Smoke and vape shop proposed at former 7-Eleven on South Church Street

Published 5:04 pm Friday, October 6, 2023

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Oct. 24 at 9:55 a.m. to correct that K&L Signs is only involved in manufacturing the sign that would adorn the proposed “Planet Tobacco & Mart, and to clarify the intent of the proposed zoning ordinance change.” The smoke shop would be owned and operated by Ali Alkotaini.

The owner of the former 7-Eleven on South Church Street is proposing to turn the building into a smoke and vape shop.

Smithfield, meanwhile, is proposing changes to its zoning ordinance that would add restrictions on where smoke shops can set up.

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The 7-Eleven shuttered earlier this year. Building owner Ali Alkotaini is proposing to turn the vacant storefront into a business named “Planet Tobacco & Mart.”

Kenneth Waggoner of Jacksonville, North Carolina-based K&L  Signs has submitted an application on behalf of Alkotaini for a lighted sign for the business. Specifically, he and building owner Ali Alkotaini are requesting an entrance corridor overlay review.

The town’s zoning ordinance defines the area within 500 feet of each side of South Church Street as one of six entrance corridors, where new construction or renovations are required to be “appropriate to town character.”

According to a report by the town’s staff, a special sign exception will also be required due to the applicant’s plan to construct a sign illuminated with white and red lights. The zoning ordinance would otherwise require that only internal white lights be used.

The proposed 19-foot-by-3-foot sign would advertise Kratom, vape, cigar, hookah and grocery supplies.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Kratom refers to a herbal substance that can produce opioid and stimulant-like effects. Kratom-based products are legal and accessible in many areas throughout the United States.

Vape pens or “vaping,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, refer to electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes that heat a liquid that, when aerosolized, delivers nicotine or other drugs and chemicals. E-cigarettes are also legal for purchase by anyone age 21 and up.

Currently, the town’s zoning ordinance includes no distinction between retail sales establishments and those specifically dedicated to smoke and vape products. On the agenda for the Planning Commission’s Oct. 12 meeting is draft language that would add a separate definition for smoke and vape shops or lounges, and add restrictions to where any such stores could be set up.

The proposed zoning ordinance amendments would prohibit smoke and vape shops or lounges in areas zoned residential office and, at minimum, require a special use permit for areas zoned downtown, highway retail commercial, planned shopping center, planned mixed-use development, light or heavy industrial, and commercial/industrial.

The former 7-Eleven is currently zoned highway retail commercial.

According to Tammie Clary, director of community development and planning for the town, there is an event scheduled at The Smithfield Center on Oct. 10 when the Planning Commission would ordinarily meet, which is why the meeting has been moved two days later.