Council Imposes Distance…

Council Imposes Distance Requirements on Smoking Accessory Shops

(C. Proxmire, The Ferndale 115 News, July 22, 2012)

Although smoking accessory shops are a legal business, and although there are not any applicants interested in opening one, and although there aren’t any currently, and although the Planning Commission recommended against it after a public hearing, Ferndale City Council voted on July 9, 2012 to create restrictions on business owners seeking to open what they call “novelty shops” in the city.

The new ordinance classifies stores that sell smoking accessories as “novelty shops,” and requires that new ones be located more than 500 feet from a school, church, daycare or other public institution, and not within 1000 feet of an existing novelty shop.

Councilperson Melanie Piana, who is the council liaison to the Planning Commission, was the only “no” vote.

The discussion of enacting restrictions on smoking-related stores started last year after a medical marijuana dispensary opened on Hilton Road.  The dispensary was not a “novelty shop,” but a clinic with a doctor and with jars of marijuana to sell, along with candies and baked goods.  While the City welcomed the new facility – giving it operating permits and the Mayor at the time applauding the clinic in the press – it was eventually raided by Oakland County Sheriffs and pressured into closing.  The State later clarified the legality of such clinics, and while the owners were cleared of any wrongdoing, clinics such as Clinical Relief are no longer permissible.

Ferndale had placed a moratorium on such businesses since others had applied to open similar shops and no specific regulations were modern taxin place.  The moratorium was on clinics that sell medical marijuana; it did not affect smoking accessory/novelty shops.

Novelty shops only sell smoking accessories such as pipes, hookahs, grinders, rolling papers etc that are intended for tobacco use, although they can also be used to smoke other plants like marijuana.  They are commonly called “head shops,” and some examples of long-established head shops can be found in Oak Park’s In-Flight and in Hazel Park’s BDTs.

Cristina Sheppard-Decius, Director of the Downtown Development Authority, spoke against novelty shops saying that the DDA “didn’t want them to define downtown.”

Derrick Delacourt, Director of Economic Development for the City noted that the new ordinance “would not prohibit a head shop from opening, it would only prevent a second one from opening nearby.”  He explained that the Planning Commission had a hard time coming to their conclusion, debating it at 2-3 meetings and having a public hearing.

“A couple of things had changed,” Delacourt said.  “One the clarification of the medical marijuana law removed any possibility really that this would evolve into some type of combined use with medical marijuana store fronts…The second discussion they had was did the dimensional requirements really help protect the use from being inappropriately located, and ultimately they decided no as far as the Planning Commission was concerned.

“Ultimately the Planning Commission did hold a public hearing an at the end of the process recommended that Council not change the current ordinance, that the ordinance we have in place as far as commercial zoning and retail uses were thorough enough to protect against any of the downsides associated with any general retail use and this is more closely associated with those they felt, once the risk of the medical marijuana combination was removed, and ultimately recommended to City Council that no changes be made.”

Mayor Dave Coulter said he supported restrictions because it helps Ferndale maintain the balance between nightlife and family orientation of the community.

Councilperson Dan Martin said that even with the restrictions there are “still plenty of places” on 9 Mile, Woodward and Livernois that novelty shops could open.

Councilperson Melanie Piana, who is the council liaison to the Planning Commission, was the only “no” vote, arguing that current zoning is sufficient and pointing out the irony of In-Flight, a similar store located in Oak Park, being about 200 feet from a Ferndale church already.  In-Flight and Apostolic Faith Tabernacle have peacefully co-existed since In-Flight opened in 2005.

To watch the entire discussion, go to the City of Ferndale website and look for the July 9, 2012 council meeting.

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