City aims to keep tobacco and vape shops 1,000 feet from schools and daycares

A new measure will prevent tobacco, smoke and vape shops from opening within 1,000 feet of Harrisonburg daycare centers or public and private schools.

The city council unanimously passed the update to the city ordinances Tuesday night in a 3-0 vote because council members Laura Dent and Dany Fleming were absent. 

The passing of the tobacco shop amendment will not affect the legality of the 17 existing smoke, vape or tobacco shops already doing business across Harrisonburg. Those would be grandfathered in, but any new tobacco shops looking to open in Harrisonburg would have to adhere to the 1,000-foot rule. 

While children can’t legally purchase tobacco or vape products, making shops less visible around schools can reduce the perception that smoking is accessible, desirable and normal, according to research shared through organizations like Counter Tobacco

The Harrisonburg Planning Commission also recommended a similar 1,000-foot barrier between schools or daycares and establishments that allow skill game terminals, but the council on Tuesday decided to hold off on making a decision about that. 

Using city tax revenue reports, an estimated 21 establishments — including convenience stores and some restaurants — offered skill game terminals when that was legal in Virginia. Since a Supreme Court ruling in 2023, though, businesses with those terminals had to remove or unplug them. The General Assembly tried passing a bill earlier this year to legalize skill games again, but Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed the bill last month

Adam Fletcher, the city’s director of community development, said the city staff recommended the 1,000-foot buffer in case the General Assembly eventually re-legalizes skill games. 

Council member Chris Jones said he was concerned preventing businesses close to schools or child care facilities from having skill game terminals could hurt some of Harrisonburg’s restaurants and bars, adding that he “can’t agree with that.”

“That’s not right,” he said, shaking his head. Jones suggested holding off on a vote until city economic officials talk more with small business owners about it. 

Donna Finnegan, representing Finnegan’s Cove, told the council punishing small businesses for people “unfortunately taking advantage of” skill games is “not right.”

“For us, we just had them at the bar, and it just gave [people] something to do,” she said. “We didn’t let people just come in and use them. You had to be a customer.”

A map shows establishments that had skill game terminals and locations of tobacco, smoke and vape shops. (Screenshot of city materials)

Permit granted to allow new child care center

Harrisonburg Mennonite Church on Chicago Avenue received the go-ahead to allow a child daycare center on its property. While the church, itself, wouldn’t operate the childcare center, it would expand its building to allow for more classroom space. 

The center would care for children between two-and-a-half and 5 years old, Fletcher told the council when explaining the special use permit request. He said the special use permit “can be recalled for further review” if the center becomes a “nuisance.”

Charles Hendricks, the project’s architect, said the building code will allow up to 53 children to be cared for at a time.

“I’ve been out to it a couple of times,” council member Monica Robinson said, referencing the construction site. “I’m excited to approve it.”

The council unanimously approved granting this special use permit.

Advocates for a resolution declaring June 20 World Refugee Day in Harrisonburg mark its passage with a photo at Tuesday’s council meeting.

City establishes World Refugee Day

The Council also unanimously approved a resolution recognizing June 20 as World Refugee Day at its Tuesday meeting to the delight of about 30 refugees, as well as staff from Church World Service, who attended the meeting. 

The group even celebrated by taking a photo with the council members after the resolution passed. 

Jones said establishing World Refugee Day is a “fantastic opportunity,” adding that it is an especially significant coming a day after the Juneteenth holiday the day before.

“Thank you for choosing Harrisonburg to be your home,” Mayor Deanna Reed said, addressing those who came to see the resolution pass, “and I look forward to continuing to work with you.”

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