Taking a stand against what some see as troubling business activity and the undesirable type of people it attracts, the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees approved a law Monday night that effectively bans new hookah-selling shops and tattoo parlors.
Residents and village officials have been vocal lately about the abundance of shops on Main Street selling hookahs and products related to the smoking apparatuses, with some saying the stores attract a criminal element and sell unhealthy products. More than a year after a similar yet simpler proposal was abandoned, the board has amended its zoning code to restrict those businesses, as well as tattoo parlors and adult establishments like topless bars, to the Light Industrial I-2 District.
The village’s four current hookah shops will not be shuttered under the new law because they represent preexisting uses, but the measure all but bans future hookah shops, hookah parlors, tattoo parlors and adult businesses, as there are only two properties in the entire village in the I-2 zoning district — on Columbia Street — and both are already occupied.
Board members approved the law at their Monday meeting with a 3-2 vote, with Trustees Bruce Miller and Bruce D’Abramo in opposition.
D’Abramo was the most vocal opponent of the proposal’s previous iteration, which would have simply banned hookah parlors — lounges where people can smoke tobacco products using a hookah. He repeated a stance at the meeting that he held through that last proposal as well as through discussion about the new law: that the government should let the free market regulate legally operating businesses.
“I believe that the marketplace cannot support four of these places in the village,” he said. “I think it will serve only to make our code book thicker and therefore dilute its effectiveness. … I believe the marketplace will do the same thing that it did when we had a yogurt place across the street from another yogurt place. … And it closed.”
Although there were more calls from residents opposed to the village interfering with the market the first time around — with some even comparing hookah establishments to the village’s numerous bars that are allowed to operate — D’Abramo did not receive as much resident support recently.
Over the last few board meetings, concerned parents and neighbors have called upon the village to take action against hookah-selling shops, citing fears that they will sell paraphernalia and dangerous substances to underage patrons and attract loiterers and drug dealers. Resident Nancy Cerullo said Monday she is concerned about “the culture that it is bringing.”
When residents asked about banning the shops outright, officials pointed out that would be unconstitutional, but said they could restrict the locations where they operate.
“As long as you allow it to be somewhere,” Mayor Margot Garant said.
With the discussion of the law dominated by comments about hookah shops, Barbara Sabatino, a resident, business owner and planning board member, questioned whether tattoo parlors should be lumped in with those establishments in the new restrictions. She noted that tattoos are becoming more mainstream, particularly among young adults.
The Board of Trustees narrowly voted to approve the law moments after closing the public hearing.