By ZEINAB NAJM
HEIGHTS — The City Council voted 5-2 July 9 to override Mayor Daniel Paletko’s veto on a proposed ordinance that would limit the number of smoking lounges to seven in the city.
Because five council members voted yes the super veto prevents the mayor from future vetoes of the proposed ordinance. Councilmen Dave Abdallah and Robert Constan voted no.
Paletko’s letter to the council listed three notable, actual and potential problems with the smoking lounge ordinance as well as a summary of why he vetoed the motion.
“The ordinance improperly seeks to stifle competition for the benefit of existing businesses, but to the determent of the city and its residents,” the letter read. “The ordinance appears to have arisen from corruption; and it will lead to further corruption. There are numerous, extremely significant legal problems and potential legal problems with the ordinance.”
Paletko also requested that the council reconsider and decline to readopt the motion adopting the ordinance. During the council meeting Paletko explained his rationale for the veto citing that he checked with Police Chief Dan Voltattorni and that there are no problems at any of the existing hookah lounges.
Paletko said the biggest concern he had was that both the city’s attornies and the applicant’s attorney told the council and city that the ordinance is defective.
“It needs to go through the Planning Commission and that is an important thing under state law,” Paletko said. “So I will be recommending to the Planning Commission that they take this matter up and when they do and pass it, that’s when it’s going to be an effective ordinance. I’m concerned that this thing isn’t worth the paper it’s written on because the rules haven’t been followed.”
He also added that the ordinance was a restraint on trade.
“Why seven? Why not five? Why — it allows the existing ones to be instituted in,” Paletko said. “What that will mean is like we have with liquor licenses there’s only so many so now you add a premium to that in an owner of an existing hookah lounge might have half a million dollar improvement as a result of this ordinance.”
A second reading of the ordinance was read and approved 4-2 at the June 25 council meeting, which was followed by a study session on the topic. Abdallah and Constan voted no and Councilwoman Lisa Hicks-Clayton was absent from the meeting. Corporate Counsel Gary Miotke said the second reading puts the ordinance into effect after it’s published.
According to the findings and purpose of the smoking lounge ordinance, “the city council finds that based on the characteristics of the use and past experience with these uses, a need has emerged to develop regulations to protect public health, safety and welfare applicable to smoking lounge and facilities commonly described as tobacco retail specialty stores, cigar bars, 0 percent nicotine establishments, hookah lounges and bars and other smoking facilities by any other name, that may desire to operate within the city.”
During the July 8 meeting, Miotke said Paletko’s veto was accurate with regard to all the legal aspects that were stated.
“If people opposed hookah lounges or smoking lounges of this sort then they need to recognize the opinion that I gave and the opinion that was reiterated,” he said. “This will violate the Zoning Enabling Act, we’ve already said. There are numerous other issues so if this body wants to end up doing something about hookah or smoking lounges it needs to follow the law, that is a very important consideration and if this body overrides the veto we are going to have some very serious legal problems.”
According to the state of Michigan, the act is one “to codify the laws regarding local units of government regulating the development and use of land; to provide for the adoption of zoning ordinances; to provide for the establishment in counties, townships, cities, and villages of zoning districts; to prescribe the powers and duties of certain officials; to provide for the assessment and collection of fees; to authorize the issuance of bonds and notes; to prescribe penalties and provide remedies; and to repeal acts and parts of acts.”
Before the veto override vote, residents voiced their opinions on the new hookah lounge being constructed on Ford Road and Telegraph Road named Sky Lounge. The owner, Ayman Taleb, also has similar businesses in Dearborn and Detroit.
Attorney Amir Makled, representing Taleb, was the first to speak and reiterated his comments made at the June 25 meeting that the adoption of the ordnance would be an issue for the city.
“As an attorney representing somebody who’s already had an approved building permit and somebody who has had plans submitted to the city, this is going to desperately impact the city of Dearborn Heights and lead to litigation for the city of Dearborn Heights,” he said. “This is something that will be challenged in court.
“Secondly, I anticipate that many members of the community are going to come out and speak against the client that I represent today, most of these — well conceivably all of the comments — are going to be without merit and I challenge this council to do a hearing on this issue. If anybody is going to be using these comments to make a decision in their determination today, I’d like to have a hearing to challenge these people and challenge the veracity of their statements and what they’re going to say.”
Taleb answered questions regarding concerns about permits and plans, but did not say if the new location has a state license to operate the hookah lounge.
“We had plans and approved permits as the Building Department says so we did the right things — like apply for the right permits and everything and we got approved for everything and it’s supposed to be a hookah lounge,” he said. “I do understand other competitors and where they’re coming from regarding, you know, bringing out almost the biggest lounge to the city of Dearborn Heights. I do see what they’re kind of scared of taking a business from them which is understandable, so I would be scared of Walgreens across if I’m CVS.”
Interim Building Department Director Jack McIntyre said he was offended that some people were suggesting that there was some kind of corruption involved and that anybody who knows him knows he’s the least corrupt person there is.
“We didn’t do anything in the Building Department that was malicious,” he said. “We didn’t do anything that was contradictory to any procedure. This gentleman came forward and he filled out a building permit, he filed out this permit back in October and eventually in November, before a moratorium was even suggested.
“In the application he says that the tenant space will be a build out for a hookah lounge, improvements by adding windows. We knew at that time his process was going to take a while, but we did issue permits right at that point in time. Particularly he wanted to install some windows and doors before the winter months so those permits were granted.”
Most of the concerns from the residents were about how many lounges were in the city based on its size, the need for other types of businesses, impact on the economy or community, issues the new lounge could bring to the surrounding neighborhoods, smoking tobacco health risks and the construction still taking place at the site.
Sandra Pustelnik, a 15-year resident, said the state currently has 275 smoking exemptions assigned, and of that number only 150 are active.
According to her research she got from the state, that the city’s population of 60,000 is approximately 1 percent of Michigan, and based on per capita data that would equate to one hookah lounge for Dearborn Heights.
“The reason for the ordinance is obvious due to the size of this city and the need for other types of businesses and not more hookah lounges,” Pustelnik said. “We can have farmer’s markets, we can have other types of businesses, we don’t have to have a hookah lounge.’
Another resident, Zouher Abdel-hak said during the previous meeting he brought papers and told the council the ordinance must benefit the community, promote the safety of the community and promote the businesses of the community.
“It’s not done for one person or against one person or one group,” he said. “The only thing you need to decide tonight is — does this hookah lounge fit in the place where it’s going to open? Does it fit with the environment around it? Does it benefit the city and its residents? Does it improve the area and the economy in that area or not?
“Those are the things you need to decide on and nothing else, no matter who says yes or no or what happened. I believe our safety and our city deserve this city council to make the right decision.”
During the June 25 meeting, Paletko informed the council that the Sky Lounge, under construction at the intersection of Ford and Telegraph roads, obtained a certificate of occupancy to build a hookah lounge after it began the process with the city last year before a 180-day moratorium was established about six months ago.
Bazzi said at the same meeting the reason for the ordinance is other cities have had issues with hookah lounges and that the council is trying to be proactive to not have issues in the near future. One of those cities is Dearborn which put a cap on hookah lounges at 15 in 2015.
The Dearborn Heights has seven hookah lounges which Bazzi listed as 4 Season Hookah, 25022 W. Warren; Blue Moon Hookah Lounge, 6125 N. Telegraph Road; Cigar & Cigarette Shop, 22226 Van Born Road; The Lava Lounge, 26507 Ford Road; The Lava Lounge Too, 23300 Ford Road; Royalty Nights Hookah Lounge, 7090 Garling Drive; and Wave Lounge, 24302 W. Warren Ave.
Abdallah asked if Cigar & Cigarette Shop was actually a lounge and not just a product shop because he wasn’t aware of it, in which Bazzi responded that it has a license.
Based on the Cigar & Cigarette Shop reviews on Google the business only sells products and does not operate as a hookah lounge.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)