Photo: Phoebe Sheehan, Albany Times Union
The town of Bethlehem is considering putting in place a six-month moratorium on permitting vape and medical marijuana stores to give the town board time to study potential new zoning regulations that would dictate where such businesses can locate.
A public hearing on the temporary ban has been set for June 26 at Town Hall beginning at 6 p.m.
Vaping devices and e-cigarettes turn liquid nicotine into a vapor, or mist, that is inhaled like a traditional cigarette. The liquid nicotine is often sold in fruity or dessert-themed flavors that critics say appeal to children.
While only one vape shop, Interstate Vapor, is currently operating in town at the Four Corners in Delmar, two more have applied for building permits, including one that wants to locate in a vacant storefront that is next to Elsmere Elementary on Delaware Avenue.
Interstate Vapor, which opened in 2015, is less than 400 feet from St. Thomas School. But Bethlehem planning director Rob Leslie told the Town Board Wednesday night that there is nothing in the town code that regulates or defines such businesses or where they can be located.
And while its illegal for vaping or smoking products to be sold to kids under 21 in Albany County, under-age vaping has become a persistent and growing issue in Bethlehem, especially in the high school and even at the middle school, where students are as young as 11. Albany County has also proposed an outright ban on flavored nicotine.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence these shops are going in near schools. They know who their customers are,” town board member Maureen Cunningham said at Wednesday’s meeting. “I’m on the Bethlehem Youth Court, and some of the principals have brought in all the devices they’ve collected at the middle school and high school, and it’s something that for those of us that are older is just unbelievable.”
Cunningham and the rest of the board voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on a six-month moratorium, which would suspend the processing of building permits and certificates of occupancy that vaping businesses need to open a retail store.
The board also included marijuana stores as well since medical marijuana is already legal in New York and state lawmakers say that recreational marijuana could be approved next. There are two medical marijuana dispensaries in Albany County, both of which are off Fuller Road. A third is in Halfmoon.
Board members said while the town can’t ban these businesses, the board can come up with specific zoning regulations that would limit where shopes can locate in town. For instance, there could be a law requiring that they have to be a certain distance from schools. A six-month moratorium would give town planners and the board time to come up with potential changes to the zoning laws.
“It really isn’t addressed anywhere in our zoning code,” board member Dan Coffey said.