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City Council, February 28

Confusion over Club Havana move
Issue deferred for more consideration
Marc Knapp

Most of last night’s meeting was taken up by discussion of the cigar bar Club Havana and the City’s non- smoking ordinance. And despite the lengthy debate, the issue was deferred again. And probably just as well.

The core of the issue was the request of the Club Havana to relocate from its present premise on Meeting Street. The cigar bar was allowed to continue operating when the City’s non-smoking ordinance was passed in 2007. But there was no provision to allow it to move from its present location. The bar’s lease expired at the end of last year and the landlord reportedly will not renew it. The bar must close or find a new location. And under the existing ordinance, it does not have the latter option.

At the last meeting, Council considered an amendment to the ordinance to allow the bar to move to a new location. But no move would be allowed subsequently. The latter restriction did not sit well with some Council members. They opined that the Club Havana would be at the mercy of the new landlord. The bar would have to pay whatever rent was demanded or close down. So the issue was deferred to allow consideration of some way to give the bar owner more latitude.

Despite the passage of two weeks, and apparently informal discussion amongst some members over the period, Council was still undecided about what to do. We do not know what precisely was before Council last night. According to Council member Wilson, changes were being made to the amendment to the Ordinance just prior to the Council meeting. Considering the confusion, she asked that issue again be deferred. Nobody seconded her motion and it took over an hour of discussion, debate and confusion before it was. And then Council voted to defer with three members – Lewis, Gregorie and Riedel - voting against.

The public received no information about the amendments to the amendment that were before Council last night. Of course, they are now moot. But generally we can say that members of Council prior to last night’s meeting held a range views - it was not fair to allow the bar to make the move, that there should be opportunities for others to open cigar bars, that the Club Havana should be allowed to move again if necessary. And then there were issues as how you define a cigar bar and differentiate between a cigar bar selling beer and wine and a regular bar selling beer and wine? And to add to the confusion, it was unclear to many of us as to what amendment Council members were addressing when they spoke.

As the smoke dissipated during the discussion, some Council members saw clearer and that the issue had grown beyond their earlier perception. It may be unwise to go too far in attempting to accommodate the Club Havana. Council member Lewis did say that the issue of the cigar bar was separate from the ordinance. He wanted an up or down vote immediately on the move, and for any changes to the ordinance considered at another meeting. He also said that the Club Havana owner was under a time constraint and a decision was needed. Few members seemed to share his concern.

Predictably, Citizens Participation drew many speakers. All but one opposed any liberalization of the non- smoking ordinance. Speakers included representatives of the American Lung Association and American Cancer Society. The sole speaker who favored an amendment said that he was opposed to smoking but thought that citizens should be free to make a choice. Mr. Paul Tinkler, a member of Council when the non-smoking ordinance was passed, noted the considerable time and effort that was put into crafting the ordinance. He cautioned about making any changes.

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