Businessman wants to open hookah bar

Public hearing scheduled to amend Front Royal zoning regulations

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL – Front Royal leaders are being asked to change local zoning rules to allow hookah bars and smoking lounges in certain parts of town.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing Wednesday on a proposal to amend the zoning regulations by adding “smoking lounge” to the uses allowed in two commercial districts with a special permit. The commission has discussed the matter at previous meetings and may consider changing the town code.

Antoine “Tony” Tahan sought to open a smoking lounge at 231 Chester St. The town denied his request for a zoning permit because smoking lounges are not a permitted use in the C-2 district. Town code does not allow smoking lounges in any district.

Tahan then went through the regular process by which a person can ask the town to consider amending its code. In his March 6 letter to the Planning Commission and Town Council, Tahan described a hookah lounge as “a place where people go and smoke cigars and different flavors of tobacco and have social conversations.”

Tahan states that hookah bars continue to grow more popular in part because many colleges in the country no longer allow smoking either indoors or outside on campus. Tahan adds that his business could attract more customers as a hookah lounge. Front Royal is losing business to Winchester and Manassas where hookah bars are allowed, Tahan notes.

Director of Planning and Zoning Jeremy Camp said Monday the commission could forward a recommendation to Town Council either to adopt the code change or not. Council then would need to hold its own public hearing and take two readings on the proposal to implement the code change.

Should council adopt the code amendmen, then applicants such as Tahan could apply for a special-use permit.

A draft of the amendment defines a smoking lounge as an establishment or facility used for the on-premises smoking of legal substances, including tobacco. The definition would classify all establishments that allow the use of smoking pipes, commonly known as hookahs, waterpipes, shishas or narghiles as smoking lounges. Such establishments are not permitted within 1,000 feet of a public school. The lounges must be appropriately ventilated to prevent smoke from becoming a nuisance to adjoining uses, buildings or properties, the draft states.

Camp said the code would also prohibit smoking lounges within a certain distance of day care centers. Camp said the commission had not yet considered adding age restrictions in the draft code changes but such conditions could be included in a special-use permit.

If adopted, the code would allow smoking lounges in the C-1 and C-2 business districts with an approved special-use permit. The C-2 district encompasses much of the downtown area. Large portions of Commerce, Royal and Shenandoah avenues fall in the C-1 district. The proposed restrictions on distance from schools and day cares could keep smoking lounges out of many sections of town, Camp said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com