Downtown hookah bar approved

Published 9:12 pm Wednesday, October 20, 2021

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A new hookah bar and nightclub will be coming downtown, but it won’t be able to stay open as late as it wanted.

In a pair of votes, City Council first voted 6-2 against a substitute motion that would have denied a conditional use permit for the Lo-kee Hookah Lounge and Bar to operate at 130 W. Washington St.

The substitute motion, offered by Councilman Donald Goldberg, came after Councilman LeOtis Williams had offered a motion to amend the conditional use permit request to allow the business to stay open until 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Councilman Roger Fawcett, along with Goldberg, voted in favor of denying the permit outright.

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While Goldberg cited noise and crime in his vote to deny the permit outright, others on council, like Tim Johnson, were willing to approve the permit with the closing hours proposed by city planning staff — 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight Friday and Saturday.

Following the first vote, Williams withdrew his original motion and moved to approve the permit with the original closing hours city planning staff recommended. Council then voted 6-1 to approve the permit, with Goldberg voting against and Fawcett abstaining.

Deidra Gillis, the business owner, said during the public hearing that she wanted to have operating hours from 6 p.m. until 2 a.m. six days per week, and be closed on Sunday, but was willing to accept the planning staff recommendation.

Williams, in his original motion that would have allowed Gillis to keep the business open until 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, said he wanted to support a downtown business owner and said council could revisit her permit if necessary. He also cited restaurants downtown being allowed to stay open until 2 a.m. and said the city is “trying to attract businesses downtown.” Johnson, however, drew a distinction between restaurants and bars in supporting the original hours.

Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett also said it would be unfair to allow one business to stay open later while having denied others.

The staff report noted that its operation hours “do not align with the hours of operation that have been consistently approved for similar uses that have required a conditional use permit.” Because of how close it is to residences, city planning staff recommended the earlier closing hours.

Mayor Mike Duman said the time “is not quite here yet” to allow bars to stay open for longer hours and said downtown needs to have improved lighting and the police department the ability to increase its presence after midnight.

The business will only be using the 2,236 square feet on the ground floor for the business, as the second floor consists of apartments and are not part of the permit request, according to a city staff report on the permit request. The ground floor currently has several office spaces, a bathroom and several miscellaneous rooms.

Lo-kee plans to have a kitchen, dining area and a lounge area designated for smoking, and it will also have pool tables and office space. It will provide various tobacco products, food and alcohol, and will have jukebox music available.

It also plans to install equipment to mitigate sound and smoke impacts to adjacent properties and the surrounding area. The sound abatement will include insulation materials for a drop ceiling and soundproofing barriers for the ground floor walls, while it plans to install smoke purifiers and cleaners to filter smoke.

Due to the age of the building — it was built around 1890 and is part of the East Washington Street District of the Historic Conservation Overlay District — staff requested an asbestos and lead paint report, and the report submitted by Giillis found no asbestos or lead on the first floor of the building.

The Planning Commission recommended the business by a 7-1 vote at its Sept. 21 meeting, and city planning staff also recommended approval of the permit.