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Normal mayor: Business balance a reason to consider smoke shop limit in Uptown

The Smoke Shop exterior
Ryan Denham
Existing shops, like The Smoke Shop, would be allowed to continue in Uptown Normal as a nonconforming use, according to the Town of Normal.

The mayor of Normal said a potential ban on more smoke shops in Uptown relates to the purpose of the district.

Mayor Chris Koos said the idea behind Uptown is to have an area that gets used 18 hours a day, and not just by university students but by the community. That requires a mix of businesses.

"The thing I'm looking for and the thing I think most of the council is looking for is maintaining a balance and an equilibrium in the Uptown area," said Koos.

The planning commission will consider a zoning text amendment that would prevent smoke shops in Uptown but allow current ones to stay.

"We want them in balance with everything else, with the restaurants, with the retail. Currently I do not feel it's out of balance at all. I think there is a good mix of businesses in the Uptown area," said Koos.

Some oppose tobacco shops out of health concerns over vaping. Others are opposed to marijuana, even legal cannabis, and believe the stores cater to that market by selling paraphernalia.

Koos said none of the council members have voiced such health or moral objections to smoke shops to him.

He said he takes no position on a possible ordinance because one has not yet been drafted.

Sales tax portion for McLean County

The portion of Bloomington and Normal sales tax money that goes to the county for mental health services and other purposes is much in the news lately.

Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason has suggested some of it could be used to help the homeless or to support migrants if there were to be a large influx of migrants from the southern border. Normal Town Council member Kathleen Lorenz suggested capping the sales tax portion sent to the county.

In an interview with WGLT, Koos reacted to Gleason's idea but was less willing to address Lorenz's proposal.

“We're going to have conversations about how those dollars get used. But she just took a flier on that. I don't know what she meant by that,” said Koos.

Bloomington and Normal send sales tax money to the county for several reasons. The one that gets the most public attention is to provide behavioral and mental health services. Another purpose is to fund replacement of the Integrated Justis Information Service (IJIS), a large digital platform of court, police, legal system, and other records. The city and town also share the cost of jail operations, since the county has consolidated booking for those arrested on offenses.

Koos acknowledged migration and homeless issues affect the community.

“That's a serious problem. It's something we're all seeing in the community, and there are people that need help. There are grant programs out there that we've been looking at working with the state and federal government, as well as the dollars that we're spending locally, and the shared sales tax should all be part of that solution,” said Koos.

He said the conversation is happening between city managers and the county administrator on allocating sales tax dollars and not elected officials. He said they are consulted but do not control the use of that money.

There is no particular timeline for decision-making, he said, because there is no decision unless the proposed spending encompasses an area not covered by the current intergovernmental agreement on sales tax sharing.

"There's coordination between the staff of the city and the town, and we're informed at the council level as is the county board about what is happening, and the potential uses of those dollars. If a decision is made that goes outside the agreement that we signed with the county, then we'll have to take formal action,” said Koos.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.