Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Where there's smoke . . .

About a month ago, the Village Planning Board reviewed an application for an unusual special use permit: two entrepreneurs want to turn the old Peak Performance building into a hookah and oxygen bar, combining the upscale tobacco scene of New York City with the purified oxygen venues popular in Los Angeles. A public hearing was set more than enough time in advance, and notice of the hearing was published in the local paper. The applicants didn't spring any last-minute information on the Board, and one could practically hear the crickets chirping at the meeting.

Last week the local paper covered the business, Zikibiki's, again as controvery finally stirred up.
Even with ventilator units, opponents of the hookah and oxygen bar are will worried about secondhand smoke, Prevention Connections Associate Director Heather Ohlson said.

Pity opponents weren't worried enough to show up at the public hearing, a vehicle designed to ensure that public concerns are addressed. In fact, member Thomas Rocco was very concerned about ventilation, and the Board required installation of a system which will be much more expensive than what the prevailing laws require.
Opponents are also suddenly concerned about the proximity to the Middle School - it's just a block away, and they feel this could encourage tobacco use among these impressionable youngsters in a way that the deli which sells cigarettes between the two locations doesn't.
On Zikibiki's Facebook group page, there are only a handful of comments. However, one comes from a teenage boy who asks "will this be the open to people of all ages, I would be very interested, but I'm 14."
For [Shari] Kanner that post alone proves that their point has merit. "There really is a concern about a 14-year-old smoking from a hookah."

Kanner may have been mollified if she spoken to the boy, like I did. Aaron Rudder is a New Paltz High School sophomore who speaks and writes eloquently, and plays several musical instruments. I asked Aaron about his comments on Zikibiki's page and his interest in the business. Turns out that Aaron has zero interest in using tobacco, ladies; he was asking because he's curious about the purified oxygen. Aaron points out on Zikibiki's group page that "according to New York State law, the only laws relating to tobacco, are that you cannot smoke indoors, and you must be 18 to purchase it" as opposed to an age restriction for admission, like bars use. His arguments are entirely in support of his interest in trying out the oxygen, something which took me about five minutes of work to determine.

When one puts together all the available information on this business, it's interesting to note that it appears the cart is driving the horse. A special use permit was approved, but the building itself still has a "for lease" sign in the window. This might be because there's no money yet to fund the project, as evidenced on the Facebook page, which is essentially a request for venture capital. A business selling tobacco near a school, but which doesn't have any money to mount a meaningful legal defense, is pretty low-hanging fruit to grab. Maybe if Susan Zimet had paid a fraction of that much of her attention to Woodland Pond, we'd have a senior community that wasn't a gigantic eyesore from ridge that draws most of New Paltz' tourist traffic.

People are asking why this went through so easily. Simply put, they followed the rules and didn't have a bunch of people lined up against them like the Main Course did. Public participation is vital to ensuring that a planning board makes the right decision for the community and within existing laws, and if no one raises a question it's much harder for the Planning Board to answer it.


Martin McPhillips said...

It's not clear to me, Terence, from which angle you dragged Zimet into Woodland Pond. Don't worry about it.

Hookahs are better than hookers in that location. The "secondhand smoke" concern is like worrying about a yarn store because someone could be allergic to wool. Nervy but preposterous.

The old Peak Performance building was originally a fast-food restaurant of the Jack In the Box franchise. I worked there for a period I used to refer to as Humility 101. I did meet some interesting people at the drive-up window.

John Bligh said...

Good post.

While the whole concept of a "Hookah/Oxygen" bar seems rather silly to me, if they can get people to pay for that, more power to them.

Even sillier is the sudden opposition to it. At this point, both kids and presumably adults know smoking's bad for you. I doubt an establishment such as this will turn impressionable youngsters onto the demon tobacco. And adults can and should do as they please. Destroying your health with tobacco is still legal in our increasingly regulated-to-death State.

In these awful economic times, small, independent businesses, even if they fly in the face of common sense (They want you to pay for oxygen?), should be encouraged and promoted.

At this rate, Main Street will be nothing but a series of boarded up, empty storefronts waiting for the imaginary perfect tenant that doesn't offend someone's sensibilities.

Perhaps the opposition just prefer an Arby's or Roy Rogers or some such chain move in? No smoking allowed in there...

Terence said...

Martin, Susan worked behind the scenes to get the Article 78 lawsuit settled. See the very nice letter from future residents:

Billy said...

I'm not sure why you're so dismissive of people who have concerns over this proposed business. And the "Susan Zimet was complicet in the eveil Woddland Ponds project so everyone else who shares her concerns about this project can, by extension, be dismissed as well" is quite a cynical leap. You speak of public particpation, but you're instinct is that of the insider. You speak of and for people who live and breath scoping sessions and variances. If you were being honest, you'd ahave to cknowledge that the govenrment and the local paper do a pretty lousy job of keeping people informed. Agendas are often not posted on the Web site until the day of the meeting. The paper often covers things only after they're a done deal. Get off your pony.

Martin McPhillips said...

O.K., but I'm still not sure how her help in settling the lawsuit makes her a responsible party for Woodland Pond. My curiosity is limited, however, so there's no need to explain it further. (I don't know that I would have objected to Woodland Pond when the objectin' meant something, other than in the sense that I would object to nude photographs of, say, Nikita Khrushchev.)

Hookahs and canned oxygen are as well outside the perimeter of my interest, but I have an old affection for the Peak Performance location, which drew my attention.

Martin McPhillips said...

Ah, I see there's an afternoon upside rally for market shares of SpleenCo.

Sellers, unload while you have the chance.

Pete Healey said...

Thank you for work and explanation of this matter. You were thorough and careful as always.

MariAnn Sennett said...

I also appreciate this post (and this blog). Thank you very much for an informative, well reasoned entry. Go Gadfly!!

Anonymous said...

"Woodland pond a gigantic eyesore from the ridge" says Terrence. I was just up on the ridge and couldn't point out Woodland Pond to save my life!!!

Anonymous said...

What's not said about the hookah is the likelihood of fun loving people bringing in their own special blend on the sly.

Terence said...

Believe it or not, Anonymous, people aren't allowed to "bring their own special blend" anywhere in New Paltz. Shall we make cigar shops illegal, and ask The Awareness Shop to stop selling incense just so we can be sure that no one is up to no good?

We have laws that forbid the use of marijuana, and this business wasn't trying to break those. I believe that it's reasonable for a business to open that complies with existing laws.

I haven't used tobacco in decades and even if this place ever opens I won't be changig that because I think it's stupid. However, it's legal and they have the right to sell a legal product. Will it succeed? I have my doubts, but that's not my call, or yours.

Billy, the public hearing process is designed to protect the public AND the applicant. The public gets a chance to have its say, but the applicant has the right to expect that, once the hearing is closed, that a decision will be made. It's easy to miss out on when those hearings are, but public officials in particular probably know how to read the legal ads.

Billy said...

I'm not sure what your angle is, Terrence, but it doesn't seem to be genuinely about encouraging public participation. Your choice of condescending ("pity...") and demeanoning ("ladies") language in addressing people with legitimate concerns and your generous marekters language in describing the "upscale tobacco scene" give you away.

Here's the agenda item that you refer to:
"Special Use Permit: Hookah and Oxygen Lounge."

Now I guess a sophisticated connissouer of all things "upscale", such as yourself, might automatically know what a hookah is, but perhaps a lot of common folk who live an area with no such establishments should be forgiven for not making the connection with tobacco. This goes to my point of our local government failing to give the public enough clear information through mutliple channels and in a timely fashion.And th agenda I found on the Web site was posted July 29 for an Aug. 4 meeting. Less than a week's notice.

But you seem content to play gotcha and suggest that all these people's concerns are void. And it's disingenous to suggest that they knew about the proposal but didn't bother to go to the hearing instead of aknowledging the more likely scenario in which they found out about it too late.

And your argument suffers further with your lame analogy to the Awareness Shop and cigar stores (of which there are none in New Paltz) since, unlike those establishments, this plan calls for smoking on site.

Finally, to suggest that because they followed the rules and the board approved their request the issue is noe closed is absurd. People shouldn't stay silent just because they missed a deadline. This is a legitimate community health issue. You're right that the business shouldn't necessarily suffer for playing by the rules. But surely you're aware that the rules are often changed only after law suits and other such efforts.

Frankly, the board would have done these guys a favor by turning them down. But it's not your job to save them from themselves. But let me ask you this: should they ever open, how long do you give them before they seek a liquor permit in the classic New Paltz foot-in-the-door approach to doing business.

Anonymous said...

Bill, do you know the status of the Crossroads project? Was it approved? Could you be so kind as to post an update on the proceedings of this proposed development? I am from out of town and can't find any current information. Where could I go to find out more?