This court case was never about window shades. This was, from Jarrett Seltzer’s point of view, about a township employee using a widely overlooked ordinance to “retaliate” against him. That was the word the restaurant owner used yesterday when he took the stand on the last day of a trial that was equal parts absurd, mundane, and yet impossible to look away from.
Last year, Geniece Gary-Adams, the West Orange zoning officer, came to Seltzer’s takeout spot Bagels by Jarrett to issue a complaint about the coverings on his window that she believed violated a town ordinance.
But somehow the encounter went off the rails, enough to cause Seltzer to surreptitiously record the municipal employee with his cellphone. This clash began a domino effect of events that — at least in Seltzer’s estimation — couldn’t be chalked up to mere coincidence. Three weeks later, the township shut down his charitable turkey drive. Two code violations followed. Then, the township revoked his construction permit to expand in the neighboring commercial space.
“This entire process has come across as extremely targeted,” Seltzer said on the stand. “I don’t know why I’m being targeted but I believe I’m being targeted, especially when other businesses in my complex had window treatments.”
The window coverings in question, which Seltzer claims were left behind by the previous tenant, were there for a variety of reasons, including the “brutal” glare of the afternoon sun and also to deter the public from entering his curbside-only establishment.
Today, the storefront has a comical amount of signs on the door signaling to customers that his establishment is takeout only. The commercial space is essentially one giant kitchen — not a place that invites foot traffic from the general public.
“Even with signs that say Do Not Enter on the door, people still try to walk into the building, because they’re not used to a curbside business,” Seltzer said.
Earlier this year, Mayor Susan McCartney made an effort to reach a compromise. But it became clear yesterday that Seltzer and Gary-Adams had two interpretations of what that compromise entailed.
“Did the defendant in this case comply with what Mayor McCartney put forth in those emails?” Richard Trenk, the town attorney, asked
“No, he did not,” Gary-Adams said.
However, when Trenk asked Seltzer the same question, he got a different response.
“I don’t have anything covering more than one third of my windows that I haven’t been told I was allowed to have,” Seltzer said. “And my windows are left uncovered and you can see through them, so I’m in compliance.”
In an effort to prove that this was all a case of selective enforcement, the two witnesses — Seltzer and Gary-Adams — took the stand, looking at pictures of various local establishments, and discussing whether they were in violation. But the exercise revealed that ordinance lacked a clear interpretation.
“And the covering above the door that says Quick Shop that’s less than a third, correct?”
“No,” Seltzer said. “That’s a hundred percent of the piece glass above the door.”
“You interpret the third to be a particular pane as opposed to the entire glass?” Trenk asked.
“I believe that’s what the code says,” Seltzer said.
“But again, in your case, you haven’t done that, correct?” Trenk asked.
“Forgetting about the far two left windows as we discussed, none of my windows have anything affixed by more than a third.”
“So you define the word affixed as the relevant term?” Trenk asked.
“We can go word for word over the code if you would like to go over it,” Seltzer replied.
Chief Judge Dennis Dowd said he would likely deliver a ruling this Tuesday.