Faced with the possibility of a 24-hour 7-11 convenience store opening in the old West Coast Video Site at 259 Nassau Street, Princeton Council has rushed through a new municipal ordinance to ban 24-hour opening in town. The proposed ordinance, which includes a bunch of carve-outs for certain favored businesses, is likely to be approved at the Council meeting tonight. (Update 12/16/14 – the ordinance was indeed passed.)
The proposed ordinance is opposed by the Princeton business community and half of the Council members (Jenny Crumiller, Jo Butler and Patrick Simon). The Princeton Packet editorial line argued against the proposed ordinance, saying that it would prevent somebody from “picking up medicine for a sick child in the middle of the night.” It’s not clear that this is a likely scenario, but if somebody wants to buy something, no matter what it is, then local government should have a very good reason to prevent them from doing so. There is definitely a principled case to be made for canning the “7-11 Law”.
Princeton has very strict zoning, which is supposed to set rules for where different activities can happen. In this case, a 24-hour 7-11 would be entirely lawful under existing zoning. By demanding a new ordinance to restrict hours of operation, Princeton residents are effectively asking for a variance from existing zoning. This particular ‘variance’ would be particularly problematic, because it doesn’t just apply to one site, but to the entire municipality, with unknown unintended consequences down the line. Residents who bought property in the East Nassau neighborhood were aware, or ought to have been aware, of the zoning of neighboring plots such as the 259 Nassau site. Advocating for new rules makes a mockery of the zoning code.
On the other hand (and as we have argued many times before) Princeton zoning is imperfect, inflexible, and unfit for the needs of the present day. The proposed ordinance would lower the barriers to mixed-use living, by taking away the fear of 24-hour noise and activity. To enable walkable living, we need to encourage people to live near stores and businesses. To the extent that the proposed ordinance helps this goal, it is to be welcomed.
What’s your take on the proposed ordinance to limit 24-hour opening in Princeton? Does it make sense to ban 24-hour opening, but make a bunch of exceptions so that the law only applies to a small number of sites? How would you feel about living next to a 24-hour convenience store? Let us know in the comments section below.