At the request of Mayor Liz Lempert the governing body for the town of Princeton decided tonight to table an ordinance until next week that would restrict business hours for stores in or next to residential areas.
Council President Bernie Miller was absent. Without his vote, Lempert and her voting block of Miller, Heather Howard and Lance Liverman would not have the majority needed to pass the ordinance.
Resident Joe Small took issue with the fact that the ordinance was being tabled and called the move unprofessional.
“It’s not for the convenience of citizens. It’s for someone who can not be here who votes with the mayor,” Small said.
Small said the ordinance benefits Wawa and the Princeton University Store, which would be exempt from the operating hours restrictions. He also questioned whether Howard and Lempert should vote when the ordinance includes an exemption for the university. Howard is a lecturer at the university and Lempert’s husband works for the school.
Many business leaders oppose the ordinance, which calls for businesses in or next to residential zones to be closed between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. Pharmacies and restaurants with liquor licenses are exempt from the regulations.
Residents in the East Nassau Street neighborhood argue that the restrictions will reduce noise, crowds, disorderly conduct and trash.
With all the exclusions, the ordinance currently only would apply to the new 7-Eleven slated for the former West Coast Video store on Nassau Street.
Robert Bratman, the owner of the property, has promised that the 7-Eleven would be a well-lit environment with security cameras.
Resident Wendy Ludlum said the ordinance takes into consideration the rhythm of the town so that merchants can thrive and Princeton can be “particular about what we do and how we run our town and how people can live.”
Pine Street resident Steven Schultz voiced support for the ordinance, saying it will cut down on disorderly conduct in the neighborhood. A drunk driver hit a car and the car ended up in his driveway. “This ordinance will prevent more of that,” he said.
Adrienne Kreipke, a resident of Maple Street, said she is surprised 24-hour businesses are not already banned in Princeton. She suggested the hours be restricted even more than just 2 a.m. to 5 a.m.
Maple Street resident Gail Ullman, a member of the town planning board, asked the council to use caution in proceeding with the ordinance.
“My concern is the reason for this ordinance,” she said. “None of these circumstances exist at the moment, and I believe the ordinance is in response to fear, rather than reason — fear of bad people coming in crowds. I urge you to wait and base this ordinance on facts, not fears.”
Business owner and resident Lou Carnivale said the ordinance is looking for a problem that does not exist.
“If there is a problem, you have the ability to change it,” Carnivale said. “Why pass a law before it’s necessary?”
John Marshall, the president of the Princeton Merchants Association, said the merchants understand residents’ concerns but they disagree with the implementation method. They argue zoning should be used to resolve such issues.
Councilman Lance Liverman said any time the council votes on important votes, all council members should be present.
“I’m the only one sitting up here who lives within 50 feet of commercial property,” he said. “People come out at all times of the night. I know exactly what the neighbors are talking about. It’s not just screaming and shouting, it is lower voices…I’m a business person. I do not want to impede anyone’s livelihood. I don’t think it would. I don’t know, maybe 7-Elevens have to be open 24 hours a day instead of opening at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m.”
Councilwoman Jo Butler said her concern is that the merchants in town be treated fairly.
“It’s a huge advantage to the university to keep their business open beyond the hours and not let our own merchants service those students,” Butler said.
Council members agreed to postpone the vote until Miller returns. If the ordinance had been voted down by opponents Jo Butler, Jenny Crumiller and Patrick Simon, it would just be reintroduced again when Miller is present in order to have the votes to pass it.
The ordinance is now slated to be approved on Dec. 15 after the continuation of the public hearing.