Millstone Township vs Seasonal World – Who’s the Scrooge? [POLL]
Traveling down 195 through Jackson, you may chance upon the friendly figure of Santa hovering over the roof of a local business.
The business in question is Seasonal World, but it’s not all “peace on earth, for the owner, Tony Schiavone.
Seems as though the township of Millstone, where his business is located is giving him a fight over the 40-foot-tall Santa.
Are they being scrooges about it?
A 40-foot-tall inflatable Santa Claus on the roof of Seasonal World here was meant to bring joy to the world and perhaps attract a few customers, but it is stirring up trouble instead.
Tony Schiavone, the store’s owner, said the township is sending him a summons every day, saying the giant Santa is in violation of the terms of operating a business there. He disagrees.
“This is a holiday decoration, that’s all it is,” Schiavone said Thursday. “If it’s 10 feet, 20 feet, 40 feet, what difference does it make?”
The dispute has forced Schiavone to spend thousands on legal fees to fight town hall, which could charge him as much as $2,000 per summons. It could force him to take down an attention-grabbing figure. It prompted his customers to wonder why the town in Sandy’s aftermath didn’t have more pressing issues.
And it could portray township officials as modern-day Scrooges – even though the mayor herself said she doesn’t hate Santa, pointing to the town’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Saturday as proof.
“We like our businesses to follow the rules they agree to,” Mayor Nancy A. Grbelja said.
His time in Millstone Township, however, has been uneasy. He said he had trouble in 2004 getting the township’s approval to expand the store.
He showed a video of a Board of Adjustment meeting in October 2011 in which members were exasperated by Seasonal World’s decorations. He was was ticketed by the town last year for putting up a 20-foot inflatable Santa on the roof. That argument was settled out of court, he said.
Thinking his problems were behind him, Schiavone said he was on a business trip last summer to China when he came across the giant Santa Claus, with a broad smile and a friendly wave. He bought it for upwards of $5,000 – about what it would cost to purchase a billboard advertisement.
Employees put Santa on the roof just before Thanksgiving. But it wasn’t long after that the township sent a letter, and then summonses day after day, telling him he violated of the conditions of development approval that he signed before his business opened.
Schiavone’s argument? The agreement said Seasonal World needed to confine the merchandise and items it sells to a specific area outside the store. But it didn’t address items that aren’t for sale – such as the 40-foot Santa, said Christopher Stevenson, Schiavone’s Bridgewater-based attorney.
“They’re just decorations,” Stevenson said.
Word of the dispute didn’t go over well with the two customers, who noted the state still is trying to recover from superstorm Sandy.
“Oh give me a break,” said Catherine Guarrieri of Lawrence, who stopped there on her way to the Jackson Premium Outlets. “For goodness sake. With all the problems facing our state, someone is going to complain about Santa?”
“There’s so much more to complain about,” Karen Handel of Jackson said.
Township officials, however, didn’t see it that way. Grbelja said the giant Santa wasn’t a typical Christmas decoration; it could be downright hazardous if it were to come loose and, with a gust of wind, topple over and float into traffic.
“That’s a little bit more than a decoration. We’re not talking about putting lights up or putting something in your window,” Grbelja said. “When you take a look at the location, what would happen if you were coming off 195 and there was a strong wind and (Santa) got dislodged from the roof? I wouldn’t want to be driving there.”
Schiavone dismissed that concern. He said Santa was virtually stapled to the roof with nuts and bolts, tethered with nylon straps and weighed down by sandbags in his feet. The figure likely would rip and deflate before flying off into the distance, he said.
And, anyway, Schiavone said he has a 40-foot-high inflatable snowman attached to the roof of the business’s warehouse in Jackson and hasn’t gotten any flak at all.
“The bottom line is, I have to spend a lot of money to tell (township officials) they’re wrong,” he said.
Townships have been known to give the small businessman a hard time.
It’s the cost of doing business in New Jersey.
But do you feel the township is being unreasonable in fining Mr. Schiavone for having the 40 ft. Santa display on his rooftop?
I would agree with the customers in the store.
They have to have better things to do than pick on a small businessman trying to earn a buck.
Who’s the Scrooge…Millstone Township or Seasonal World?