City will likely set stricter guidelines for hookah lounges

Council first approves, then deadlocks on license for hookah business on John R

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published April 24, 2013

Troy city leaders will consider tightening the rules for hookah lounges after incidents at establishments and the transfer of smoking licenses have raised alarms.

The state allowed an exemption of the ban on smoking in public places — the Dr. Ron Davis Smokefree Air Law, enacted in 2010 — for Ice Hookah Lounge on John R, south of Square Lake, formerly Coffee Net. The exemption has triggered an agreement that City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm described as “a little bit unusual,” an agreement that the City Council ultimately deadlocked on. The issue arose when a background check revealed a person listed as a manager for the previous business at that location had a criminal history. 

The City Council approved an ordinance that requires smoking lounges to be licensed in 2007. A smoking lounge is defined as an establishment where at least 50 percent of interior floor space is dedicated to the smoking of tobacco products or other legal substances on the premises, or where at least 35 percent of revenues and/or advertising expenditures are derived by smoking.  

Hookahs are water pipes used to smoke flavored tobacco.

The City Attorney’s Office proposed an agreement that banned the man in question from the business. If he were discovered on site, the city would have immediately revoked the smoking license.  The man’s sister told the City Attorney’s Office that she, not her brother, will manage the new business, Bluhm said. The owners invested resources to renovate the space and signed the agreement, which incorporated changes to the ordinance the council will consider next month.

The changes include requiring all patrons to leave the parking lot of the smoking lounge by 12:30 a.m., restricting the age of patrons to 18 and older; prohibiting beer, wine and alcohol sales on site; requiring the business to close at midnight; requiring managers on site to be listed on the smoker’s lounge license application with the city; limiting the number of employees allowed on site after close of business to three; and requiring separate smoking lounge licenses for each smoking business.

“We’ve had a major issue with hookah lounges around the city,” Troy Police Chief Gary Mayer said to the council at the April 15 meeting. 

On March 16, police arrested a 20-year-old Detroit man who reportedly pointed a handgun at two employees at a hookah lounge on Dequindre Feb. 18, then fired one round in the air before he drove off. He was arraigned on four counts of felonious assault with a dangerous weapon.

“I’m very comfortable with the (proposed) agreement,” Mayer said of the agreement.

“I do share some concerns,” Troy Council member Maureen McGinnis said. “We’re getting something that has some red flags.”

She questioned whether police have sufficient resources to keep an eye on the business. “What’s the plan? It looks like it has to be micromanaged,” McGinnis said.

“Our resources are stretched,” Mayer said. “This is the kind of establishment the police like to go in on a regular basis. We will put them on a regular inspection. I’m very comfortable being able to manage it.”

The council initially unanimously approved the agreement with Ice Lounge Hookah April 15, then suspended the rules after public comment and voted again on the request, which deadlocked in a 3-3 tie, causing the motion to fail. Councilman Jim Campbell was absent from the meeting. The business has closed. The owner, Assen Yousif, could not be reached for comment.

“I should have voted no,” said Councilman Doug Tietz, when he asked that the council consider the matter again. Tietz, Councilman Dave Henderson and Mayor Pro Tem Wade Fleming voted against the agreement.

“I prefer the ordinance first,” Henderson said.

“After we discuss the hookah ordinance on May 13, there may be some more comfort in the agreement that was proposed,” Mayor Dave Slater said. “I look forward to having some teeth in a hookah ordinance, myself.”