Vienna ordinance regulating vape/smoke shops fails on first reading

WTAP News @ 11
Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 4:17 AM EDT
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VIENNA, W.Va. (WTAP) - Vienna City Council was full of passionate debate Thursday night.

Multiple topics were covered, one being an ordinance that would regulate vape and smoke shops, focusing on where they can go.

Councilman Chris Mancuso said of the legislation, “This ordinance helps guide the direction and limitations of an age-restricted product that we want to avoid having near places where our youth currently exist.”

That includes places like schools and churches.

The ordinance states that banning vape or smoke shops that are currently doing business lawfully in Vienna is not the intent.

It failed three to three.

Councilman Jim Leach told WTAP that it’s too much regulation and that, if the community doesn’t support a shop, the business will not succeed.

Another ordinance brought up would regulate lighting on commercial property.

Mancuso said, “The intent of this is, as I said in my introduction, to elevate the standard in the City of Vienna for lighting.”

He added that it would help with light pollution and lighting efficiency.

Several councilmembers pushed back, saying it’s too much regulation.

Leach said, “You’re just adding more expense, more reason not to come to our city.”

The ordinance failed three to three.

Council also discussed an ordinance that would amend the definition of abandoned structures.

It would make it so a nonconforming structure left unoccupied for 12 consecutive months would have to conform to current zoning.

A nonconforming structure is a structure that no longer fits into zoning. For instance, a once conforming commercial business may have been built before zoning was updated but, with now updated zoning, it is now in what is considered a residential area and is therefor called nonconforming.

An example multiple council members pointed to is the vape shop that moved into the old Dairy Queen. Councilwoman Kim Williams explained to WTAP that the owners moved their business to another part of Vienna in 2019 but their old property didn’t get a buyer until 2021. Now it’s a vape shop in an area currently zoned as residential.

With the proposed ordinance, another commercial business would not have been able to be grandfathered in to the property since it’s in a residential zoned area and it took over 12 months for it to be occupied.

Mayor Rapp said, “Simply because a business that people don’t care for went in there, it’s caused all this discussion. If that thing would’ve went back to being a restaurant, I don’t think you’d hear a word out of this.”

Councilwoman Melissa Elam said, “You’re right, if it wouldn’t have been a controversial business going in there, we probably would have overlooked this again, just as in previous years, but the fact remains that it still was a gray area and what that did is that it exposed a weakness maybe in the ordinance…,”

Multiple council members said that the ordinance was not meant to target the vape shop.

Williams said, “If the vape shop on you know the 3400 block of Grand Central Avenue remains successful and it’s there for 50 years, passing this tonight will change that in no way whatsoever.”

Leach argued that it would hurt businesses.

Supporters argued that there is an appeals process for the ordinance. Still, Leach told WTAP that people shouldn’t have to go through the appeals process and that the code enforcement officer should be able to use their judgement.

Supporters said that it was meant to clarify rules for code enforcement officers.

“I am not proposing this ordinance for any other reason than to clarify a definition,” Mancuso said.

The ordinance failed, three to four.