Wellington businesses located within 300 feet of homes can now open an hour earlier and stay open an hour later after members of the Wellington Village Council gave final approval Tuesday to new rules governing hours of operation.
But last-minute changes divided council members, who debated for more than an hour over requiring businesses to come before the council for hours beyond 2 a.m. and whether to hold professional offices to the same rules.
“This is to protect our residents and be fair and balanced with our business community,” Councilman Matt Willhite said.
Businesses within 300 feet of homes have long been restricted to operating hours between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., though the rule went largely unenforced. The ordinance will now allow businesses to open at 5 a.m. and stay open until midnight.
Outdoor activity, however, will remain limited to between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.
Any business looking to operate outside those hours will have to apply for a permit and pay a $500 fee, but council members voted to include a 60-day grace period during which the fee will be waived for existing businesses.
On the ordinance’s first reading, the decision to allow for extended hours was left to the village’s growth management director. But Willhite said he thought the council should decide which businesses could operate beyond 2 a.m.
“I think 2 a.m. is a reasonable hour for most businesses to be open,” he said. “Beyond that, I think they should come before the council.”
But Vice Mayor Howard Coates noted that Wellington was trying to make the process easier.
“The whole idea in [changing the rules] was to avoid these types of things coming back to the council,” he said. “That’s why we are relying on our growth management director to decide.”
Coates also noted that making businesses come before the council creates uncertainty.
“Not only will businesses that operate 24 hours have to come back for a permit, but they will also have to subject themselves to the political uncertainties of what this council might do with one business versus another business.”
Coates said that council members had agreed to add criteria for businesses looking to stay open late so as to avoid having to come before the council.
“I was hoping that by applying the criteria we’ve set out, we will get consistent applications,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with extraordinary circumstances coming before us, but I think we’re just going to mess this up and create more uncertainty.”
But Willhite said that leaving the decision to an employee could also lead to inconsistency. “We get inconsistent opinions from time to time,” he said.
Another issue was an exemption in the rules for professional offices. Coates asked how those businesses are defined and controlled. “Even if they are in an office, they may not be traditional businesses,” Coates said.
Growth Management Director Tim Stillings said the business is defined by its operation. “It doesn’t matter what type of structure they are in,” he said. “It matters what type of business they are operating.”
Coates asked why professional business offices were exempt from the new ordinance.
“As I see it, there is a distinction between being able to go into your office and work all night versus having the doors open for clients and customers,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is protect the ability of [someone] to be in their office all night long. Can they do that as long as the doors aren’t open for business?”
Stillings said the ordinance did not specify whether customers were in the office.
“It doesn’t differentiate between whether you’re open for business or not,” Stillings said. “It simply says you have to be operating the business. If the lights are on and you’re in checking your e-mail, you’re effectively operating your business.”
The exemption was made, Stillings said, because staff didn’t think professional offices would generate enough noise to be a concern. “We felt the office uses didn’t have a negative impact on those adjacent residential spaces,” he said.
Coates was concerned the loophole could be exploited.
“When you have a business that is considered a traditional office use, like a doctor, lawyer or accountant, I agree with you,” he said. “But this is an area that is ripe for potential exploitation.”
If clients are allowed to visit the offices, Coates said he felt there could be a noise concern.
“There is the potential for it to be a problem if you have a high intensity of clients coming to the office in the middle of the night,” he said.
Coates didn’t believe professional business offices should be treated any differently.
“I’m all for protecting the professional who wants to be in the office working all night long,” he said. “But I don’t see any reason that an office should be protected any more than a restaurant or drugstore. You could have increased activity at night with noise from people driving to and from the place of business.”
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said that council members had assured several business owners on first reading that professional office space wouldn’t be affected.
“I’m not comfortable with us [removing the exemption] without letting them have a chance to speak,” she said. “You can see how there would be circumstances that there would be someone there besides yourself, and you may be doing more than checking your e-mail.”
She made a motion to table the item until the next meeting. The motion was seconded by Coates, but failed 3-2.
Coates asked Stillings whether professional business offices within 300 feet of homes could operate 24 hours under the current code, and Stillings said they could not.
Willhite made a motion to tweak the ordinance to limit outdoor activity to 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., to remove the exemption for professional office space and to require businesses looking to operate beyond 2 a.m. to come before the council.
Councilman John Greene seconded, and the motion passed 3-2 with Coates and Gerwig opposed.
Gerwig requested that all professional business offices within 300 feet of homes be notified that they must now get a permit to operate past midnight.
“I want them to know so they can come in during the grace period,” she said.
Village Manager Paul Schofield said staff would send out notices.
ABOVE: The Wellington Village Council.