City Council raises tobacco purchase age to 21, rejects downtown park ballot proposal

Saturday, August 6, 2016 - 5:19pm

City Council chambers were especially packed Thursday evening as contentious ordinances regarding the sale of the vacant downtown library lot, restrictions on the purchase of tobacco and the allowance of accessory dwelling units were discussed.

City Council approved an ordinance Thursday evening that will raise the age of tobacco purchase in Ann Arbor to 21 in January.

In July, Councilmember Julie Grand (D–Ward 3) introduced an ordinance in conjunction with local public health professionals seeking to raise the age of purchase for tobacco within the city to 21, and the ordinance passed its initial read.

In an interview with the Daily in July, Grand explained her goal was to reduce early-onset tobacco addiction by using Ann Arbor as a case for the rest of the state. She was dismissive of the lack of opportunity for students to provide input on the proposal .

In the public hearing period preceding the vote on the legislation, numerous public health and medical professionals who had collaborated with Grand addressed the importance of the law to reduce tobacco-related illnesses.

However, other members of the public were less open to the restriction. One Ann Arbor store owner complained the city unilaterally raising the purchase age would hurt his business and would be an unfair intrusion of citizens’ private choice.

Councilmember Jane Lumm (I—Ward 2) also spoke in opposition to the resolution, arguing it was in direct conflict with a Michigan statute barring municipalities from unilaterally implementing tobacco restrictions.

Other council members — including Graydon Krapohl (D–Ward 4), Sumi Kailasapathy (D— Ward 1) and Sabra Briere (D— Ward 1) disagreed with Lumm’s assessment, saying that even if Grand’s resolution conflicted with state law, the city should take a stand against tobacco, as it could nudge the rest of the state to follow.

Ultimately, only Councilmembers Jack Eaton (D— Ward 4) and Lumm voted against the proposal.

City Council also discussed Ann Arbor's downtown library lot, which has been slated for sale to a developer seeking to construct a new student housing high-rise. The proposed sale has angered many residents hoping for the lot to be instead converted into a downtown square. 

A June petition submitted by a group of residents opposed to the development — drawing more than 5,000 signatures from residents — was meant to force the sale onto November's ballot for approval, but it was rejected in July by the city clerk’s office because a large number of the signatures were duplicate, incomplete or from people registered outside of the city, causing the petition to fall short of the required 4,616 signatures.

Seeking to overrule the clerk’s decision,  Eaton introduced a resolution that would push the approval of the lot sale onto the November ballot nonetheless. The resolution was also sponsored by Briere, Lumm and Kailasapathy.

However, other council members disagreed with Eaton’s proposal on the basis that the city shouldn’t make special exceptions to its existing laws to accomadate a group did not achieve the correct number of signatures.

Ultimately, Eaton’s proposal was voted down 7-4, failing to gain support beyond the three other council members who sponsored the bill and despite the large number of residents who showed up to support the measure.