Council nixes amendment

Steamboat Springs' smoking ordinance won't be altered, yet

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The Steamboat Springs City Council stood by its original smoking ordinance on Tuesday, its members saying they would not allow smoking in outdoor seating areas.

Less than three weeks after the smoking ordinance took effect, council members said they wanted to give the ordinance more time to work before changing it. The council voted 4-1 not to amend the ordinance to allow outdoor smoking areas.

Council members said the amendment was proposed too soon after the ordinance was implemented and that it would be unfair to restaurants and bars without space for outdoor smoking areas. Members also said the amendment would continue to allow smoke that is harmful and irritating to affect nonsmoking customers.

"I think we have done something very important for the safety of our community," Councilwoman Kathy Connell said. "We do need to have time to see how (the ordinance) goes."

On May 17, the council passed an ordinance banning all smoking in restaurants, bars, offices, outdoor amphitheaters and workplaces. The ordinance went into effect July 1.

In June, restaurant and bar owners asked the council to consider a special permit that would allow a restaurant to cordon off a section of an outdoor area for smoking.

The council was given a petition with more than 20 signatures from restaurant and bar owners or managers who supported the amendment.

Slopeside Grill owner Chris Corna spoke at the meeting Tuesday night and requested that the council allow outdoor smoking at restaurants and bars.

"It seemed like this (issue) picked up steam, and you didn't really take into account the reality of the ordinance. Now we are supposed to deal with something that is unprecedented from any other city. It is really difficult," Corna said.

The amendment proposed that smoking be allowed in no more than 25 percent of designated outdoor areas, 10 feet from business entrances and in places where patrons would not have to pass through smoking areas to enter or exit the business or go to the restrooms.

Corna said the restrictions in the amendment would be too hard to implement. He also said restaurants and bars should be given the chance to offer smoking outside.

He argued that his customers and employees did not complain about secondhand smoke outside and that visitors to Steamboat Springs would expect to be able to smoke outside.

"At least give us the outside," he said.

Tap House owner Gary Saxe argued that the amendment to the ordinance was unfair to businesses that do not have outdoor seating areas or the ability to build them. He pointed to his restaurant on Lincoln Avenue, which permitted smoking until the ordinance went into effect. He cannot build an outdoor seating area given his restaurant's space.

"My concern is the fairness, that everyone is on the same level playing field," Saxe said.

Judy Hiester, who helped organize the grass-roots group SmokeFree Steamboat Coalition, said that studies indicate secondhand smoke is harmful in outdoor areas, too.

"I want to remind you that secondhand smoke is not just irritating. It is a carcinogen. It has neurotoxins. It harms and kills people," Hiester said. "Our ordinance is not even 3 weeks old. I urge you to give the ordinance a full and lengthy opportunity to work before we start to dissect it."

Council members agreed they did not like smoke while dining outside.

"I am very taken aback when people next to me smoke," Connell said. "I do think people want to eat outside and have the right not to be in a smoky environment."

Councilman Steve Ivancie suggested that business owners come back in a year if they think the smoking ban has decreased their business.

"If this situation is definitely hurting you, we will reconsider it," Ivancie said. "But we need to allow this ordinance to work at least a year."

Council President Paul Strong was the only member to vote for the outdoor smoking amendment. He said he still was undecided about the issue and wanted more discussion about a second reading of the amendment.

He said that when restaurants in town decided to go nonsmoking a few years ago, they lost thousands of dollars. He also was skeptical about information that other municipalities had seen an increase in sales tax after nonsmoking ordinances were passed.

"We made the ordinance what it is, we can change it," he said.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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