganza.

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