An application for a hookah bar in downtown Merced is expected to go before the City Council after the Planning Commission failed to approve or deny the proposal Wednesday night.
Planning Commission concerns over approving the project have centered around the proposed location of the establishment, between several eateries on Main Street.
“There are businesses there that are established that are food businesses,” said Commissioner Mary Ward. “I do know that smoke odors travel.”
Ghaleb Jaber, project manager of the proposed business, has said he will appeal the commission’s decision to the City Council.
“(Nearby business owners) had a concern, but they were OK when I explained to them the smoke will never come to their building because it’s going through the ventilation and through the roof,” he said.
No local business owners attended Wednesday’s meeting.
During past meetings, the adverse affects of tobacco were discussed as a reason for rejecting the proposal.
Commissioner Kimberly Madayag said that this line of reasoning violates the Planning Commissions mandate.
“I probably wouldn’t patronize the hookah bar, but I’m not going to stand in their way. We’re not supposed to consider the health conditions. And that’s why I’m voting for it.”
Planning Commission Chair Travis Colby and Commissioner Dwight Amey, who have spoken out against the project based on health concerns in the past, expressed ambivalence over the project.
“I cannot make a motion one way or another,” said Colby.
At the same time, several UC Merced students spoke out in favor of the project.
“There’s not adequate entertainment options for individuals such as myself, a young adult from a metropolitan city,” said Christiane Okafor-Ize, who attends UC Merced. “This business should be given a chance to succeed, like many other businesses.”
“As a young person growing up here, we’re a very bored group of people,” said Sarah Millhoff, a UC Merced student and Merced native. “The youth of this town really have the power to revitalize downtown. By making it fun for us down there, we’ll spend money down there.”
The Planning Commission was deadlocked after Amey abstained from motions to approve and deny the project, and Colby voted against both motions.
At a meeting two weeks ago, the commission voted 4-3 against approving the proposal, with Colby, Amey, Ward and Carole McCoy in the majority. The rejection stands for now.
The business proposal is for a hookah lounge and dance club for those 18 and older at 435 W. Main St., east of Canal Street. No alcohol sales would be permitted.
At a hookah lounge, water pipes are used to smoke flavored tobacco. Hookahs traditionally are used by smokers in parts of the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. Hookah lounges and cafes can be found across the United States.
The next City Council meeting will be held Aug. 20 at 7 p.m. in the City Council chambers inside the Merced Civic Center, 678 W. 18th St.