by Daniel Brateris
WALL, NJ-An 11-year local Christmas tradition and longstanding successful fundraising effort will not be allowed to return to Wall Township this Christmas Season, according to an open letter to the community by the show’s producers.
Unfortunately, organizers of The Christmas Light Show™ were unable to reach a workable compromise with Township officials for a return of the show, as the Township Administrator and Police Department could not be persuaded that major logistical changes to the time-honored light show on Woolley Road, offered in good faith by the show’s producers, would satisfactorily address Township concerns over public inconvenience and safety.
“It is with profound disappointment and heartfelt regret that we will not be permitted to produce The Christmas Light Show, in Wall Township for the 2018 Christmas Season,” wrote Dan Brateris, President of RAISING4, INC., the Nonprofit Corporation which has been working since early April on plans to bring back the 11-year show to Wall Township.
“We are particularly saddened for the charitable organization, RallyCap Sports Inc. (www.rallycapsports.org), formally Challenged Youth Sports, who is our fund-raising beneficiary for this long-time event, and for the families in the community who have made this local (and free) celebration of Christmas a part of their yearly tradition,” he continued.
According to Brateris, working with show’s other producers, they believed they had, in good faith, developed several feasible parking and traffic alternatives that would have minimized, if not, eliminated the Township’s concerns over public inconvenience and safety.
“We presented to the Township three (3) separate parking location options, together with reasonable and appropriate shuttle-bus service to the show’s historic location, that would have alleviated the need to close Woolley Road, as the Township had done in the past, and would have, with ample publicity, eliminated the need for our visitors to have to walk from the assigned parking area to the show,” said Brateris.
“In essence, all three options were designed to eliminate all pedestrian traffic to the event, as visitors would have only been granted access to the show by boarding a shuttle-bus at the designated parking area, where everyone would then be returned to after seeing the show,” he continued.
In closing, Brateris assured all of the show’s long-time friends, supporters, and sponsors, that his organization would “continue to work tirelessly to return this local Christmas tradition to the community, in which this long-standing event has brought joy to thousands of families and has financially supported a worthy local charity.”
“With your continued support, we hope to have the opportunity to bring back The Christmas Light Show™for the 2019 Christmas Season,” he concluded.
The Christmas Light Show is a local tradition which has been produced at a private property off of Woolley Road without incident for 11 years. Producers took the 2017 season off to develop a plan for addressing concerns expressed by Wall Township. The townships concerns were:
- Closure of roads requiring block party permits, resolutions, and paid police presence.
- Attendees parking in a field and walking to the show. The township required temporary lighting, professional parking lot management, and paid police to direct and protect attendees walking to the show.
- Statement that the location was not designed for such an event.
- Statements that the neighbors did not want the show and that it was a nuisance
It was clear that the above logistical setup was cost prohibitive for the producers and the charity.
On April 2nd 2018, RAISING4 INC. sent a letter to Wall Township detailing a plan to change the format of the show and alleviate their concerns. The key elements of the plan were:
- The Christmas Light Show would not be visible from the street, visual barriers would be put in place. The property would be secured and have only 1 entrance and 1 exit.
- Instead of two showtimes each night, the show would loop every 30 minutes allowing guests to come and go at various times within a 5:00 PM – 9:00 PM window. This distributes the attendance over a longer period of time, reducing the instantons traffic and instantaneous attendance which will allow the volume of the sound system to be lowered.
- Attendees would park in a local parking lot and board shuttle busses. Busses would run a continuous loop to and from the show within a 4:30 PM – 9:30 PM window.
- Woolley Road would be made no street parking and attendees would only be allowed into the show if they arrived on a shuttle bus and required to leave on a shuttle bus.
On June 12th 2018, RAISING4 INC. received an email reply from the Wall Township Police Department stating that the show would not be permitted on Woolley Road, “due to public safety concerns and public inconvenience.” Producers of the show consulted with an attorney and a municipal professional engineer to examine the plan to determine that any public safety concerns were adequately addressed. Furthermore, for the 2016 season, the producers received unanimous written consent from all neighbors on the adjacent streets.
RAISING4 INC. secured a meeting on August 28th 2018 with township officials to discuss the June 12th email with the assistance of our attorney. The two-and-a-half-hour meeting concluded after a good-faith exchange of ideas, and accordingly, the Township agreed to review the proposed plan again. Shortly after the meeting our attorney received an email from the police department asking us to provide potential bus routes and parking locations. Within three days, on August 31st, 2018, we provided the following options and information to the township immediately:
- Options for the parking lot:
- Wall Township High School Parking Lot (We had approval to use this lot)
- Camp Evans Monmouth Rd. Lot (Needed approval from township)
- Brookdale Community College Lot (Needed approval from Brookdale CC)
- Detailed bus routes were provided
- We detailed that we had secured parking, bussing, and private insurance for the event
Two weeks later, on September 14th, the police department responded to our latest parking and shuttle bus options with a short email from the Wall Township Police Department concluding, without specific reasons or supporting evidence, that Police Department “will not recommend having this event on Woolley Road due to public safety concerns, public inconvenience, a burden on public resources, and because this residential area is not designed to accommodate this type of event”. Follow up verbal and written inquiries by the RAISING4 INC. attorney, to ascertain evidence for the police departments claims, received no substantive response.
Since this past April, RAISING4 INC. had been working with the community to secure low cost or donated services for bussing, insurance, parking, visual barriers, and lighting. As a reference, RAISING4 INC. was able to secure a detailed multimillion-dollar insurance policy for all aspects of the event for $470. This supports our position that the event is low risk and involves minimal safety concerns.
To be sure, RAISING4 INC. never received any specific reasons or evidence of any kind from Township officials to support their unfounded claims that the show, in its new format, will be a threat to public safety, a public inconvenience, a burden on public resources, and that the location cannot support the event. The event was produced in the same neighborhood for 11 years without incident and the new plan is substantially more manageable. We have previously secured unanimous written consent from the neighbors and there is no evidence that event needs to be, or is, a burden on public resources. Furthermore, the township offered no option for us to offset the stated burden on public resources (no ability to discuss volunteers, collaboration, private security, etc…), additionally, in 2016 RallyCap Sports was billed $2,000 for policing services at The Christmas Light Show by Wall Township. The prohibition of the 2018 show has come without supporting evidence, we feel the claims are purely subjective and influenced substantially by a desire to move the show to Wall Township property and rename the show to The Holiday Light Show. Our discussions in 2018 have not been representative of a collaborative effort to find the most feasible solution for both parties.
In conclusion, RAISING INC. has worked tirelessly to relaunch a local and free Christmas tradition that has brought joy to thousands of families and financially supported a worthy local charity. We are deeply saddened that the Township’s desire to rename the show and move it to township property outweighs their desire to work on solutions to allow our celebration of Christmas to continue at its historic location of 11 years.