WILKES-BARRE – The city Zoning Hearing Board on Wednesday denied the request of a South Main Street business owner to open a hookah bar and expand the seating for his existing pizza shop.
Nabil Abualburak said he would wait for the written decision of the board to decide his next move. He can appeal the decision to Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas.
Abualburak, who owns Mr. Pizza, said he planned to spend between $100,000 and $150,000 on the bar and expansion, add 10 employees and a security guard.
The hookah bar would not be in conflict with his business where he sells beer, he told the board. An employee would guide patrons to where they wanted to go, he said. The hookah bar would cater to students from Wilkes University, who make up a good portion of his customers, he said.
Wilkes students who live above the pizza shop testified in favor of the bar, at which patrons would smoke flavored tobacco from a water pipe. They also supported Abualburak's plans to add pool tables and a computer area for them to do their homework.
But members of the Downtown Residents Association and the owner of an adjacent property opposed the plans, complaining of vandalism, panhandling by people outside the pizza shop and a citation to Mr. Pizza & Quick Stop for selling beer to a minor in 2010.
Pat Parks, an association member, said the Crimson Lion Hookah Lounge nearby on East South Street is well-run and was concerned about the effects of a competitor. I think you're going to jeopardize that business, she said.
The board heard nearly an hour of testimony before voting 4-0 against the special exception sought by Abualburak to establish the bar and also waive a requirement for 31 more parking spaces for the 80 additional seats in the pizza shop.