It may be the beginning of May, but the holiday season was on everyone’s minds during Monday’s Flower Hill Board of Trustees meeting, which was dominated by the discussion of a new exhibition law.
The law would require homes that have “illumination of an outside area” that resulted in 20 or more people visiting on three days within a 10-day period to obtain a permit from the village. While it does not specifically mention Christmas lights, it would notably affect the light display of Robert Young, whose relationship with the village has been adversarial since last Christmas.
Young, sporting a tie with Santa Claus, made his first appearance at Village Hall since January. When he made his remarks early in the meeting, he said he was open to working with the board about his display on Sunnyvale Road.
But as the meeting wore on, the rhetoric grew more contentious. Several residents on Sunnyvale Road said they were frustrated by Young’s lighting display.
“I think when we speak of compromise, it can’t be one-sided, and I think the board has tried and tried to compromise and not all parties have been willing,” said one neighbor.
Village Clerk Ronnie Shatzkamer read several letters that the village received, which praised the village and called the Christmas display a “nuisance.” One letter said that the Youngs had harassed them for speaking out against the display. When Young tried to respond, Mayor Bob McNamara denied him a chance to speak again and voices were raised.
“Let’s not be dismissive of each other’s comments,” Deputy Mayor Brian Herrington said after things had cooled down. “I know there is a lot of emotion here, and… that this is very sensitive, and we all need to work through that.”
Unlike the January meeting, Young brought people speak on his behalf. Several operators of Christmas light displays from the New York metro area came to the meeting in support of Young, including Keith Shaw of Cranbury, New Jersey.
Shaw detailed how he had worked with local officials to compromise on the display, which he said was the largest in New Jersey. He reduced the number of nights when the lights flashed and worked with police to handle traffic. He said that Young would need to compromise, but that he also had a right to put up the lights.
“There’s a lot of federal law that protects Christmas lights, and you don’t want to get into that,” Shaw told the board.
Young’s wife, Marie, read an anonymous letter thanking the family for the display, as the lights and the story behind the display — it is dedicated to the Young’s late daughter, and donations are collected for an organization to help those with eating disorders — convinced the letter writer not to hurt him or herself.
“This is what we do,” Marie said, wiping tears from her eyes.
Public comment on the law will continue at the June meeting. Young said he would return.
Following the lengthy public comment session, the board discussed several other topics. The village is looking to repave roads, install new gutters and put in a new catch basin on several streets. The project is expected to cost $300,000 and will be put out to bid in June.
The board considered the installation of a flashing pedestrian crosswalk at Stonytown Road, but the measure was tabled for further study.
The village received two bids for the garbage collection contract, but one was insufficient and the bidding process will be done again.