Christmas light viewings are an American pastime. Families load up in cars and drive through neighborhoods every December, appreciating the time, effort and money holiday-minded homeowners put into decorating.
But for residents on one street in Old Bridge, New Jersey, the twinkling decorations are quickly becoming a hot-button issue.
Tom Apruzzi, the man behind the apparent controversy, has set up his epic display every Christmas season for 15 years, according to NJ.com. This year’s display boasts a whopping 70,000 lights.
Apruzzi’s impressive Christmas display can bring in 1,000 people a night, but it’s not to turn a profit. Donations are collected, but the funds given to charities. His previous light shows have raised tens of thousands of dollars for veterans and cancer-stricken children.
Despite the cheerful atmosphere and massive charitable giving, not everyone is happy with Apruzzi’s annual hobby. His car and home have even been vandalized.
And now, city officials are demanding the Christmas light artist pay a $3,000 fine every day he runs the display for the public, reports CBS News.
“They want me to pay for the police, they also want me to pay for shuttle service from a private parking lot and bus people in that they want me to pay for,” Apruzzi explained.
Old Bridge Mayor Owen Henry is standing his ground on the fine, citing concerned neighbors who have had to deal with huge crowds stomping through their peaceful neighborhood.
It also brings up policing and first-responder concerns. Firefighters, ambulance crews and police cars could have a difficult time accessing the area if families and their vehicles clog the street.
Although previous years saw smaller crowds that could easily be handled by auxiliary police officers, the number of visitors has swelled beyond the limitations of the street itself. Some nights, there are so many cars that they line both sides of the street, forcing viewers to walk in the middle of the road.
If the fine isn’t paid, the city government may have no choice but to shut down the display. This could effectively end the yearly tradition unless Apruzzi forks over thousands of dollars.
Apruzzi started a fundraiser to help with the costs. Called “Save the lights,” it aims to pay the costs imposed by the city. As of Friday morning, his GoFundMe page had received over $4,000 in donations.
Interestingly, the Apruzzi family and city residents met with the City Council weeks before the lights even went up. The fundraising page says “they received a unanimous vote to proceed, WITHOUT any stipulations.”
There are two sides to every story. The Apruzzi family donates tens of thousands to charity while spreading holiday cheer and joy to an entire town. To upset neighbors, this doesn’t justify the flashing lights and throngs of people.
Despite this, Apruzzi isn’t backing down.
“We are not shutting down the Christmas lights show,” he defiantly said. “Period.”
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