Interpreting the gray. That’s the hardest job for elected officials. It’s also where we get to see their minds work.
Forest Park’s village council had a curious case land on the agenda Monday evening. Casa de Puros, the ultra-upscale cigar shop and smoking club on Madison Street, made its pitch to be allowed an outdoor smoking section. Yes, after a long winter of sitting in their plush leather chairs inside the store, the owners believe their patrons would like a bit of fresh air to go with their pricey cigars.
The shop is asking for eight seats, and we expect they’re not talking folding chairs and a bucket with sand. They want to remove the front windows and replace them with mahogany French doors that open to the air. As always, this establishment is talking first-class upgrades.
The issues are whether outside smoking sections are legal, but also whether they are a proper use for a public space – in this case, a downtown sidewalk.
Here’s good news. Unlike the confounding discussions about proper uses involving Gaetano’s restaurant and Team Blonde’s spa services, the village and the cigar shop actually seem to have this process in the right order. Nothing has been built and no one has been lighting up Cuban cigars on the sidewalk. So kudos to all involved for following the rules.
The council rightly took two steps Monday. They asked the cigar shop owners for much greater detail about their plans. Drawings and an elevation sketch, details on the operation of the French doors, a detailed description of who could use the seating and, the council wanted to know, who lives above the store and nearby that might be affected. The council also directed the village attorney to research the state’s still-new ban on public smoking. Casa de Puros was grandfathered in as a smoking lounge before the law passed two years ago. But how does the law work for outside seating?
We would also ask the council to actively host a public hearing with strong outreach to the shop’s immediate neighbors and the community overall. This is a quality-of- life issue and citizens need to be heard.
This editorial started with a reference to gray areas and the ability of commissioners to negotiate such uncertainties. We found Monday’s discussion at the council table to be open and thoughtful. This, commissioners will find, is easier when the discussion happens in advance and when it does not involve commissioners’ personal business.
Commissioners Hosty and Hoskins were especially on point. Hosty expressed concerns about condo residents above the shop and how to deal with the state’s ban on smoking within 15 feet of a building entrance. Hoskins acknowledged the mixing of roles that he felt here. He is an elected official trying to make a judgment. But he is also a dad who discourages smoking and its public visibility.
It’s not easy being an elected official. But it is interesting.