September 07, 2007
Smoke-free Sugar Land

Sugar Land has gone (mostly) smoke-free.

Smoking will be restricted in restaurants, businesses, public parks, as well as Town Square Plaza and outdoor arenas.

But the ordinance does exclude country clubs, retail tobacco stores, tobacco bars, stage areas for theatrical performances and bars in operation on or before December 31, 2007. Smoking is also allowed in the outdoor seating areas of restaurants.

The owner of any premises where smoking is prohibited are asked to enforce the new ban by requesting that any violator immediately extinguish any burning tobacco product.

If they refuse to do so they could be fined not more than $500 for each offense by the City of Sugar Land.

The ban goes into effect on December 31. According to Fort Bend Now, the new law came as a bit of a surprise to some restauranteurs.

At the behest of Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace, city staff members have been working since October 2006 to developed an ordinance to allow non-smokers to breathe a little easier without taking in second-hand smoke. In its preamble, the ordinance says such smoke "kills over 50,000 non-smoking Americans yearly."

Berryhill, a popular Mexican restaurant with a large, often-crowded bar area where smoking is permitted, will have to shoo smokers onto an outdoor patio smaller than the bar area, once the city's smoking ordinance takes effect Dec. 31.

The ordinance preamble states that studies "demonstrate that there is no significant adverse economic impact" resulting from indoor smoking bans, but the notion of such a ban in Sugar Land irritated [owner Jeff] Brooks nonetheless.

He said the strip center Berryhill occupies on the U.S. 59 feeder near Sugar Creek Boulevard "was a ghost town" when he moved his restaurant into it five years ago. Today, "I pay a quarter of a million dollars in taxes" to the city and Fort Bend County annually, he said.

"I'm just trying to run a business," Brooks added. "It's bad enough the Sugar Land cops are sitting in my parking lot at night" trying to make an easy DUI arrest.

If Berryhill met the city's new definition of a bar - an establishment that derives 60% or more of its revenue from liquor sales - then Brooks' business would be exempt from the new smoking ban.

But city officials say only Pennison's, on Settler's Way, and Baker St. Pub in Sugar Land Town Square, meet that definition. Also exempt: the city's country clubs, any "tobacco bars" and retail tobacco establishments.

Smoke 'em while you still can.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 07, 2007 to Local politics