Smoking ban draws fire from businesses

GALVESTON — Support among restaurant and bar owners for the smoking ban proposed several months ago was mixed, but opposition to the ordinance adopted three weeks ago was universal Thursday.

All of the business owners who packed city council chambers said the ordinance should be modified, but not everyone could agree on what should to be changed.

Restaurant owners want smoking allowed in outdoor seating areas. Owners of small bars want the entire ordinance repealed.

The proposed ban would have eliminated smoking in bars and restaurants. But when it was adopted, the council added the prohibition to private clubs, tobacco stores and outdoor seating areas.

Members of the Galveston Restaurant Association supported the proposed ordinance. But they all believe the adopted ordinance is too strict, President Dennis Byrd, who also owns The Spot, said.

“We did not anticipate the ordinance changing,” he said. “I’m here today because based on our membership feedback since that meeting, we all believe the ordinance is too restrictive.”

Byrd asked the council to consider allowing smoking in outdoor seating areas and shortening the distance from a business entrance from 15 feet to 5 feet.

Because of concerns expressed by downtown business owners, The Historic Downtown Strand Seaport Partnership also asked for the changes proposed by the restaurant association.

Councilman Tarris Woods, who said he talked to partnership Chairman Craig Brown, said he thought he was carrying out the organization’s wishes when he pushed for the more restrictive ordinance.

Although Councilwoman Elizabeth Beeton suggested the ban in outdoor seating areas, Woods said he would only vote in favor of the ordinance if it was across the board, including tobacco stores.

Most restaurant owners, business owners and business organizations, including the partnership and the Galveston Chamber of Commerce, had said they would support the ordinance if it applied to everyone equally. They did not specify that outdoor seating areas could be excluded from the equality assessment.

But several small bar owners said allowing smoking in outdoor seating areas would hurt the businesses who did not have patios or decks and did not have room to build them before Jan. 1.

If the council gives in to the restaurant lobby now, it will be turning its back on what it said it wanted to do in the first place — create a fair ordinance, business owner Steve Everts said.

“You can’t give them their decks and patios back and tell the bars that you don’t care about them,” he said. “The easiest solution is to allow smoking in all adult venues.”

If the council would not permit smoking in bars, it should repeal the ordinance, Everts said.

The recommendation that tobacco stores should be exempted from an amended ban was the only thing every person who spoke Thursday seemed to agree on.

Council members did not say whether they would agree to reconsider the ordinance.

© Copyright: Galvestondailynews

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