Norwalk considers restrictions on new smoke shops

Photo by Eric Pierce

Photo by Eric Pierce

NORWALK -- In response to a rising number of smoke shops popping up throughout the city, the Norwalk City Council tonight will consider placing greater restrictions on new cigarette retailers, limiting where they can operate and requiring them to obtain a conditional use permit. 

Due to the rising popularity of e-cigarettes, Norwalk has seen surge in the number of smoke shops operating in the city in recent years. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of tobacco outlets in Norwalk doubled from five to 10. 

"During this time, Planning staff also noticed an increase in the number of inquiries about opening up tobacco, e-cigarette, and vape shops within the City," community development director Kurt Anderson wrote in a staff report

In September 2013, council members adopted a 45-day emergency moratorium, which prohibited new cigarette retailers from opening in Norwalk. The moratorium was extended twice, and is scheduled to expire Sept. 15 of this year.

With the moratorium set to expire, city officials are recommending council members amend the municipal code to regulate how smoke shops operate.

If approved, new tobacco retailers wouldn't be allowed to open until they secured a conditional use permit from the Planning Commission. Tobacco shops also would be prohibited from operating near schools, parks and libraries, nor could they be within 600 feet of another smoke shop. 

Smoke shops would be prohibited from having video or arcade games, and an on-site manager at least 21 years old must be present. No smoking would be permitted inside the store, and a valid state tobacco product retailer license would be required.

The proposed code defines smoke shops as any retailer that devotes more than 15% of its gross floor space or display area to tobacco and tobacco products, including electronic smoking devices and accessories. 

Under the proposed regulations, 11 businesses in Norwalk would be identified as smoke shops. 

"Such regulations help to regulate the sale of tobacco products; as well as minimize access of smoke shop products to youth and prevent an over concentration of smoke shops in Norwalk," Anderson wrote in the report.

"The requirement of a [conditional use permit] will give the City additional authority to ensure that smoke shops will operate in a manner that protects the best interests of the surrounding properties and neighborhood, which in turn ensures the protection of the public health, safety and welfare of the community."