Fort Collins won’t shut down its two existing hookah bars, but restrictions that could prevent new ones from flourishing will be put in place, the Fort Collins City Council finally decided early Wednesday.
After putting off the issue for weeks, council members decided to “grandfather” the two current hookah bars – Narghile Nights on College Avenue and Algiers on Laurel Street – allowing them to maintain the size of their smoking lounges.
The vote was 4-3, with Diggs Brown, David Roy and Kurt Kastein voting no.
“My prediction is, with the folks involved, they’ll be doing something else three years from now anyway, so if we grandfather them and not allow any more, I think it’s the wisest policy,” said councilmember Kelly Ohlson.
This way, council reasoned, the health of the city’s citizens could be taken into account while at the same time not shutting down existing businesses.
However, the ordinance places limits on future tobacco businesses. Shops can be no larger than 2,500 square feet, and rather than a lounge, these shops will only be allowed to use 20 percent of their retail space as a sampling area. Narghile Nights and Algiers cannot expand their lounge areas.
Aria Khosravi, co-owner of Narghile Nights, said a restriction on lounge space would have been devastating to his business.
The Council had a few options. In addition to the one chosen, it could have allowed new hookah bars to open without restriction.
Members had varying stances.
“Smoking is not an illegal activity,” said councilmember Kurt Kastein. “We don’t make that call. Government doesn’t have the guts to make that call, so we should allow it to occur.”
A hookah is a large pipe that works as a water-filtration device and allows its users to smoke flavored tobacco.
Councilmember Ben Manvel was concerned about the health of employees of the hookah bars.
“It’s not going to be the same type of exposure that a hookah smoker is going to have,” he said. “It’s going to be more hours a day, day after day, instead of one hour a week.”
Kastein, who voted against the measure because he didn’t favor any restrictions against these businesses, disagreed.
“I don’t think anyone can sort of happen into a job where there’s smoking when the sign on the store says it’s a tobacco store and smoking is allowed,” he said.
Staff writer Heather Hawkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.