City Commissioners Approve Hookah Bar on Second Vote

blowing smokeAt today’s city commission meeting, after much public comment and a spirited discussion, the commissioners voted against the conditional approval of a hookah bar in downtown Lakeland.

However, after a long recess and the Utility Committee meeting, Commissoner Edie Yates asked for additional discussion on the issue. The commissioners then voted to approve the hookah bar.

The vote reversal hinged on an additional condition the commissioners set on the bar. The original ordinance did not address the ages of those allowed in the bar. During the second discussion, the commissioners agreed to set the condition that the bar ban entrance to those under 21.

Though the commission was voting on beer and wine being served, the subject of smoking became the centerpiece of discussion and public comment. City code does not give the commissioners the option to ban smoking establishments or to set smoking rules on a business. Such laws as to smoking in bars and restaurants are set by the state.

To open the hookah lounge without serving wine and beer, owner Soloman Wassef needed only a building permit. Commissioners Gow Fields and Justin Troller reminded the other commissioners of that fact. However, after what one citizen called “am emotionally charged anti-smoking” discussion, commissioners Howard Wiggs, Glenn Higgens, and Edie Yates joined Mayor Buddy Fletcher to vote against the conditional use permit to allow beer and wine sales.

Due to the need to revisit city business after the Utility Committee meeting, commissioners simply recessed the morning City Commission meeting. That made it easy under parliamentary procedures to offer an additional condition and re-vote on the permit. The second round was conducted without the larger audience of the morning session, and without the involvement of Mayor Fletcher and Commissioner Wiggs. The two had other appointments at the time of the second vote.

A short discussion and explanation of the scope of the commission’s powers from City Attorney Tim McCausland, led to the re-vote. With commissioners Yates and Higgens changing their votes, the remaining five commissioners voted unanimously approve the re-worded conditional use ordinance.

Anne Furr, executive director of Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, commented after the second vote that the LDDA had supported the hookah lounge as a downtown business, “Let the market decide if it is a good business.” She added that the hookah business concept was popular with the college age crowd and was offered as a business they would frequent, “We’re looking for things to keep young people in Lakeland.”

If you missed the commission meeting, you can find it online at LakelandGov.Net’s City Commission Meetings page. Look for the meeting entitled “City Commission Meeting 2009-12-21”

The second vote is included on the Utility Committee Meeting page. Look for the video entitled “Utility Committee Meeting 2009-12-21.” Jump to approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes into the video to see the discussion and re-vote.

Creative Commons License photo illustration credit: AjDele Photography