Council objects to plan for blacked-out windows

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published December 2, 2019

ST. CLAIR SHORES — A representative for Wild Bill’s Tobacco has told the City Council that the chain wants to black out windows in the building that it will be occupying to keep out prying underage eyes and allow for shelving to be placed in front of the windows.

Plans are now on hold, however, after City Council members voiced their displeasure at the suggestion for the building, located at 23107 Harper Ave., during a revised site plan review in November.

Kevin Chang, with the Wild Bill’s Tobacco corporate legal office, said that the chain has operated in Michigan for more than 25 years as an adult-only specialty tobacco store. Only individuals 18 and older are allowed in the store, and he said that they believe blocking the windows from outside viewing will protect the “privacy of our inventory” and keep underage teens from looking inside and coveting what the store sells.

Mayor Kip Walby said that the corner of Nine Mile Road and Harper Avenue is “an important corner for us,” and he didn’t like the look of the blocked windows, which Chang said would not actually be blacked out completely, but partially filled with advertising.

“It looks like you built a wholesale location here (that) no one can see in,” Walby said at the Nov. 18 City Council meeting.

He said he would like to see at least the middle window in each set of three windows opened and that nothing should be stacked in front of the windows.

Chang said that the store actually intended to put insulation and drywall over the windows on the inside, but Walby vehemently objected to that plan.

“I want something transparent,” he said. “You can’t put the drywall there.”

The building originally held the Linda’s Place restaurant, which burned in 2013. Building owners were granted approval from the City Council in 2015 to renovate the restaurant to look like an early 20th-century St. Clair Shores cottage in anticipation of another restaurant opening in the location. That never happened, however, and now Wild Bill’s Tobacco is leasing the location.

“Unfortunately, you’re on the bad end of a property that’s been a thorn (in our side),” Councilman Chris Vitale said. “It’s sat here for four years uncompleted with a disastrous parking lot. There’s no way I’m going to wait one year to get that parking lot replaced.”

Vitale said that he would be willing to work on a compromise with the developer to allow some blacking out of the windows, but he would not want to see all windows blocked as had been proposed.

“I did ask our police chief for an opinion on this. His recommendation is (that) completely blacked-out windows are not safe.”

He explained that if an alarm is accidentally triggered, officers can see into the building to know that everything is OK instead of potentially creating an unfortunate confrontation when they enter the store not knowing if there is a potential criminal inside.

Other council members also registered their objections to blocking the store windows.

“This goes to safety. We’re trying to err on the side of caution,” said Councilman Ron Frederick.

The City Council voted unanimously to table the revised site plan until St. Clair Shores and Wild Bill’s Tobacco could come to an agreement.