February 26, 2014 - Oxford Village planning commissioners last week made it clear they don't want to classify tobacco stores and pawn shops as "adult uses" in order to prevent them from being able to open in downtown Oxford.
"I don't think stopping (tobacco shops from opening) is a very wise thing for us to do," said Commissioner Jack Curtis.
However, some officials are still interested in seeing some type of language in the zoning ordinance that would prohibit businesses that sell drug paraphernalia from setting up shop along main street.
"My feeling is that we need something," said Commission Chair Sue Bossardet.
The commission directed village planner Chris Khorey, a senior planner with the Northville-based McKenna Associates, to investigate how other communities deal with businesses that sell drug paraphernalia and report back with his findings.
Khorey had presented planning commissioners with a list of uses that he suggested be added to the zoning ordinance's current list of "adult uses."
He recommended adding pawn shops, tattoo parlors, medical marijuana dispensaries, "stores that sell primarily tobacco products" and "stores that sell primarily paraphernalia for smoking tobacco or marijuana."
The recommendation was the result of concern over having more places like B.D.T. Smoke Shops (17 S. Washington St.) open downtown.
B.D.T. offers a wide selection of glass pipes and rolling papers, items generally associated with smoking marijuana, but which can also be used for tobacco consumption.
On its website, B.D.T. boasts that it was voted the Number One head shop and smoke shop by Metro Times readers for nine out of the last 12 years.
A head shop is a store specializing in articles of interest to drug users.
Right now, the village defines adult uses as "any commercial or recreational establishment which at all times excludes minors by virtue of age, including adult bookstores, adult motion picture theatres, adult mini-motion picture theatres, adult drive-in theatres, adult massage parlors, adult modelling studios, and eating and drinking places with sexually-oriented entertainment."
Adult uses are not allowed anywhere in the downtown – specifically the Core Central Business (C-1) zoning district – under any circumstances.
Adult uses are only allowed in the General Business (C-2) district with special use approval. They're not permitted in any other zoning districts.
"If you're not listed under the adult uses (category) and you fall under the category of retail uses, you are permitted in the downtown," Khorey explained to commissioners.
Much of the discussion centered around the idea of defining tobacco stores as an adult use.
"I have heard some feedback, including in our local newspaper, about the tobacco one, so I think that one should be discussed," Khorey said. "I'm personally not particularly emotionally involved with that one. We could include it, we could not (include it).
"There are high quality tobacco sales establishments. And certainly nothing in this should be construed to prohibit a store that sells primarily groceries, gasoline or even alcohol, from selling cigarettes."
Curtis was definitely opposed to including tobacco stores.
He explained that during a recent visit to downtown Traverse City, he spent some time in Nolan's Tobacco.
There he met the Downtown Development Authority chairman, two lawyers, two doctors and a dentist, who were all smoking while discussing a variety of subjects. Curtis said the owner told him he sells pipes that cost $400 to $500 each and has a total inventory that's worth $1 million.
"These guys are solving everything but world hunger, sitting around smoking a cigar in a store that's taxed (on) a million-dollar base," Curtis said. "Why wouldn't you want that here in our town?"
Curtis noted if someone doesn't like tobacco stores, they can always "stay out."
"It's your choice," she said.
"I agree with Jack on the tobacco shops," Bossardet said.
Commissioner Maureen Helmuth advocated doing nothing to the adults uses list.
"I think we just leave our ordinance alone," she said.
Helmuth said since B.D.T. Smoke Shops opened last year, there have been no "rapes or murders" at the corner of M-24 and Burdick St. and "the seedy people aren't coming" downtown.
She asked village Police Chief Mike Neymanowski if the store has caused any problems and he replied, "No."
"I don't think this (ordinance amendment) is necessary," Helmuth said.
Commissioner Tom Kennis took issue with the inclusion of pawn shops. He said they are retail establishments that are "very highly-regulated now," so gone are days of them being places to "sell hot (i.e. stolen) merchandise."
Kennis said a friend's father owned two pawn shops and they were "excellent places of business."
Kennis believes the planning commission has "enough authority right now" to keep the village "pristine" and maintain "a good community" without having to expand the adult uses list.
"I think we may be in a situation here where we're trying to overregulate what's coming in," he said.
"I hate to see us overregulate businesses that may come in," said Commissioner Marilyn Benner. "I feel the same way."
Commissioner John DuVal also wasn't keen on changing the ordinance because of one business that "hasn't really been an issue in the eyes of the law" or caused any problems downtown.
"I actually don't see the upside of it, either," he said. "I just don't see a cause to rewrite an ordinance."
On the other side, Bossardet doesn't view wanting to keep businesses like B.D.T. out of the downtown as "overregulating."
"I think that it's (a) smart (thing) to do in our core downtown where we feel that we want to keep it family-oriented," she said.
Bossardet said B.D.T. is not the type of business she wants to see in the downtown.
"Call me old-fashioned, as I've been called, (but) I just don't think that's necessary," she said. "I don't think it's necessary in my downtown . . . that I have to have an establishment that's selling drug paraphernalia, period."
"I think we need (an ordinance amendment)," Bossardet added. "I might be in the minority, but too bad . . . Just because we don't have a problem now doesn't mean that tomorrow somebody's not going to (open an undesirable business) here and then, you're going to be behind the eight ball again."
Bossardet noted, "We're trying to make something of Oxford" and that something "is a place that people want to come (to)."
"We don't get to (completely) pick and choose what establishments come in," Helmuth said.
"I'm not saying that we do, but I think that we need some of these things added in (the zoning ordinance)," Bossardet replied.
"I think we're overstepping our bounds," Helmuth said.
"I don't," Bossardet said.
DuVal pointed out the image of certain businesses evolve over time.
He noted how decades ago, pool halls were viewed as "something that you would want to keep your kids (away) from."
Today, "I don't see a pool hall as being a very threatening thing," DuVal said. "A pool hall (in downtown Oxford) right now could be something of an asset."
DuVal's point was, "We've got to be careful about overregulating (now) because who knows what's coming down the pike."
Helmuth said the village used to have an entire ordinance prohibiting arcades downtown.
"(You were) allowed two coin-operated machines (under the old ordinance)," she said. "If you (had) three, you're out of there."
In order to address Bossardet's concern, Curtis suggested simply adding to the "adult uses" list stores that primarily sell marijuana smoking paraphernalia.
"You're not going to smoke pot out of a $400 Dunhill pipe," he said. "These are $10 glass pipes that this guy's selling."
Khorey said the problem is establishments like B.D.T. are "officially tobacco sellers because selling marijuana paraphernalia is already illegal."
Michigan law expressly prohibits the sale of drug paraphernalia. The law states, "A person shall not sell or offer for sale drug paraphernalia, knowing that the drug paraphernalia will be used to plant, propagate, cultivate, grow, harvest, manufacture, compound, convert, produce, process, prepare, test, analyze, pack, repack, store, contain, conceal, inject, ingest, inhale, or otherwise introduce into the human body a controlled substance."
Shops like B.D.T. get around that by claiming their pipes are for tobacco use, according to Khorey. "They would not be able to open under state law if they weren't technically selling tobacco products, tobacco paraphernalia," he said.
Neymanowski noted that during his 40 years working in law enforcement, "I haven't run across anybody who smokes regular tobacco in glass pipes. It's as simple as that. It's used for, primarily, drugs."
Khorey said if the planning commission wants to consider including the selling of "specific products," such as glass pipes, in the ordinance, he recommended obtaining an opinion from the village attorney.
"I can't speak to the legality of that," he said. "If we were just to include stores that sell glass pipes in this list, I'm not sure that we're allowed to do that."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.