A third of tonight’s three-hour meeting was devoted to public comment on expanding a no-smoking ordinance presented earlier by the Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Homewood. The proposed regulations would embrace e-cigarettes and vaping as well as setting new prohibitions against tobacco smoking. Although the vast majority of the 20 speakers supported passing the comprehensive ban on both–including restaurant patios and private events at commercial spaces–the council was unhappy with “inconsistencies” in the ordinance–such as prohibiting customers from vaping at a vape shop while an exemption allowed smoking inside tobacco shops. Members balked, however, when councilman Peter Wright moved to solve the inconsistency by eliminating the tobacco exemption (which would ban smoking even at the revered smoke shop, The Briary), voting it down 9-2. A second side vote on whether to allow tobacco/vaping for private events on commercial property squeaked by 5-6. But with such divisions, the council then voted with the same split to refer the matter back to the Public Safety Committee.
Food Truck Examples Also tonight, council members heard a pitch for a beer-garden/food truck development in West Homewood during a special called 30-minute work session before the regular meeting. A second group expected to present a proposal for a traditional restaurant development wasn’t present.
Members present: All – Michael Hallman, Britt Thames (absent for work session), Fred Hawkins, Vance Moody, Walter Jones, Patrick McClusky, Barry Smith, Alex Wyatt, Peter Wright, and council president Bruce Limbaugh. Also present was Homewood Mayor Scott McBrayer.
Members absent: Britt Thames for the work session.
Staff present: City clerk Linda Cook, city attorney Mike Kendrick, mayor’s chief of staff J. J. Bischoff, Melody Salter, finance director, and Greg Cobb, city Building, Engineering and Zoning staff.
Audience attendance: 50+
In approving the Consent Agenda, the council agreed to the following item:
Dropped setting a Nov. 9 public hearing for All Saints Episcopal Church to rezone property for a parking lot: The church withdrew its application after the Planning Commission voted 6-1 to deny a recommendation.
OLD BUSINESS AGENDA
Referred back to committee a proposed “comprehensive ban” on smoking that included vaping: The proposed amended ordinance would extend the no-smoking ban to vaping, increase the no-smoking/vaping area around business entrances from 10 to 20 feet, and ban smoking in hotel rooms, among other measures. Twenty speakers came to the podium, each speaking to the end of the 3-minute limit, followed by comments by each of the council’s 11 members.
Speaking in opposition to the ban:
The owner of Vulcan Vape, on B. M. Montgomery Street, a vape shop employee from another business, and a vaping industry lobbyist spoke in support of the expanded ordinance, even against vaping, but not if it included exemption for tobacco shops. Three other individuals spoke in favor of vaping as a practice, saying it helped them quit the more dangerous habit of smoking cigarettes.
Speaking in favor of the comprehensive ban: Two-thirds of the speakers argued against vaping in particular, calling it a gateway drug to cigarettes rather than a safe alternative to them and citing the lack of studies on chemicals and substances found in vapor and the rapid increase of vaping among middle schoolers. Among the speakers were five doctors, including two pediatricians, a surgeon, asthma doctor and an orthodontist talked about the likely health dangers to adolescents and children exposed to e-cigarette vapor. Also speaking were representatives of the American Lung Association, and Julie Gentry, co-owner of Little Donkey restaurant, who asked for clearer wording on banning smoking on restaurant patios. The current ordinance gives business owners an option to allow a smoking area. That option makes it difficult to set a no-smoking policy, she said.
The council’s views: One by one council members weighed in on the proposed ordinance. Mr. Thames was concerned the ordinance’s reach was too far into private property rights; Mr. McClusky pointed out that city ordinance already banned cigarette smoking on sidewalks and rights of way (which is generally unenforced); Ms. Smith and Mr. Wright were the most in favor of a strong ban of public tobacco and vaping use. However, Mr. Wright’s suggestion to add a ban on smoking in tobacco shops went down 9-2, with only his own and Barry Smith’s vote in favor. A vote to add a measure allowing smoking at private events was 6-5 in favor, with Ms. Smith, Mr. Wyatt, Mr. Laws, Mr. Wright and Mr. Limbaugh voting no.
Ultimately, the council threw the ordinance back to the Public Safety Committee, but even that vote was split 5-5, with Mr. Limbaugh casting the tie-breaking yes vote.
Approved a sign variance for the Shades Valley YMCA: The facility at 3551 Montgomery Highway has two building signs, which required a variance. The variance was re-authorized to allow wording on the two existing signs to be replaced with large “the Y” logos printed on white backgrounds, with no extra square footage.
Voted to amend the city’s driveway ordinance and make various related changes to the zoning book: Wording was added to define driveways better, to distinguish driveways from parking pads, to limit how much of a single family residence could be “paved,” and to spell out the specifications for concrete slabs for commercial garbage containers. Subdivision rules, governed by the Planning Commission, will have to be changed to reflect the new measures.
Voted to allow the Homewood Environmental Commission permission to plant trees in a traffic right-of-way: Volunteers living around a barren traffic triangle on Sterrett and Morris are pitching in to plant native seedlings on the island, and in some of their yards. The program is part of the Homewood Environmental Commission’s Green Skies initiative. They will follow up with a mass planting of 150+ seedlings along the Greenway trail.
Accepted a report on the city’s reserves in a Raymond James account.
Awarded a police uniform contract to low-bidder: Police officials selected MAC uniforms as the low-bidder of three. The offered low bid of $4,268 per uniform represents the full outfit of equipment and clothing possible for one officer, not what is routinely worn. The high bid was $4,501.
Approved a request to split costs with residents for a decorative street at Stratton and Gatsby courts: The council split with residents the $150 cost of a decorative street sign.
Approved purchase of Fox News Property Greenway to continue Phase II. The extension of the Greenway trail west of I-65 will lie behind Sam’s and Walmart in Wildwood, then, in Phase III, turn north across Lakeshore Parkway to connect to West Homewood Park. A key to the completed trail is acquiring a rectangular property belonging to Fox News. When those negotiations faltered last year, the council erroneously let the matter drop, thinking the property wasn’t needed until Phase III construction. But Mr. Jones tonight said the property is indeed needed to complete the current phase, and negotiations must begin again–along with reclaiming the spending the money that had been diverted to other projects.
Dropped consideration of a sign variance for Manor Drive: The applicant was absent for a second time.
Set a Nov. 9 public hearing before voting on a condominium rezoning request: Twin Construction has proposed building six condominiums off Columbiana Road in a case that was recommended by the Planning Commission earlier this month. The council will vote whether to approve the rezoning from C-1 (Office building) to R-7 (Attached Dwelling Unit).
COMMITTEE REFERRAL AGENDA
To Finance – To consider final budget amendments from FY2015.
To Public Works – To consider 1) A request to clear underbrush in the alleyway between the YMCA and Rumson Road; and 2) To work in the right-of-way at 324 La Prado Circle.
To Special Issues – To discuss 1) A reported problem of noise and odor from Buffalo Rock, and 2) A request from Regions to remove a public tree.
OTHER NEW BUSINESS
Amended an ordinance to correct vehicle information to match VIN# on vehicle titles for vehicle declared surplus for auction:
(1) Vehicle # 41- 1996 – International 4900 4+2 refuse truck VIN# 1HTSDAAN3TH277389
(2) Vehicle # 45 – 1995 International 4700 4+2 refuse truck vin# 1HTSCACNOSH624840
Approved 10-1 a contract with Website Design: The expenditure is not to exceed $25,000.
Voting no: Mr. Hallman
Paid the bills: The council authorized invoices be paid for the period Oct. 12-23, 2015.