Alabaster passes smoking ordinance

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Alabaster restaurants and hotels will begin declaring themselves either smoking or non-smoking establishments in March 2011, after the Alabaster City Council approved a citywide smoking ordinance during its Oct. 21 meeting.

The ordinance passed unanimously after the council held its second public hearing on the matter.

Through the ordinance, Alabaster restaurants and hotels must declare their smoking status by Jan. 1, 2011 before the ordinance goes into effect on March 1.

The businesses must declare themselves completely smoke-free or smoking-friendly, and post signs at every entrance declaring their status. Businesses owners must declare their establishment’s smoking status each year when they submit their business license to the city.

If a business owner declares the business non-smoking, no smoking will be allowed in the business or within 25 feet of an entrance, according to the resolution.

Businesses declared smoking-friendly will still be allowed to designate certain smoking and non-smoking sections of the restaurant or hotel.

Anyone caught smoking in a non-smoking establishment will face a fine of $100 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense within two years of the first and a $500 fine and up to 10 days in city jail for the third offense within two years of the first offense.

During the public hearing, several people said they supported the ordinance, but encouraged the council to adopt a citywide smoking ban in all public places.

“There is no such thing as being in a smoke-optional restaurant and not having smoke coming into your lungs and your children’s lungs,” said Alabaster resident Diane Wood. “Smokers do not realize how offensive it is to other people.”

Carol Harrison told the council she did not believe the ordinance “goes far enough.”

“I would suggest the council considers making all public places non-smoking,” Harrison said. “I wish I could convince you to go non-smoking completely.”

Other speakers, including Alabaster Mayor David Frings, said they were against the ordinance because it represented a government intrusion into the private sector.

“This ordinance bothers me. It’s government intrusion into a private business,” Frings said, noting eight of the city’s 45 restaurants currently allow smoking. “That’s the owner’s right to decide whether or not they are going to allow smoking.”

Alabaster resident Eric Edwards agreed with Frings.

“As lawmakers, you are required to make laws based on reason, not emotion or personal preference,” Edwards said. “We have to defend our rights now while it’s still easy to do so.”

After the resolution passed, Ward 7 Councilman Tommy Ryals called the smoking ordinance an effective “compromise.”

“The only thing (the ordinance) does is make businesses post on the front door whether or not it’s smoking,” Ryals said. “It’s basically letting everyone make a choice. I think it’s a very good compromise between the two extremes.”

In other business, the council voted 4-3 against purchasing a currently vacant building on First Street Southwest to use as a temporary city hall.

Ward 1 Councilwoman Sophie Martin, Ward 3 Councilman Adam Moseley, Ward 4 Councilman Rick Walters and Ryals voted against purchasing the building, and Ward 2 Councilman Bob Hicks, Ward 5 Councilman and Council President Jim McClain and Ward 6 Councilman Scott Brakefield voted in favor of purchasing the building.

The about 19,000-square-foot building is near the America’s Thrift Store, and across the street from the Razin Kane bar, and would cost the city about $300,000, Frings said.

“I am very much for the consolidation of our service, and taking our costs down, both long- and short-term,” Frings said, noting the city would purchase the building from Central State Bank.

“The building is 50-years-old, but (Central State Bank) would take it down to the concrete and redo it inside and out,” Frings added.

Martin said she did not feel the building was in a good location, and urged the city to construct new city buildings on property the city already owns.

“I thought this building was in a bad location,” Martin said. “I think we should use property the city already owns.”