Mt. Laurel Council explores giving planning board more power to set hours of operation for businesses
Mt. Laurel Township Council is looking to give the township planning board more power in setting and enforcing the hours of operation for businesses in town.
Although business applicants who appear before the planning board are already required to list their hours of operation, a recent applicant questioned whether the planning board was actually empowered to enforce those hours.
According to council and planning board member Rich Van Noord, the issue first arose in February when an applicant came before the planning board and stated they would abide by a 12-hour window of operation, but then changed their hours of operation several times.
Van Noord said the applicant cited precedent in state law where Mt. Laurel’s planning board wasn’t empowered to set hours of operation, and implied if their business wasn’t allowed to do so, they would take the township to court.
“Their contention was that the planning board is not empowered to set the hours. The council has not empowered the planning board to set the hours, so we as the applicant can set them,” Van Noord said.
With that situation in mind, Van Noord said he and the other members of the planning board hoped to get “something that had a little bit of teeth” from council to give the planning board the ability to exercise the ability to set business hours on a case-by-case basis.
Councilmember Jim Keenan said he also wanted to explore the possibility of regulating the types of hours for a business based on what type of business it was.
Keenan said he was concerned that if the planning board had unilateral power, there was nothing to stop it from “picking and choosing” what business it wished to grant longer or shorter hours.
“There needs to be a cohesive number that needs to be set to everyone if that’s the case,” Keenan said.
Keenan also said he wanted the township solicitor to do more research into the state law to determine exactly what the township could require for businesses and hours of operation.
“If the state allows 24-hour operation, I would look into it that way … can we stop them?” Keenan asked. “Can we dictate hours of operation and not have the state stop us?”
Another area Keenan said he would like to see council explore is how businesses can alter their hours of operation during minor site plan changes, which go through the township construction office but not before the planning board.
Keenan said if businesses were always required to go before the planning board to change their hours, then nearby residents would always have the opportunity to publicly state their feelings on the issue.
However, Keenan also said the township might consider setting certain hours of operation per zone through the township’s master plan.
Keenan said in that instance, the hours of operation wouldn’t rely solely on whether enough residents come to a meeting to challenge any decision.
“If they (a business) have people out against them, then you (the planning board) set the hours lower, and then the next guy walks down, no one shows up, and his business gets longer hours and stays in business and the other guy goes out of business,” Keenan said.
Mt. Laurel solicitor Tyler Prime said he would further explore the issue and present council with options at a future time.