A forty foot inflatable Santa Claus is at the center of a controversy in Millstone between Seasonal World and the Township.

Seasonal World in Millstone (Ilya Hemlin, Townsquare Media NJ)

Tony Schiavone, owners of Seasonal World, says he is barraged by summonses by the Township over a forty foot inflatable Santa Claus that he attached to the roof of his pool and seasonal goods store. Township Mayor Nancy A. Grbelja claims the inflatable violates the agreement made between Schiavone and the Board of Adjustments, as well and says the inflatable is a safety hazard.

Last year, Schiavone put a 20 foot Santa Claus on the roof and received summonses which required him to hire attorneys to settle the matter out of court. Grbelja says the store owner plead guilty and paid the fines.

Schiavone says he put up the forty foot Santa after Thanksgiving this year, and received notices saying he violated conditions he signed with the Township before the business opened. He notes the agreement said Seasonal World could only display merchandise in certain locations, but contends the 40 foot Santa doesn't qualify since it's not for sale.  Grbelja doesn't believe that to be the case.

"If somebody came in there and told him that they wanted to buy that forty foot Santa Claus I am sure they would be able to purchase it." Says the Mayor.

This isn't the first time Seasonal World, which sells pools in the summer and holiday items throughout the year, has been at odds with the Township over what is placed on the outside of the business. Over the past several years Schiavone estimates he's spent upwards of $200,000 in attorney's fees in order to contend with the various demands of the Township.

Seasonal World at night (Chris Swendeman, Townsquare Media NJ)

Schiavone says when he opened the business twelve years he opened it in a commercial zone as "non conforming use" property. That meant he had to go before the Township Committee when making any kind of displays or changes to the exterior of his business.

"Anytime I put something outside, whether a lawn that's there too long or a truck or car or balloon I had to get in front of the board and get permission."

Schiavone had to go before the committee several years ago when he wanted to expand his building to enclose his outdoor displays. He said they had to go through a two year process of presenting variances to the board, showing everything brick colors to paperwork, only to deny them.

The Seasonal World head ended up taking the matter to the state Supreme Court, where it was overturned because the store never needed the variances since it's in a commercial zone-meaning the Millstone Zoning Board had to approve the addition. However, Grbelja claims he still made an agreement with the Township that in order for the addition to happen, the inflatable that he sells need to be housed indoors.

Schiavone believes ever since the victory, the Township has been targeting him.
"I don't know if that left a sore taste in the township's mouth but last year when we did put up the balloon prior to the addition we started getting summonses.They only approve what they want in this town, period. If it's not part of their scheme or their overall game plan you're not getting approved in here."

Millstone Mayor Nancy Grbelja said safety was an issue, citing Seasonal World's location right on Route 537 right off the exit of Interstate195, as being hazardous to motorists.  "It is very distracting, and it can cause a hazard in the event we have wind gusts and that comes loose."

However Schiavone believes there is absolutely no safety issues, but rather they are using it as an excuse to further micromanage his business.

"It is bolted down to the roof with straps, there are sand bags to bottom of it. If it we got too windy we would take it down. We monitor the weather and look every night at the weather report."

Schiavone's says he will continue the legal battle with the forty foot St. Nick, but says he's growing tired of the hassle.  "I just need an answer, if I'm breaking the rules obviously I won't do it, I'm not here to break any rules, but right now we don't see anything we're breaking."  However Grbelja says the rules are clear and Shiavone just refuses to acknowledge them.

"When it doesn't suit his need and he's looking to continue to advertise or find some kind of an angle, that's what he's doing obviously in this case."