Shelby places six-month moratorium on smoking lounges

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published January 29, 2014

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — The Shelby Township Board of Trustees unanimously approved a six-month moratorium on opening hookah and smoking lounges. The township attorney and planner intend to work with an in-house committee, including police, to pen an ordinance to regulate activity at Shelby Township smoking lounges because of what officials say are increasing problems with law enforcement, such as underage drinking, disorderly conduct and late-night noise complaints. While there are no pending requests to open a smoking lounge in the Building Department, Township Attorney Rob Huth said, five of the dozen or so smoking lounges in Shelby Township have received police complaints ranging from minors to smoke infiltration to illegal use of food and tobacco. “It’s a relatively new category of land use,” said Planning Director Glen Wynn. “It lacks appropriate regulatory standards. The police have experienced multiple problems with some of these businesses that are already established, and we need to find a way to comprehensively address those.” The moratorium will prevent new smoking lounges from opening for six months. “Some of the issues that we have is because they’re semi-closed to the public, so it’s hard to get officers in there,” said Police Chief Roland Woelkers. “There’s underage drinking and also, because there’s no time limits on some of them, people spill out into parking lots late at night, causing noise and causing disorderly conduct.” Officials have looked into ordinances in other communities and studied smoking lounge ordinance templates, so they said they would not be starting from scratch. Huth said that he did not think it would take all of six months to write an ordinance and put it in place. “The intent is not that there will not be hookah lounges in the future,” Huth said. “The intent is that there will be regulations to keep things in order and have the right activity at those kinds of lounges.” Huth added that he hopes to meet with smoking lounge operators, as well, so they know what the township’s concerns are and perhaps make some adjustments on their own. Derek Shaba, a manager at Blo Hookah Bar and Lounge, said he agrees with putting a cap on new smoking lounges until an ordinance comes into effect, and he agrees with regulating existing locations for a safer community. He said Blo Hookah Bar and Lounge makes sure to check patrons’ identification and not engage in illegal activity. But, he added, he cannot speak for what patrons do outside the lounge. “That’s not something we control. That’s for officers to patrol and take them in,” he said. “If (enforcement outside) keeps happening, those people and kids and young adults will get the point that this is not a place for you to do those kind of things.” He added that police currently do a great job patrolling and that his establishment has not had a problem with patrons in the last six months. “I agree on talking about whatever needs to get done and come together as far as a community and as a township, not putting each other down,” he said. “We’re just trying to run a business properly, make a living and pay taxes like everyone else.” Wynn said that every so often, a new land use or activity pops up that needs to be addressed. A few years ago, he said, it was massage therapy. Shelby Township resident Gary Golasa expressed concern about a possible civil rights issue due to the hookah’s place in Middle Eastern culture. “Since our intent is to move forward with allowing the hookah lounges, and we just want there to be regulations in place for appropriate activity there, I don’t see an issue,” Huth said. “But good point.”