After two votes on new measures concerning regulating 24-hour businesses in the Township at the Township Committee meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 4, the status quo remains in place. Committee members were split between the potentially disruptive effect 24-hour businesses could have on residential life and the need to encourage new business in the township.
The Township has not previously had regulations governing business hours. Business operating hours have been a thorny issue for the town since developers behind a Walgreens store proposed for Springfield Avenue said they would cancel plans for the store if the Township enacted a proposed ordinance limiting business hours (for more on Walgreens, see here and here).
The Committee first addressed 24-hour regulations early on in their meeting with a vote on an ordinance regulating business hours in redevelopment areas. The ordinance would mandate that all businesses cease operations between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., with exceptions for emerging care facilities and pharmacies.
Vice Mayor Kathleen Leventhal took exception with the definition of a pharmacy laid out by the law. Leventhal opposes 24-hour businesses in general, but supports all-hours health care facilities, including pharmacies. Nonetheless, she feels that the non-medicinal aspects of pharmacies like CVS or Walgreens, who sell merchandise ranging from magazines to snack food, do not need to be open 24 hours.
“I don’t feel that allowing 24-hour businesses will maintain the quality of life in Maplewood,” she said.
Mayor Vic De Luca also opposed the measure, but for different reasons. De Luca does not oppose 24-hour businesses, but was concerned the ordinance would have unintended consequences for businesses.
“It doesn’t make sense at a time when we are trying to keep businesses open… to change rules for existing businesses,” De Luca said.
Committee member Lester Lewis Powder noted the high number of vacant business spaces on Springfield Avenue, and cautioned the committee from voting in new rules that would discourage business development. The Township has never regulated business hours before, he noted. Only two 24-hour businesses operate in the town, and there aren’t a large number of new ones clamoring to open.
“We need to ask the question ‘what kind of 24-hour businesses are we so afraid of,’” he said.
The ordinance was defeated 3-2, with Powder, Leventhal and De Luca voting against it. A second discussion of 24-hour regulations occurred during the discussion items. Deputy Mayor Fred Profeta, who spoke against 24-hour businesses in the first vote, reiterated his concerns about the impact that new 24-hour businesses would have on the township.
Throughout the conversations about 24-hour regulations that have occurred in previous meetings, Committee member Jerry Ryan has argued that the Township adopt a licensing system for 24-hour businesses, where businesses could apply to be able to keep their doors open for 24 hours. Committee members seemed enthusiastic with the proposal. Ryan will be working with Township Attorney Roger Desiderio on the legalities of such a licensing system.
"This is all going to pass muster when someone sues us, right?" De Luca joked.