When is a swing set more than a swing set?
According to Jeremy Curcio, when the township says so.
Originally from West Milford, Curcio has been a Hardyston resident for 10 years and said a recent complaint by a neighbor has prompted an avalanche of zoning troubles over the definition of a swing set.
Curcio received summonses from township Zoning Officer Jeffrey Stabile in November for having more than two accessory structures in his yard and no zoning permit for any of them. Curcio pleaded not guilty at his first municipal court hearing on Dec. 12.
Curcio said he believes he is being unfairly singled out because he has a transgender child, pointing to multiple examples of township residents who have yard setups similar to his and have not been cited for too many accessory structures. The lack of citations was confirmed through open public records requests, he said.
“(Township officials) have never done anything like this before, so everything points to discrimination at this point,” he said. “It’s very frustrating.”
In an Oct. 15 email, Councilman Brian Kaminski told Curcio that, “typically township officials do not single out homeowners, but, rather, respond to other homeowners’ complaints.”
Curcio said Stabile told him in August that a neighbor filed a complaint, saying Curcio didn’t have a permit for an existing storage shed.
When Stabile came out to inspect his property, Curcio said he was told there was a problem with the number of accessory structures present in the yard.
Township zoning ordinance states Curcio’s property can have “not more than two accessory structures.”
“I had three vinyl sheds and a swimming pool,” Curcio said. “He explained that I had to get rid of something.”
The discussion then turned to the swing set that Curcio said his father helped build for his three children to play on.
Stabile told him the swing set is an accessory structure. Curcio maintains that it isn’t.
“His interpretation was the swing set, because of its size, is an accessory structure,” Curcio said. “I’ve spoken to two attorneys since then and everybody says this is crazy.”
Stabile did not return multiple calls and emails seeking comment.
According to Curcio, the swing set is a therapeutic device that is needed for his 11-year-old son, who was adopted eight years ago.
“(He has) PTSD, bipolar disorder,” he said. “His mom was doing heroin when she was pregnant with him, so his chemical issues, medical issues, psychiatric issues are severe.”
Curcio said the child also has ADHD, reactive attachment disorder and gender dysphoria. Additionally, he has violence issues with other children, including his two younger brothers.
“It’s to the point where we just have to create physical separation in the yard while they play because his PTSD was getting triggered and he was pushing them off the swings,” he said. “We created a physical separation with a big enough swing set where they can all play in the yard but they’re far enough apart where there’s not a concern anymore.”
Stabile also told Curcio his more than 26-foot camper must be stored in a garage.
“The ordinance only allows for a garage to be no taller than 15 feet,” Curcio said. “Campers are roughly 13 feet tall. So then I went to an engineer and an architect to get blueprints drawn up, and they said it’s absolutely impossible.”
According to Curcio, the camper was also purchased to help his son, who has severe anxiety issues in public and can’t handle traveling long distances, especially on airplanes.
After getting nowhere with the township manager, Curcio said he reached out to the mayor and appeared before the council during the meeting on Oct. 23 to seek relief.
“The town mayor looked me straight in the eye and she said, ‘This isn’t right, we’re going to make good on this,’” he said.
Unfortunately, despite the assurances of township officials, Curcio said nothing has happened.
“Everything ended up being a dead end,” he said. “It was all empty promises. Nobody actually followed through with anything.”
Township Manager Carrine Piccolo-Kaufer said she could not comment, citing the active municipal court case.
“Over the past seven months, myself and the township zoning officer have had multiple conversations and a meeting with Mr. Curcio regarding his property,” she said. “After being presented with alternative options to achieve zoning compliance, Mr. Curcio refused to make any changes and elected to challenge this matter in court.”
Mayor Leslie Hamilton and Kaminski both did not respond when contacted for comment.
In trying to resolve his dispute with the township, Curcio said he is in a no-win situation.
“I’ve tried to cooperate from day one, and they just lead me to another problem and expect me to make things come together,” he said.
Curcio’s next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 29.
“Over the past seven months, myself and the township zoning officer have had multiple conversations and a meeting with Mr. Curcio regarding his property. After being presented with alternative options to achieve zoning compliance, Mr. Curcio refused to make any changes and elected to challenge this matter in court.”
Hardyston Township Manager
“I’ve tried to cooperate from day one, and they just lead me to another problem and expect me to make things come together.