7-ELEVEN SETTLEMENT GETS QUICK CHECKOUT

A lawyer for the planned 7-Eleven said signage lighting would be turned off, and other lighting would be reduced to the minimum needed for security, during the hours when the store is closed. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Ending months of wrangling and litigation in just 35 minutes, Red Bank’s planning board approved the conversion of the Welsh Farms convenience store on East Front Street to a 7-Eleven Monday night.

Not your typical 7-Eleven, though. While the parent corporation usually insists its franchisees keep their stores open 24 hours a day, it’s making an exception in this case, agreeing to limit the shop’s hours of operation to 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. That’s unusual, said lawyer Philip San Filippo, representing Welsh Farms owner Dina Enterprises.

“In my experience, 7-Eleven will not agree to anything less than 24 hours,” but was allowing it at this location out of a desire to be “a good neighbor” and comply with local laws, he told redbankgreen after the hearing.

The company, he said, “decided that it could be profitable” to operate the store 17 hours a day, rather than 24.

The approval would settle a lawsuit initiated by Dina after the board’s rejection of the conversion plan last April. Under a stipulation of settlement approved by the board, Dina agreed to a host of changes that would answer concerns raised about lighting, signage, litter, landscaping and more.

Sitting as a member of the board, Mayor Pasquale Menna encouraged approval of the settlement. “I think the applicant should be commended for listening to the public, as evidenced by the 200 people who were here last time and are not here tonight,” he said.

At that point, the audience consisted solely of three reporters. But a half-dozen residents showed up before the hearing ended, and two of them opposed the settlement as written.

John Hawthorn, of Hubbard Park said allowing the 7-Eleven to open at 6 a.m., rather than 7, was “very troubling.”

“You don’t have to cave and give him an hour,” he said.

Board attorney Michael Leckstein, who litigated the lawsuit for the board, said the board wasn’t “caving” on the hours. Rather, it was settling a lawsuit the town might have lost, and doing so on terms that “mirror” the language of the noise ordinance, which allows businesses to open at 6 a.m.

Brenda Dingfelder, also of Hubbard Park, urged the board to require a one-way-in, one-way-out traffic flow for safety reasons. “I don’t want to see anybody get killed because of this approval,” she said.

Both Hawthorn and Dingfelder raised concerns about taxicabs idling in the store’s lot after hours, with their radios on, using the site as an unauthorized dispatch station. After some discussion, San Filippo said Dina would not enter into any agreement that would allow the activity, and Menna said that “permits the police to police” the site on the basis of an anti-loitering law.

Starting in late 2011, Dina sought approval for a 300-square-foot rearward expansion of the existing store to accommodate a refrigerator, and new lighting. The plan, however, generated strong opposition from neighbors, who claimed it would generate noise, light pollution and litter, and that the store would be a target for robbers.

In the midst of hearings, the borough council introduced and passed an amendment to the noise ordinance that prohibited new, all-night business operations within 100 feet of a residential zone, a change that applied to the Welsh Farms site.

The company’s agreement on the hours is to be incorporated into the deed on the property, meaning those terms would apply to any subsequent owner, officials said.

“I think the building is going to get a great upgrade, and the neighbors will appreciate that very much,” said board vice chairman Dan Mancuso.