Council Approves Special Permit Process in Attempt to Save Smoke Shop

The City Council voted to add a Section to the Zoning Law October 22, a “Special Permit for Historic Preservation in the B-2 Central Business District to permit banks on the first floor of a building when certain conditions are met.”

Published October 24, 2014 6:35 PM
3 min read

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smokeshop-thThe City Council voted to add a Section to the Zoning Law October 22, a “Special Permit for Historic Preservation in the B-2 Central Business District to permit banks on the first floor of a building when certain conditions are met.”

Tom McDermott

smokeshopThe City Council voted to add a Section to the Zoning Law October 22, a “Special Permit for Historic Preservation in the B-2 Central Business District to permit banks on the first floor of a building when certain conditions are met.”

The vote came at the end of a months-long public hearing regarding a plan by which the Council could save Peg and Tony D’Onofrio’s Rye Smoke Shop from possibly losing its lease due to a prohibitively high rent increase. In effect, the building’s owner since 2008, John Fareri, would be able to apply for a permit to locate a bank around the Smoke Shop, using street level space on Elm Place that is now vacant and the current site of Plush Blow on Purchase Street.

Before the vote, Mayor Sack suggested a “sunset law” alteration be added to the amendment. The law would not be renewed if within three months from its effective date, there was no permit application.

Irwin Lefkowitz addressed the Council, saying that he had several concerns about the law, one being that it was very specific to one building and that the building was not so attractive. He also thought that it would be difficult to alter the building and be compliant with ADA requirements.

The Mayor reminded Lefkowitz that this was a two-step process and if the law was amended that the burden to be compliant would fall to the applicant.

Lindsey Russell, speaking on behalf of those who signed a petition to save the Smoke Shop, thanked the Council for its efforts.

Councilmember Julie Killian commented that she had thought a lot about the issue, and that she loved the Smoke Shop, but said “I don’t feel that we should get involved with one landlord. I just can’t get comfortable with it.” Councilmember Terry McCartney called it “a small town America issue” and repeated his support for the change.

The Smoke Shop has been in its location since 1947, and has been operating without a lease extension, while the landlord tries to find a way to attract a bank tenant to pay a higher market rent. That rent would effectively subsidize a below market Smoke Shop rent. Before that could happen, the landlord would be required to successfully navigate an extensive permit process that is spelled out in the new law.

The Council voted in 2005 for a moratorium on banks in the downtown central business district at a time when some retailers became fearful that they would not be able to remain if they had to compete with rents that banks could afford.

The vote was 5 to 1, with Killian voting “No” and Laura Brett abstaining.

 

 

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