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City Council OKs beer, wine sales at hookah lounge

SALISBURY — City Council members granted permission Tuesday for the new downtown hookah lounge to serve beer and wine, over the objections of neighbors who said they believe it is illegal.
State law prohibits smoking in restaurants and bars, so a hookah lounge should not be allowed to serve alcohol, argued Robert Crum and his wife Cherie Turner, who own property next door to King Tut Cafe and Hookah Lounge, located at 5 Easy Street.
The hookah lounge is tucked under and behind 118 E. Council St., which is next to Crum and Turner’s property at 116 E. Council St.
Crum and Turner have a long-standing dispute with Henry and Karen Alexander, who own 118 E. Council St. and 5 Easy Street.
Karen Alexander is a City Council member and former member of the Salisbury Planning Board, which recommended approval of the special use permit that allows beer and wine sales. She recused herself from Tuesday’s discussion and vote.
King Tut has been open and operating for two months. A hookah lounge, where people smoke flavored tobacco from a shared pipe, does not need approval from the city, but wine and beer sales do.
At previous meetings, Crum and Turner have argued that alcohol sales at King Tut would cause parking and other problems. On Tuesday, the couple focused on assertions that smoking is illegal in a bar or restaurant and smoking a hookah is as bad for you as smoking cigarettes.
But City Attorney Rivers Lawther said the city would only be issuing a zoning permit for alcohol sales, not approving the actual sale of beer and wine.
If the city grants the special use permit, “we have granted proper zoning for them to make application to the ABC board,” he said.
The city does not issue ABC permits or do health inspections, Lawther said, and if the business doesn’t meet state regulations, the ABC board could pull the lounge’s permit or health officials could shut it down.
“The city is not the arbiter on what’s smoking and what’s not smoking,” he said.
City Planner Trey Cleaton said from city staff perspective, a hookah lounge is a retail establishment similar to a cigar shop or coffee shop — a place where people buy a product and enjoy it on the premises.
King Tut sells some prepackaged food and drinks, but the business is not inspected as a restaurant by the health department, he said.
Crum, who said he studied law for two years but is not a lawyer, said he believes state law is clear and he plans to file a complaint with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
Turner said she found several examples of hookah bars that were forced to close because they were serving alcohol.
A Google search turned up many hookah bars in North Carolina that feature alcohol on their menu.
Several people spoke in favor of beer and wine at King Tut, including Clyde, who only uses one name and owns property near the lounge.
He chastised the city for making the business wait two months and endure four lengthy meetings to obtain a special use permit. The city’s new One Stop Shop for Development, which is supposed to help businesses open faster, failed King Tut, Clyde said.
“It’s not one stop, it’s been four stops,” he said.
Clyde, who has a long-standing dispute with Crum and Turner, noted that several other organizations in the Easy Street area serve beer and wine, including Waterworks and Salisbury Depot.
“Everybody on that block has beer and wine,” he said. “… It’s not fair to have a new business come to Salisbury and have him to go through this.”
King Tut owner Hamdy Kishk, whose original location is in Charlotte, did not speak. But manager Ryan Stultz said the business meets all requirements of the special use permit, and employees would take an online course to help detect when someone’s had too much to drink and how to intervene.
When the Planning Board recommended that City Council approve the permit, members said Crum and Turner did not prove that alcohol sales at King Tut would lower the value of their property.
Councilman Brian Miller said if there is a health issue with a hookah lounge serving alcohol, it’s not the purview of City Council.
Miller said he sympathized with Crum and Turner.
“I wouldn’t want it next door to me,” he said.
Miller encouraged the neighbors to work out their differences and said Tuesday’s public hearing “felt more like a dispute between property owners than it does anything else.”
The special use permit is granted to the property, not the business. So if King Tut leaves 5 Easy Street, a new tenant would have permission to sell beer and wine as well.
Contact Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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