Monday, June 10, 2013

New Hookah Lounge Gets Planning Commission Approval

By Christina Georgiou

Mellow co-owner Ken Janowictz
A proposed hookah lounge was given a nod of approval by the City of Easton's Planning Commission Thursday evening, though with some conditions on its operation.

Mellow, which plans to open on South Second Street, will offer a casual atmosphere in which customers will enjoy smoking water pipes, steam stones, and "vaping", or electronic cigarettes, testified co-owner Ken Janowictz. The establishment will also sell related tobacco and equipment, but won't offer traditional cigarettes, cigars, or pipes, he added.

"It's hippie-chic, for lack of a better description," Janowictz said. "(Customers will) be served much like a regular restaurant."

The lounge will also offer prepackaged snacks and non-alcoholic beverages, but doesn't plan to compete with existing restaurants in Easton's Downtown district, though it's technically considered one for zoning purposes by the city.

Janowitz said the specialty establishment will offer more than 20 different flavors of hookah tobacco served tableside in two rooms at his new location.

"It's a different kind of experience," he said. "I don't mean to compete with Easton's restaurants. We're more of a place to go afterwards."

While Janowictz had hoped to be open until 3 a.m. on weekends, commissioners worried about noise and residents on the block being disturbed, and imposed a condition on their approval that Mellow only be open until 2 a.m.

Janowictz said while he does plan to have live acoustic music on some nights, he assured the board that the new establishment won't be a nuisance, whatever hours the city allowed.

"I'm not a night club," he said. "The business name being Mellow is descriptive. We want people to relax."

While the city doesn't have a specific zoning category for a hookah lounge, the new establishment's location is within the Downtown commercial district. The fact that South Second Street lies within the 500-year flood plain is the reason it's opening was brought before the city's planning commission at all, said city Planning Director Becky Bradley, adding that all new businesses or construction would be subject to review.

Some planning commissioners seemed unfamiliar with smoking tobacco through a water pipe, and much of the board questioned the practice, particularly whether a shared hookah served tableside would be sanitary.

Janowictz assured the board that fresh disposable mouthpiece tips would be used for each customer, and that since the practice of using such tips was instituted about 20 years ago, there have been no instances of any communicable diseases associated with smoking hookahs.

"You strike me as a knowledgeable, intelligent guy who has thought this through," Planning Commission Chairman Charles Elliot told Janowictz. "The only thing that gives me pause is the potential for noise."

But planning commissioner Ron Shipman said that the establishment wouldn't be very different from others already in the neighborhood, and that noise shouldn't be a major consideration.

"I think he's bringing a legitimate business proposal, and I'm a conservative old guy who didn't even know what these things were before tonight," he said. "I think when you choose to live're not living in a're living in a busy environment."

The new hookah lounge, Easton's first, was approved unanimously by the planning commission, though with the following conditions:
  • the establishment must close by 2 a.m.
  • the consumption of alcohol is prohibited on the premises
  • all patrons must present ID proving they are over 18 years of age
  • music must not be audible beyond the property line
Mellow hopes to open in the next couple of months, Janowictz said, after passing the next city regulatory hurdle, which is gaining the approval of the Easton Zoning Hearing Board for the new business.

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