The June 11 City Council meeting included a discussion of how the Council might be able to help Rye Smoke Shop avoid losing its location at Purchase Street and Elm Place.
By Tom McDermott
The June 11 City Council meeting included a discussion of how the Council might be able to help Rye Smoke Shop avoid losing its location at Purchase Street and Elm Place. The shop has been operating in limbo without a lease extension for months. Mayor Sack referred to the shop as an “iconic” piece of downtown Rye.
As a result of that discussion, the Council voted July 9 to open a public hearing at its August 4 meeting, to discuss amending local Zoning law, Chapter 197. The proposed change would create a special permit authority for the Council for Historic Preservation in the B-2 Central Business District. The permits would allow banks on the first floor of a building when “certain conditions are met” by approval of the Council.
A draft of the changes states that the Council may refer applications for Historic Preservation to the Landmarks Advisory Committee for review. The Committee’s findings would not be binding on the Council, according to the current draft of the new law.
“The proposal is not a reversal of the bank ban.” Mayor Sack described it as “creating almost a one-off situation.”
The proposed changes specifically mention banks due to an offer made by Smoke Shop’s landlord. Neil DeLuca, a spokesman for the landlord, told the Council that a bank is ready to sign a lucrative lease. If the bank is able to become a tenant, the landlord is willing to allow Peggy and Tony D’Onofrio, the Smoke Shop owners, to remain in their space at an affordable rent.
After the offer was made in June, Council members expressed their appreciation for the Smoke Shop and the D’Onofrios, but a few also mentioned having some reservations about such a change to the law.
Richard Mecca respectfully but pointedly wondered if smoking and newspapers made such a good business strategy these days. Laura Brett and Julie Killian, expressing their admiration for the shop, felt that the City needed to review the situation carefully and consider other ramifications of trying to save one retail business.
In addition to Tony D’Onofrio, several residents also spoke on behalf of keeping the Smoke Shop in its home including Owen Nee and Lindsey Russell.
Mayor Sack said this week that the proposal “is not a reversal of the bank ban” and described it as “creating almost a one-off situation.”
If the measure passes, the City has set some challenging parameters for applicants, including: a complete set of building plans, an environmental assessment, and a narrative to fully explain the reason for preservation.
If a bank were permitted to occupy space near the Smoke Shop, it would be the fourth bank on one downtown block, between Elm Place and the corner by Chase.
The 2005 law excluding additional bank locations downtown was originally intended to protect retailers from the escalating rents that additional banks were willing to pay to be in Rye. At the time, City Planner Christian Miller stressed that banks don’t bring additional foot traffic to a downtown retail environment.