Discussions of tobacco shops and products began circulating among Highland Park councilmembers on Monday and will linger throughout the summer.
The City Council discussed on June 26 a recommendation from the Plan and Design Commission to amend the zoning code related to the location of tobacco and smoke shops and discussions will continue on further regulation of tobacco-related products products later this summer.
Though a split vote, 4-3, the council voted for staff to create an ordinance to limit tobacco sales to two commercial zoning districts: I Light Industry and B3 Highway. The night’s agenda materials districts as “located between the Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way to the east and the U.S. Route 41 to the west.”
The ordinance would apply to new businesses, not the 20 Highland Park shops — five smoke shops and 15 other retailers — allowed to sell tobacco-related products.
Councilmembers Annette Lidawer and Yumi Ross and Mayor Nancy Rotering voted against the measure.
The council will consider the ordinance at its meeting on July 17, and plans to discuss potential regulations and bans on certain tobacco and smoking products, such as vaping tools and e-cigarettes, during the August meeting.
Councilmember Jeffrey Hoobler pitched an amendment to the ordinance draft that says if a non-smoke shop — such as a convenience store — sells tobacco products or paraphernalia, the items must be kept behind the counter. These products would be classified as accessory use products, according to city documents.
“We do it for marijuana stores; we don’t even let anybody see (the marijuana),” Hoobler said. “There’s precedent to be able to do it, I think we should be part of that.”
His colleagues agreed that the items should be behind the counter, but that they can be visible to customers.
The PDC also submitted two sub-recommendations depending on whether the council decided to further regulate tobacco and smoke products.
Director of Community Development Joel Fontane told the council that the recommendations came about because the City Council adopted on Jan. 23 a “red flag resolution” in which they urged the commission to hold public hearings on the matter and recommend a solution to the council.
Tobacco retailers reportedly were notified of the public hearings.
After Fontane’s presentation, Lidawer expressed concerns that the council lacked knowledge about the impact of restricting or expanding tobacco-related sales. She asked to hear more testimony “as to what the PDC recommended for accessory uses in smoke and tobacco shops so that we have a bigger land use group that we’re looking at.”
She urged councilmembers to only consider some of what was presented, excluding the sub-recommendations.
“Right now there are 12 districts in which these products are sold,” she said. “To take it down to two districts without even understanding what half of these products are, I think really does a disservice to our community and to store owners and to people who are in this business — and yet to keep it at the same level as alcohol, which would be much broader, we need to know what we’re talking about.”
HPHS’s new scoreboards preliminarily approved
The City Council also decided to move forward with an ordinance for staff-recommended variations for new scoreboards at Highland Park High School athletic facilities.
The changes expand the uses of the scoreboards to include any school-approved event, not just sporting and athletic events.
The motion passed 5-2, with Councilmembers Kim Stone and Anthony Blumberg voting against it.
“Are we going to start to have regular fireworks at athletic events? Are we going to start to have concerts after athletic events?” Blumberg said. “This is the point at which I have become uncomfortable so I am going to vote against this.”
Stone said the expansion of the scoreboard use is “death by a thousand cuts” for the neighbors living near Wolters Field. She understands the need for new, updated equipment but feels concerned about the impact of the video screen on those with sensory issues.
The council heard testimony from students, parents and other school stakeholders regarding the scoreboard replacement and expansion.
HPHS rising senior David Finfer, who plays baseball and football for the Giants, said the scoreboard has issues every time he takes the field, and that restarting it is a “whole big process.” He said the old scoreboard is “beyond repair.”
Julie Sollinger, a mother of two high school students, one of whom plays field hockey and lacrosse, said she often feels confused when trying to keep up with the scoreboard in a sport she is already unfamiliar with.
In addition to helping parents, Sollinger said the new scoreboard would help the student-athletes.
“Our kids feel it. You may not know it but our kids do and they feel like second-class citizens because we are the only ones (without a modern scoreboard),” she said. “This isn’t a Deerfield versus Highland Park thing; this is an every-school-they-play thing.”
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Rosie Newmark is a 2023 Record intern and an incoming senior studying journalism and history at Northwestern University. Rosie has written for multiple campus publications in addition to the Hyde Park Herald and American Libraries Magazine.