SENECA FALLS — A cigarette-selling war is underway in Seneca Falls.
The Cayuga Nation began selling untaxed, Cayuga brand cigarettes at three of its properties on Friday. Sales continue from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at 61 Ovid St., 183 Ovid St., and from a vacant lot on East Bayard Street.
The decision comes after the Labor Day weekend reopening of the former Sky Dancer smoke shop and gas station at 126 E. Bayard St. by Cayuga Nation member Dustin Parker. Parker, an opponent of federally recognized Nation representative Clint Halftown, reopened the store under terms of a lease agreement with the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, owner of the property. It had been vacant for eight years.
The backdrop behind the rival factions selling cigarettes is the town’s zoning law, which has the 126 E. Bayard St. store in a single-family, or R-1, zone that prohibits such commercial enterprises.
“[The decision to sell cigarettes at those locations] stems from the town of Seneca Falls’ abdication of its responsibilities to enforce zoning ordinances, particularly with regard to the Pipekeepers Tobacco & Gas Store at 126 E. Bayard St.,” the Nation said in a statement issued to the media. “The zoning designation for this section of East Bayard Street is residential, and there is no provision for a convenience store at this location, even by special use permit. While the store is operated by a group posing as shadow members of the Cayuga Nation, it is not affiliated with the Cayuga Nation, has not been approved by the Cayuga Nation Council, and it is not covered under the Nation’s sovereign immunity.”
Halftown said the town has “tacitly blessed” the selling of cigarettes at residentially zoned locations “and the Cayuga Nation is pleased to follow their lead and sell our Cayuga brand of cigarettes at locations on our reservation.”
Halftown and his supporters claim the reservation established by the 1795 Treaty of Canandaigua, covering more than 60,000 acres, has not been disestablished by Congress since that agreement. However, the tribe lost a federal lawsuit for the return of that acreage and payment of damages. The Nation has purchased about 1,200 acres in the claim area from willing sellers in Cayuga and Seneca counties.
The tribe applied to put 129 acres into federal trust, but that application was rejected.
The Nation statement claims that as a sovereign entity, it has the authority to sell cigarettes at any official Nation-owned businesses within its reservation. The Nation says it typically aligns its business operations in accordance with local zoning codes “despite the fact that those ordinances do not apply to the Nation.”
“However, as recent events in Seneca Falls have demonstrated, the town no longer plans to enforce its own zoning ordinances against local businesses that are blatantly disregarding the law,” Halftown stated.
Cigarettes sold by Native American tribes usually sell for less because no taxes are added.
Supervisor Mike Ferrara said the zoning issue on East Bayard Street is being reviewed.