After seeing a video of a late-night fight in the school parking lot, officials at Partnership Elementary School plan to block off the campus to keep out the Glenwood South party crowd on weekends.
The closure is the latest development in the Glenwood-Brooklyn neighborhood’s long-running battle against the undesirable side of downtown growth: noisy, drunken bar customers parking along residential streets.
Neighbors say the Sahara Hookah Cafe – open until 4 a.m. on Peace Street – is to blame, and they’d like to see it shut down. But city leaders note that police have seen few disturbances at the business, making it hard to regulate.
“We’ve had problems with late-night bar hoppers that leave Sahara Hookah Cafe when it closes,” Linda Harris, pastor of Jenkins Memorial United Methodist Church, wrote to the city council recently.
“They eat, drink, play loud music, engage in sexual activity on the playground equipment behind the church, they urinate on the lawn, and they leave beer bottles and trash on the lawn.”
Harris worries that blocking off the school’s lot won’t solve the problem, but severely limit Sunday morning church parking.
“Our concern is that if we have no parking, the church would have to close and the property sold,” she wrote.
City Councilman Thomas Crowder said Tuesday that Partnership’s move is “treating the symptoms instead of the cause ... We still have the impacts whether you close the parking lot or not.”
Crowder and neighborhood leader Phil Poe want to consider an alternative: an ordinance currently under review in Fayetteville that would limit the location of hookah bars and other tobacco businesses.
They’ve asked City Attorney Tom McCormick to research the proposed Fayetteville ordinance to see if it would work in Raleigh. Fayetteville’s rule would require tobacco businesses to be a certain distance apart; the military town counts 61 such businesses, and the regulation could force about 10 of them to close, according to the Fayetteville Observer.
“Hopefully the school system will be willing to delay closing their parking lot until an ordinance is passed,” Crowder wrote in an email to Jenkins Church. “I am very disturbed your church and the Glenwood-Brooklyn neighborhood have been put in this position.”
But Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin cautioned that solving the problem might not be so simple. “This is a complex legal issue,” she wrote to Crowder. “We are limited by the state on what we can and cannot do to regulate hookah bars.”
Neighbors first complained about late-night crowds from Sahara a year ago. Since then, Glenwood-Brooklyn has instituted permit parking, and police have seen fewer problems at the hookah bar.
“Things are about 90 percent better since they instituted the permit parking,” Baldwin said Tuesday. “We are dealing with facts and working with the police department.”
Baldwin and several other council members will hold a hearing on the issue at the Aug. 19 law and public safety committee meeting, which is held in Room 305 at City Hall.