Burlington is weighing a proposal to let retail businesses occasionally serve customers around-the-clock, but strictly limit the practice.
The proposed bylaw, set to come before the May 12 annual Town Meeting, would permit retailers to stay open all night but only on specified dates approved by selectmen on a case-by-case basis.
Businesses would need to apply at least 90 days in advance for a special temporary license for each requested date. Each business could receive no more than 30 licenses per year.
Town officials said the impetus for the bylaw was a request by Kohl’s department store, on Mall Road across from the Burlington Mall, last December to stay open 24 hours for several days during the holiday shopping season. Town officials asked Kohl’s not to do so, but later realized that Burlington has no bylaw that prevents a store from operating all night. Kohl’s went ahead with its plan, according to Town Manager John Petrin.
Petrin said town officials concluded new rules were needed to ensure that when stores open all night, the town can provide the added police and fire protection required and it is compensated for those costs.
“The issue comes down to us being able to provide public services 24 hours a day. We gear our level of services to the time of day,” he said, noting that most communities have more police officers and firefighters on duty days and evenings than overnight.
“We are a different community at night than we are during the day,” said Robert Hogan, chairman of the Board of Selectmen. “When everyone leaves town and goes home, we are really a suburban community.’’
Petrin said that in recent years, the town has allowed the Burlington Mall and some stores outside the mall to open all night on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, but the town prepares with extra police and fire coverage that is paid for by the businesses involved.
“If businesses are going to start opening around-the-clock through the holiday season or in other seasons, then the town has to rethink its public safety capacity during those hours,” he said.
Among other area communities with large retail bases, Peabody, home to Northshore Mall, has an ordinance that allows businesses to operate around-the-clock in certain districts but only if they obtain a special permit from the City Council, said Paul Kolodziej, the city’s building commissioner.
The permit is required whether the business is seeking the overnight hours for one night or throughout the year, according to Kolodziej, who is not aware of any recent requests.
Saugus, which has the Square One Mall on Route 1, has a bylaw, adopted in 2003, that requires any business that wants to operate between 2 and 6 a.m. to obtain prior approval from the Board of Selectmen in a public hearing, according to town officials.
Danvers, which hosts the Liberty Tree Mall, does not have a bylaw on overnight operations by stores, according to Town Manager Wayne P. Marquis. But he said he would be interested in speaking with Burlington officials about their plan, noting the similarities between the two towns in terms of commercial base, population size, and location off Route 128.
Lynnfield, where MarketStreet Lynnfield opened last year, has no bylaw governing stores that want to stay open 24 hours. But the town’s agreement with the owner of MarketStreet, National Development, limits the hours of the various types of businesses allowed in the shopping center and none are allowed to stay open overnight, town officials said.
The hours of many other businesses in Lynnfield are restricted through conditions placed on their special permits, according to John Roberto, the town’s building inspector.
In Burlington, the proposed bylaw would enable selectmen, as a condition of each special overnight license, to assess a charge to cover the added costs the town would incur, according to Petrin, the town manager. The charges would include $250 to pay for the public hearing required for each application.
The proposal would give the Board of Selectmen and the police chief the authority to enforce the bylaw. Businesses in violation would be subject to a $200 fine and possible suspension or revocation of the special license.
Selectman Ralph Patuto believes the bylaw is needed. “From a public safety standpoint we would really be stretched thin” if stores were to operate on a 24-hour basis under the current situation, he said.
He noted, though, that while designed to protect the town, the bylaw still would provide an avenue for retailers who want to operate overnight, particularly during the competitive holiday season.
“If we can help retail stores make their mark in a reasonable fashion, I think that’s something we should look at,” he said. “The Internet seems more popular every year and we are also only 20 miles away from the New Hampshire border. If stores wants to give it a shot, we should see if it works for them and works for us.”
The bylaw, according to Petrin, would not apply to restaurants; to the town’s three all-night gas station/convenience stores; to supermarkets, which already are prohibited from operating 24 hours by an existing bylaw; or to liquor stores, which are regulated by the state .
Burlington Police Chief Michael Kent supports the retail bylaw proposal.
“It just gives the community control over all-night openings. It’s kind of a check and balance that lets the business go through a process so the community can evaluate what the impact is going to be,” he said.
Jim Murphy, president and chief executive of the Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce, said the organization has not taken a position on the proposal. But he called it a “very reasonable bylaw.”
“It’s really providing a structure in which collaboration can occur between the needs and interests of large department stores and the interest and well-being of the community,” he said. “The Board of Selectmen is ahead of the curve in anticipating what might be coming. They are trying to do the right thing for all parties and I commend them for that.”John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.