City council members won’t try to regulate or outlaw a controversial Glenwood South hookah bar after getting advice from the city attorney.
For more than a year, residents of the Glenwood-Brooklyn neighborhood have blamed Sahara Hookah Cafe for noise and occasional violence from late-night partiers who park along their streets. They say some people smoke there after the bars close, then loudly head to their cars at 4 a.m. and wake neighbors.
Neighborhood leaders have asked for restrictions on the smoking lounge, but City Attorney Tom McCormick says Raleigh has no legal grounds to do it.
“I don’t see any rationale for the city to want to attempt to close this location or find it worthwhile to attempt to regulate hookah bars,” McCormick said, pointing to the lack of police incidents at Sahara.
“It’s not that there hasn’t been a problem in that neighborhood. It’s clearly coming from the entertainment district of Glenwood South.”
But Glenwood-Brooklyn resident Phil Poe says most who park in the area are hookah customers. And because Sahara stays open later than bars, the crowds stay longer.
“We’re concerned with this late-night activity that something ugly could happen,” he said, noting a recent shooting at a hookah bar on Capital Boulevard.
Since Poe and his neighbors first complained, the city has installed permit parking and stepped up police patrols. Many of the hookah customers have now taken their cars elsewhere, police Capt. Robert Council said.
“We’re having to write the tickets less and less,” he said. “I really believe that has had a significant impact.”
The increased parking restrictions could have unintended consequences. Partnership Elementary School now plans to close its parking lot, which Jenkins Memorial United Methodist Church uses for Sunday services. The church’s pastor has said the loss of parking could force it to close.
City council members say they can’t address that concern. School officials, according to Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin, “feel they need to do this to secure their facility. It’s not up to us to make that decision, it’s up to them.”
McCormick said he’ll meet with school leaders and the church to see if any compromise is possible.
Meanwhile, Poe thinks the city should tighten zoning rules to ensure that late-night businesses don’t come too close to neighborhoods. He said the Sahara situation highlights a much larger problem as nightlife continues to grow downtown.
“I think we’re getting really unbalanced with late-night businesses,” he said. “If we’re trying to build a residential population downtown, there’s got to be a better balance.
“If we don’t get them under control, we could find people moving away from downtown.”