PEMBROKE — The Pembroke Town Council on Tuesday denied a request to open a hookah bar downtown, citing state law banning smoking of tobacco products in some public places.
Representatives of the business called the council’s unanimous vote “unfair” and said it would have been enjoyed by town residents and students at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke alike.
Zakariya Alsaidi was seeking to open the hookah bar on Third Street, but was awaiting the council’s decision before signing a lease. The business would have offered smoothies and other non-alcoholic drinks in addition to the water pipes. The town’s Unified Development Ordinance would have had to be amended by the council to allow a hookah bar to operate.
During a public hearing, continued from the council’s August meeting so the matter could be reviewed the by Planning Board, only Town Attorney Gary Locklear spoke.
Locklear paraphrased a smoking ban passed by legislators in 2009 that carves out exceptions for smoking in homes, cars, businesses that earn more than 75 percent of their revenue from tobacco products, cigar bars and membership-only clubs, among others.
Locklear said in his legal opinion, the proposed business doesn’t fit “any of those exceptions” and therefore isn’t allowed under state law.
“I don’t stand before you trying to kill anybody’s joy … but I represent the town of Pembroke — right now the town of Pembroke is the town council — and that’s my professional opinion,” he said.
Locklear consulted the Council of Governments and Attorney General’s Office on the matter. A hookah bar in Hope Mills operates as a private club, he said, and other towns he contacted said they allow hookah bars as long as they cause “no trouble.”
Awad Alsaidi, who is related to Zakariya, said council members should worry more about bars that serve alcohol than the hookah bar. Awad Alsaidi represented the business at Tuesday’s meeting with two fellow UNCP students advocating for its opening. After the vote, they said they don’t think the council “fully understands” what they are trying to do.
“It’s somewhere students and people in the community could come together and relax,” said Aschalew Teka, a UNCP student.
During the August meeting, residents and council members raised questions about the health effects of smoking hookah, sanitation and how the business would make sure other substances aren’t smoked in their pipes.
“There’s too many what-if’s, too many questions and concerns,” said Councilman Ryan Sampson, making a motion to deny the application, following the recommendation of the Planning Board. The PLanning Board had voted 5 to 1 to deny the request after hearing about the state law.
In other business, the council:
— Held public hearings to close out two Community Development Block Grants, as required by the state Department of Commerce. A $120,000 CDBG Building Reuse grant was used to renovate a facility for LL&J Consulting Engineers, creating 10 jobs as part of an overall $350,000 investment. A $456,000 CDBG Infrastructure grant was put toward a total investment of $1.63 million to build a pre-treatment facility at Trinity Frozen Foods, creating 50 new jobs.
— Approved road closures for upcoming festivals.
Main Street will be closed Sept. 17 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. for National Drive Electric Week and Green Day. Green Day will be held from noon to 5 p.m. at the Entrepreneurship Incubator at 202 Main St. and will include Q&A’s on electric and hybrid cars, test drives, local food trucks, local bands, recycling vendors, a mini farmers market and bounce houses.
Main Street will also be closed Nov. 12 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. for Cruisin’ Pembroke, which will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event will include food and craft vendors, a raffle, kids’ activities, reptiles, train rides and the second annual Soup Cook-Off from noon to 2 p.m.
— Received a draft of a downtown revitalization master plan, but did not discuss it. Town Manager Tyler Thomas said council members will likely hold a work session with the plan’s designer before presenting it to the public.
— Approved a tax release to the heirs of Chacy Maynor, whose property was determined to not be in town limits. Approving the release removes the property from the tax rolls.
— Presented designs of new 95-gallon trash bins that will be provided to all town residents.
— Took no action during a closed session on personnel and litigation.
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.