Park Ridge considers requiring special permits for tobacco, vape shops

The Park Ridge City Council considered amending its code for special use permits for tobacco and vape shops at its April 15 Committee of the Whole meeting. Mayor Marty Maloney had for months requested the item be brought to the agenda so that the city could have more input on where those shops are located.

The council approved the discussion item so that city staff could draft up the zoning text amendments to the city’s code. Some aldermen were concerned about the code’s applicability, which would work prospectively and not cause any immediate changes.

Currently, tobacco and vape shops in the city operate as general retail stores, according to City Attorney Adam Simon. If the city approves changes to zoning, those shops would need to apply for special use zoning permits, much like cannabis dispensaries, and have to deal with more involvement from the city, which could dictate where those stores could set up shop.

The city could adopt the special use permits for tobacco and vape shops and regulate them similarly to the city’s zoning rules for cannabis dispensaries, by creating buffer zones and mandating minimum distance limits.

Maloney said the subject intrigued him after he and city council members received complaints from residents about the signage of a string of businesses along Northwest Highway in the Uptown area, one of them being a smoke shop. He said he has also seen residents complain about the rising number of those stores in the city.

Community Preservation and Development Director Drew Awsumb said the council completed the first step in requiring tobacco and vape shops to have special use permits at the meeting, and the next step would be to bring to the council the research the city staff has done on how it can handle tobacco and vape shop permits.

Simon said the council can choose which districts will allow tobacco and vape shops to operate with their special use permits.

Ald. Rick Biagi asked whether, if the city were to require special use permits, they would apply to businesses that don’t sell tobacco and vape products as a primary source of income, for example, gas stations.

“The short answer is yes,” said Awsumb. “We can break down how (businesses) use square footage or different things to really understand (their) principal use… If you had a gas station that had one pump that always seemed broken and 100% of the square footage was used as a tobacco shop, we would probably use a zoning enforcement (action).”

Maloney asked Simon if the city could do anything to legally stop someone from opening another shop before the city approves the special use permit. Simon said because the city code doesn’t distinguish tobacco and vape products from other retail items, that it is still considered a general retail store, for now.

“If you wanted to distinguish this from general retail, we would create a definition, whether if it’s all tobacco or some tobacco or some subset, and create a definition of it and create regulations that apply to that defined use. But right now it’s considered permitted use because it falls in the general retail bucket,” said Simon, before clarifying that the city would have to rely on its code as written.

Maloney brought up the special use permit measure at the March 19 Committee of the Whole meeting where he said, “I think we’ve had another (shop) open up on Higgins Road, in the seventh ward, in the time that we’ve not had it on the agenda.”

“I’m not saying we can’t have them,” Maloney said. “But I… It just stinks to drive by and be like ‘Oh, another vape shop,’ and not have a chance to weigh in on that as Council.”

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