By DREW HOWARD
The Rochester City Council reviewed two ordinances that would affect the sale and usage of products like tobacco, vape pens that use vape juice and smoking equipment, such as a space case grinder that have become popular recently (so much so that people are now having to learn spotting a fake space case grinder), during their meeting on Monday, February 26.
The first ordinance prohibits individuals from smoking within 25 feet of a business’s entrance, open window(s) and/or ventilation system. It would also prohibit the smoking of any type of substance within a multiple tenant building.
City Attorney Jeffrey Kragt explained that business owners would also be responsible for removing smoking-related trash located on their property. He noted that this first ordinance could be categorized as “controversial” or “black and white” in its regulations.
The second ordinance prohibits businesses whose principal use is to sell products like tobacco, oils, vaping products and smoking equipment from operating within 500 feet of an area “where youth might be congregating.” It also authorizes that individuals under 18 be removed from such businesses without a parent or guardian.
The final element of the second ordinance would prohibit such businesses from operating on University or Main streets, the area Kragt describes as the “main arteries of the city.”
Kragt clarified that the first ordinance’s 25-foot rule is aimed at employees and patrons of businesses. “This is not a regulation of someone smoking who’s walking down the street,” Kragt said. “It’s making sure the businesses are taking care of their property to remove unsightly refuse.”
Kragt added that the city wouldn’t take a harsh approach in enforcing the ordinance. “Keep in mind that if the city sees a cigarette butt within 15 feet of an entrance, they’re not going to immediately write a ticket,” he said. “They try to work with a person to make them aware of the issue and then work with them to come to compliance.”
The council voted unanimously to bring both ordinances in front of a public hearing at a later date.
In other news at the council meeting, one resident used public comment to address the fate of the Rochester Community House. At the previous council meeting, many residents expressed concern that the city isn’t allocating enough funds to meet much-needed repairs at the Community House, which is also losing its longtime executive director. “If we can afford $150,000 a year for Big, Bright Lights from the taxpayer general fund, we can afford to split that as we budget in and give a little more money maybe for maintenance at the Community House,” the resident argued.
She continued: “I understand a lot of people who use the Community House are not from the area. They pay for it with the rental of the room, and maybe one avenue we can look at is ratcheting up the rate a little bit and putting that strictly toward the maintenance of the building.”
Council member Nancy Salvia, who is also a liaison for the Community House, addressed the resident’s comments. “We had a board meeting since last council, and you’ll be happy to hear that they’ve raised the rates for room rentals,” Salvia said. “And for Rochester residents, there’s a special discount – a 20 percent discount for Rochester residents.”
Salvia added that several candidates have already submitted applications for the Community House executive director position.
The next Rochester City Council meeting takes place on Monday, March 12 at 7 p.m. You can watch this week’s meeting online under the “City Webcast” section at www.ci.rochester.mi.us.