By John Burton
RED BANK – The borough Planning Board made it clear this week that the convenience store proposed for East River Road would not be welcomed to operate around the clock.
The board’s six members voted unanimously Monday, May 21, to deny an application to establish a franchise 7-Eleven convenience store at the corner of East River Road and Spring Street.
The sticking point for the board was the insistence of Dina Enterprises, Inc., the applicant and property owner, to have the store operate 24 hours a day. It was that part of the plan that sparked consternation of area residents who felt it would be out of place at a location bordering a residential neighborhood. The residents told the board the store would have a negative effect on the quality of life for those who live in the area.
The site is currently home to a Welsh Farms convenience store, open from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. But the applicant’s attorney, Philip San Filippo, insisted throughout the course of the hearings that the initial approval 35 years ago and through subsequent borough council actions, there were no limitations placed on the hours of operation at the site.
The borough council earlier this month adopted an ordinance to prevent any new commercial or retail businesses, located within 100 feet of residential neighborhoods, from operating 24 hours a day.
San Filippo argued that for the board to deny the application on those grounds, it would be “arbitrary, unreasonable and capricious.”
But Mayor Pasquale Menna and Borough Administrator Stanley Sickels, who are planning board members, each noted Monday night and at previous hearings, that the original 35-year-old site plan specified hours of operation, closing no later than 11 p.m.
“I think the argument that it wasn’t in the resolution of approval doesn’t hold water,” Sickels said.
Sickels conceded the plan to renovate, remodel and slightly expand the existing structure for a 7-Eleven, “certainly enhances the property.” He wanted to move to approve the application with the limited hours.
However, Board Attorney Michael Leckstein said plans indicated the 24-hour operation was a vital part of the business plan.
Added Menna, “It isn’t our job to negotiate with the applicant.”
With that, the motion to deny was offered and endorsed.
After the vote, a visibly agitated San Filippo hurried out. “I’m not answering any questions,” he said brusquely as he left the building.
George Bowden, a 33-year Hubbard Park resident who lives across from the property, was strongly opposed to the proposal. “The quality of life in our part of town was being challenged,” he said after the vote. “I had a big problem with outsiders who don’t live in Red Bank, coming in and dictating hours of operation.”
Dina Enterprises has 45 days from when the board memorializes its resolution to submit its appeal to the courts.