Simplify The Code: Stop Treating Similar Businesses Unfairly

The tricky topic of regulating business hours in Wellington came up again last week. After discussing a proposed change to remove limits on the hours of operation for businesses within 300 feet of homes, Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board objected to the idea. While board members brought up many good points, we don’t agree that keeping these clearly outdated rules is the best thing for local businesses or the community as a whole.

Wellington code currently allows businesses within 300 feet of homes to operate only between the hours of 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., which were the same hours under the county’s code before Wellington incorporated. The problem is that when these rules were put in place, the only shopping centers around were the small interior shopping centers, which are surrounded by residential areas. Now there are businesses on the State Road 7 corridor and surrounding the Mall at Wellington Green — far from homes — offering similar services without the same restrictions on hours. This is a competitive disadvantage that harms convenience stores, movie theaters, fitness facilities, breakfast places and any number of businesses for which the 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. limit does not make sense.

The matter was addressed two years ago when the new Dunkin’ Donuts on Forest Hill Blvd. asked for extended hours. More recently, the Grille Fashion Cuisine was granted the ability to offer late-night dining and entertainment. Since then, the problem has grown only more complicated as the village has struggled with how to enforce the laws on the books after decades of turning a blind eye. Right now, there’s a moratorium on enforcement. Meanwhile, most of the businesses caught in this web are not causing problems with neighbors.

At last week’s meeting, Wellington staff suggested that other ordinances on the books can handle the problems caused by businesses open at odd hours near residential areas. For example, there are already strict noise regulations, strict rules for when and how to serve alcohol, strict rules regulating musical entertainment, drive-through lanes, disorderly conduct and more. For this reason, village staff recommended dropping the ordinance restricting hours in its entirety. PZA board members disagreed, instead wanting a far more detailed ordinance granting certain classes of businesses the ability to be open outside the specified timeframe, but forbidding others.

If Wellington wants to maintain healthy shopping centers in the interior of the community, a new set of bureaucratic rules will not help. Wellington would do best to loosen the regulations so that all businesses are on equal footing. The rules and regulations regarding noise, alcohol and entertainment need to be strictly enforced. However, when it comes to the eatery that wants to serve an early breakfast to people before they go to work, the movie theater that happens to be showing a midnight screening or the fitness club that wants to open early, the way many others do, this is not something Wellington code should shut down in some parts of the village but leave open in other areas.

Code enforcement is always a complicated matter, and there’s never a sure way to please everyone. But sometimes simpler is better, at least as a starting point, and the best way forward right now is for Wellington to make its code enforcement less complicated — and more fair.