Written by Carol Frank Wednesday, 14 August 2013 00:00
In the weeks following the Village of Great Neck’s approval for a hookah lounge with outdoor seating, neighbors who were unaware of the proposed business, have bombarded the village hall with phone calls and letters protesting the board’s decision.
Mayor Ralph Kreitzman has held two meetings with residents and even more attended a regular village meeting, to impress upon the board their concerns.
The concerns are twofold: First, the health consequences of outdoor smoking, the potential for dangerous traffic snarls and late-night noise... all resulting in quality of life issues. The second concern goes toward a broader issue, the flow and quality of communication between village government and residents.
Residents worry that the outdoor smoke will drift toward nearby apartment buildings and have adverse health risks for neighbors who like to keep their windows open during pleasant weather conditions or for those strolling in the vicinity.
Some of the neighbors protesting already have family members with respiratory issues and they fear that the outdoor smoke, containing tar, carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, volatile alderhydes will only exacerbate their problems. Even though the hookah lounge owner has promised that the material to be smoked does not contain tobacco, independent researchers agree that the only significant difference in health consequences is that tobacco contains nicotine, an addictive additive.
While New York State has passed laws governing the smoking of tobacco in public venues, it has not passed any laws limiting the smoking of dried fruits or “herbal” concoctions in gathering places. According to Mayor Ralph Kreitzman, the lack of any laws pertaining to smoke from non-tobacco products was a major stumbling block in limiting or regulating the hookah lounge.
During a meeting with residents on the morning of August 7, Mayor Kreitzman along with village attorney, Steven Limmer discussed the issues and the background with residents. Mayor Kreitzman explained that originally the proposal was to use the space for a catering hall seating 250 patrons which raised all sorts of red flags to the board about parking, traffic, and noise.
After two public meetings in May, well attended by neighbors, when all these issues were thrashed out, the landlord dropped the idea and came back with the proposal for a hookah lounge in July. According to Mr. Limmer, since this was a “continuing” application that became modified, there was no legal requirement that the village send out new certified letters alerting residents to the new proposal.
The mayor summarized, “According to our zoning code, a hookah lounge falls under restaurant requirements in the category of a conditional use permit...We can set a number of reasonable conditions to minimize the impact. In hindsight, we would have perhaps set more restrictions if neighbors had turned out for the hookah lounge public hearing on July 16.”
A legal notice was posted in the Great Neck Record regarding the public hearing on the hookah lounge; however, no one in the vicinity of Middle Neck Road and Piccadilly noticed it and the public hearing was sparsely attended.
Resident Harris Brodsky countered, “With all due respect, there was a lack of transparency...when you have something with so many health hazards, right across the street from two synagogues, it should have been looked at more carefully...it’s not legally wrong, but it is morally wrong.”
Both the mayor and the attorney emphasized that the board could not prohibit smoking on private property because non-tobacco smoking products have not been banned by state law.
Mayor Kreitzman said, “All of you know that we don’t like smoking and that’s why we banned it on the sidewalks where we do have jurisdiction...but I do have to abide by the law. If we had not given permission for the lounge and it was appealed, we would have lost in court...at great expense.”
Steve Limmer added, “That is what happened to Mayor Bloomberg when he wanted to ban large soda drinks due to obesity. The court overruled him.”
The mayor went on to note that no music will be permitted outside and the tables must only seat 4 since large tables of people tend to be rowdier. The hours for the outside seating are more limited than for the interior seating. The outdoor seating during the week is from noon to 10 p.m. and from sundown until midnight on Saturdays. The lounge will be closed on Fridays and Jewish holidays.
Depending on the popularity of the lounge, the village retains the right to require valet parking in addition to security personnel already required.
The mayor clarified that the outdoor seating will have a trial run. Prior to October of 2014, the applicant must ask for a renewal. At that time, if the board has determined that there has been a significant negative impact on the neighborhood, they can revoke the permit for outdoor seating.
The board will review the fencing and the exact seating set-ups. The trees on the plaza will remain.
The landlord has been asked to ban youth under the age of 18 from the premises.
While the residents were most upset that the approval is a “done deal,” the mayor urged them to notify village officials if they observe violations after the lounge opens. He said, “Please document the date, time and any particulars and let us know...don’t wait until next fall when we’re reviewing the renewal. Keep us posted.”
He also announced that agendas for trustees’ meetings will be posted on the village website within the next month and that for those residents not online, hard copy agendas are available in village hall on the Mondays before Tuesday meetings.