PENNSVILLE, N.J. – Rather than simply welcoming drivers to the Garden State, a new billboard greeting people entering New Jersey over the Delaware Memorial Bridge (search) slams the state's business climate.
"Welcome to New Jersey. A horrible place to do business," reads the billboard message.
The glaring, red capital letters represent the revenge — misguided, according to officials — of a developer upset with the state's environmental regulators.
William Juliano (search), whose company is based in Mount Laurel, makes his feelings clear in the third of the four sentences on the cryptic billboard, which he put up just in time for the Memorial Day weekend: "DEP nightmare state."
Back in 1990, Juliano, who has built shopping centers, convenience stores, office buildings and hotels, bought some land in a prime spot near the Delaware Memorial Bridge, which is traveled by 17.5 million people each way each year.
On the land near Interchange 1 of the New Jersey Turnpike, Juliano has built a Hampton Inn and a Cracker Barrel restaurant. He also planned to build a truck stop on the land.
A previous owner received state approval for the truck stop in 1985. But the state now says the land is in a wetlands area and is unsuitable for either a truck stop or a Home Depot, which Juliano proposed building there last year.
Juliano says not being allowed to build what he wants is a symptom of bigger problems. He says the Department of Environmental Protection has a staffer in charged of "delaying, hindering and, in general, causing havoc with their permitting process." Other developers are leaving New Jersey because of the issue, Juliano said.
"They [state officials] are antibusiness," he said. "And the state is run by environmentalists."
DEP officials say Juliano's anger is misplaced. The agency, after all, has approved four of Juliano's projects over the last three years — each in under seven months.
"I think that he came to the mistaken belief that he had a personal and perpetual exemption from the wetlands laws," Environmental Protection chief Bradley Campbell said.
So far, the state has done nothing about the billboard, and it's unclear whether it could. "At some point, we'll have to consider action against him," Campbell said, implying a potential legal fight.
Juliano believes the refusal to let him build is a violation of his civil rights. The state, he says, is taking his property rights without paying him.
Last month, he requested that the state Attorney General's office look into the way the DEP works.
And at a $1,000 per plate fundraiser last month, he approached Democratic gubernatorial candidate U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine (search) about his plight.
It's Corzine, Juliano said, who can save the day. That's the reason behind the fourth line on the billboard: "Can Senator Corzine really do anything?"
The Garden State business world isn't exactly lining up in support of Juliano's stance. The state Chamber of Commerce gives the DEP generally good reviews for its officials' willingness to listen to businesses.
And in a state with plenty of red tape, it's unfair to single out the DEP, said Michael Egenton, an assistant vice president at the chamber.
Egenton said the sign will neither help the state's reputation, nor drive business away. "I would question how many actual CEOs or businesspeople would drive by, see that and say, 'That's it, I'm not going to come to New Jersey,'" he said.
Juliano owns the billboard and said he is giving up about $10,000 per month by not renting it.
He says the billboard will stay until the DEP makes changes, including adding an ombudsman to handle concerns like his.
And within a few weeks, Juliano said he plans to put up two more signs along the Turnpike.