First reported 4/13/2010 10:07 a.m.

Still working to sort through and enforce local statutes for Team Blonde and Gaetano’s, village commissioners may now – for yet another magnetic business on Madison Street – be facing issues on how to interpret an already confusing state law.

Casa de Puros, the plush two-year-old cigar shop at 7410 Madison, gave notice at Monday night’s village council meeting of a coming request for sidewalk seating. Talk about that request immediately turned to the state’s smoking ban.

In introducing the matter, Mayor Tony Calderone outlined for commissioners the novelty of what’s ahead:

“This is a first for this type of request. We don’t have any current provisions in our code for sidewalk seating without a companion restaurant,” Calderone told the council.

But as discussion continued, that detail became secondary to worries about the legality of setting aside space on a public walkway for smoking. Commissioner Mark Hosty was the most vocal about references to the spirit of the Smoke-free Illinois Act. Commissioners Mike Curry, Rory Hoskins and Marty Tellalian each raised their worries.

In effect since Jan. 1, 2008, the act requires, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Web site, that public places in Illinois and places of employment within the state be free of smoke inside and within 15 feet of entrances, exits, ventilation intakes, and windows that can open.

A year after it took effect, interpretation of the law, which was much-debated in its making, reached such proportions that state legislators approved an amendment intended to better define enforcement. The Chicago Tribune had reported in January 2009 that while most Chicago-area businesses appeared to be complying with the smoking ban, businesses in many rural areas were not. A news archive search on the ban shows more confusion than compliance.

Presenting Casa de Puros’s plans Monday night were Tim Polk, the tobacco shop and smoking lounge’s managing partner, and Jim Fraghia, the general contractor who in 2007 oversaw the extravagant build-out. While other destination shopping on Madison Street has been referred to as “Lincoln Park comes to Forest Park” and “Wicker Park comes to Forest Park,” this custom 1,700-square-foot shop is more like “Beverly Hills comes to Forest Park.” Polk, who has a semi-silent partner in River Forest real estate agent Andy Gagliardo and a silent partner in a wealthy Oak Park resident, had told the Review at the time of the shop’s opening that money was no object. The millwork alone, the Review then reported, ran into the mid six-figures.

What will be requested

The shop’s windows – one under each of the 6-foot, 6-inch-wide awnings – would be replaced by French doors, Polk told commissioners. “Beautiful mahogany doors,” Fraghia noted after the meeting.

Just outside each French door would be a table that seats two, Fraghia said.

“We’re looking for eight seats altogether,” Polk told the Review after the meeting. “We talked about this idea all along,” Polk said, referring to taking the luxury concept right onto the sidewalk on Madison. “It will be good for us, and good for the street.”

What won’t be requested

A food license is not part of their planning. Both Polk and Fraghia told commissioners that they would be looking for outdoor seating only to give smoking aficionados another area to sit and enjoy tobacco.

Because Casa de Puros opened in November 2007 and got its license as a tobacco retailer before the state smoking ban took effect, patrons can legally smoke inside the shop.

A lounge area beside the walk-in humidor and behind the display cases features tufted leather club chairs, huge flat-screen TVs, and personal keyed humidors for members. When the shop opened, an annual membership was $1,000. Last year, when the 48th membership was sold, the fee dropped to $500 a year because, according to Polk, no more personal humidors were available.

Polk said the sidewalk seats would be for every patron, not members only.

The council’s concerns

“This is not like someone walking down the street with a cigarette. There are residents on both sides and above,” Hosty said, referring to condos and apartments in the same building and in the buildings housing Murphy’s Pub and Bertuca Salon & Spa. “I’d like to see what would happen with the heavy use of smoke,” Hosty added, asking about considerations for tailoring the ventilation system. “And how do we deal with the 15-foot issue?” he said.

Hoskins said his role as a parent was factoring into his role as a village commissioner, pointing out the number of kids regularly walking along this block of Madison Street. “We have to balance out our personal beliefs with your need to do business,” Hoskins told Polk.

Curry said that while the legality of the matter is being studied, he’d like to see plans and drawings. “Let’s determine if there’s a mechanism for removing the smoke,” Curry said.

Tellalian was the briefest of all. “I would not like to see an open-air smoking cafĂ© on public property,” Tellalian said.

What’s next with the request

The mayor asked Polk and Fraghia to submit a proposal covering the specs listed by Village Attorney Nick Peppers.

In order to check the matter with the state, Peppers told Polk and Fraghia, he needs drawings, an elevation sketch, a narrative about the operation of the doors, and a description about who lives above and next door.

Fraghia said after the meeting that the proposal would be filed within two weeks.

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