7-Eleven Operating Hours a Matter of Historical Perspective
Testimony for a proposed 7-Eleven conversion on Front Street centers on site plan approval granted more than 35 years ago.
Professionals for an applicant looking to convert a Welsh Farms convenience store into a 7-Eleven don't understand why it should matter that a store that has closed at 10 p.m. every night for the past several decades could be allowed to operate 24 hours a day. According to site plan approvals in Red Bank history, they argue, it's not even a relevant issue.
At the Red Bank Planning Board meeting Monday night, Dina Enterprises presented its case for several relatively minor variances to facilitate the conversion of the Welsh Farms on the corner of Front and Spring Streets into a 7-Eleven. Among the variances they seek are an illuminated sign - one they say will be less bright than the one currently installed - and a proposed 356-square foot addition to rear of the building to house a freezer and refrigerator.
Clearly, for the Planning Board and the more than 40 neighbors who crowded into council chambers to hear the application, however, upgrades to the building are of minor concern when compared to non-stop operation that would come along with a conversion into a 7-Eleven.
Philip San Filippo, attorney for building owners Dina Enterprise, said his clients aren't seeking a use variance to increase the hours of operation simply because they don't have to. When borough officials approved the convenience store's site plan more than 30 years ago, he said, they did not include any restrictions on operating hours. In fact, the only mention of hours of operation in the minutes of every meeting throughout the approval process came but once, and from the applicant.
Though the Welsh Farm has operated daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. for decades, he agreed, store owners could have gone the 24-hour route without even a formal request at any point.
In addition to the disapproving nods from residents in the crowd, Mayor Pat Menna made clear his objection to the notion, saying he was aghast at the board's approval of the site plan with so little consideration for future use.
"We do things differently in 2012 then we did in 1975," he said, calling the use variance approval a product of a "good ol' boy" system.
Despite the lack of official documentation outlining the store's approved hours of operations, board attorney Michael Leckstein said the decades of operation under the current structure might cast doubt on the idea that previous borough boards knowingly intended for store owners to operate at any time they pleased.
Though the applicant may wish to brush the issue aside, Leckstein said it will be have to be discussed eventually.
"(The hours of operation) were on the original (site) plan and it's been complied with for 35 years," he said. "Saying that (the 7-Eleven) can stay open is a conclusion you're making."
Though planning and engineering testimony delivered by Rob Freud focused on the building's signage as well as some improvements to the parking lot and sidewalks surrounding the store, members of the audience took the opportunity to voice their displeasure at the project. In questions - and often times statements - directed toward Freud during the public question portion of the meeting members of the public took issue with the hours of operation that would come along with the new 7-Eleven.
Wallace Street resident John Garofalo wondered why there's even a need for a second 7-Eleven in Red Bank. Currently there's a 7-Eleven on W. Front Street less than a mile away.
"Why in God's name would you want another one in a neighborhood that shuts down at 10 o'clock," he said.
Other topics broached by residents included the possibility of increased traffic and noise, a late-night criminal element that could congregate at the 7-Eleven, and the light produced by signs that will forever remain on once the conversion is complete.
The application will continue at the planning board's next scheduled meeting on March 19.