Sit back, take a sip of eggnog, put some Christmas songs on your iPod and relax.
The festive holiday lights in the Elmwood Village shopping district aren’t coming down.
Not this season. And probably not in the future, either.
That doesn’t mean, though, that there isn’t somewhat of a verbal battle going on, after Elmwood Avenue business owners saw a copy of the city’s “Lighted Holiday Decorations” policy and thought it was sent to them. Some of those owners felt that the policy threatened their continued two-decades-old tradition of erecting these lights along Elmwood Avenue, between Lafayette Avenue and West Ferry Street.
That led to some media stories, starting late Monday, suggesting that the city was playing the role of Grinch and that the lights could be dimmed this holiday season.
Some people close to the dispute said there was some overreaction and misinformation that fueled the story late Monday.
“It got blown out of proportion,” Public Works Commissioner Steven Stepniak said Tuesday. “We never intended to remove the lights.”
At least two people familiar with the dispute said they believe that written policy was not sent directly to the business owners. Instead, it was sent to the Elmwood Village Association as part of ongoing talks about the use of festoons on light poles.
Tuesday morning, Carly Battin, executive director of the association – which got caught in the crossfire – talked to Mayor Byron W. Brown’s office, Stepniak and Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto.
“They all assured me that the city will not be taking down the lights,” she said.
“We’re working together with the city, particularly Commissioner Stepniak, to come up with a long-term solution to maintain a very important holiday tradition on Elmwood and to work together with the city to do that in a way that is safe,” Battin added.
Still, one Elmwood Avenue business owner was upset.
“If they really care about small-business owners, they should come to us in person,” said Paul Tsouflidis, owner of Acropolis OPA. “This is what we do. We live and breathe our small businesses. We’re at them every day.”
These merchants have been decorating their trees with holiday lights for some 20 years, and the practice has spread to about 40 businesses in the four Elmwood blocks between Lafayette and West Ferry.
“This is 40 merchants who do this out of the kindness of their hearts and for business reasons, to make the area bustling,” Tsouflidis added. “It is a community effort, a great, great idea that brings us all together and makes our four blocks awesome blocks.”
LoCurto said there are some legitimate concerns from the city about business owners adhering to a standard policy that spells out some safety measures.
“I think there’s an amicable solution that can be worked out, to ensure that everything is done safely without dampening the holiday spirit,” LoCurto said.
Specifically, the city’s written policy includes three provisions that are troubling to some, but several people involved with the issue said those provisions may be negotiable, perhaps on an individual basis.
“We want to continue to work with them on a case-by-case basis,” Stepniak said of the business owners. “It’s all about public safety.”
The three provisions, with some possible negotiated solutions:
• A requirement that the bottom of lights and decorations be at least 14 feet, 6 inches above the street.
The problem is that most trees on Elmwood don’t reach that height. That’s why officials believe that height restriction could be lowered, based on individual cases.
• A requirement that the businesses use licensed, insured electricians to put up and take down the lights.
That’s too heavy a financial lift for the businesses or the Elmwood Village Association to assume, but maybe the city could send its own workers or provide some other help. Or maybe some of that work could be donated.
“We’re working together with the city to find a workable solution on that,” Battin said.
• A requirement that the businesses have $1 million worth of liability insurance on the lights, to hold the city harmless.
“That’s a legitimate gripe,” Tsouflidis said. “But I also think it’s something the city should do, because we are the number one commercial district in the area. We perform every day for the city.”
Others said that the insurance requirement, in this case, might be satisfied by merging it with existing insurance policies that the Elmwood Village Association already has.
While any fear about the lights being removed seems to have faded, some are looking to the future.
“We want to make sure all businesses from Forest to Allen are lit up by 2015,” Tsouflidis said. “It would legitimize the Elmwood Village as the premier shopping district in the city.”