WILKES-BARRE — Plans for the city’s second hookah bar moved forward Wednesday when the city’s Zoning Hearing Board approved a proposal by Mr. Pizza to add lounges for smoking flavored tobacco from water pipes at the bar and restaurant on the edge of the downtown.
Over the objections of people who live in the area of Mr. Pizza, located at 219-225 S. Main St., the four-member board voted unanimously for the expansion sought by Nabil Abualburak in his third attempt.
The opening could take as long as year as Abualburak must obtain approvals for an expanded liquor license, building permits and hire contractors for the estimated $150,000 project.
Abualburak, who appeared at the hearing with his son, Ali, and attorney Richard Bishop told the board he would have pressed for the expansion if his application was again not approved.
His business would remain open, he said, adding, “but if you deny it, we’re going to go farther to trying to get it approved.”
Neighbors complained the business was not managed properly as evidenced by the arrests for public drunkenness outside it as recently as August. They questioned how the owners could ensure people under the legal drinking age of 21 allowed to smoke in the underage area would not be permitted to drink in the other smoking area where alcoholic beverages would be served.
Ali Abualburak responded that identification would be checked before anyone can enter the lounges. One would be for people between the ages of 18 and 20. The other one where alcoholic beverages would be served would be for people 21 and older.
Ali Abualburak, a student at Penn State University in State College, said hookah bars are popular with college students. He said Mr. Pizza’s would look to attract students from nearby Wilkes University and King’s College.
Prices are going to rise with the opening of the lounges, he said. “New clientele is going to be coming into here,” Abualburak said.
Bishop argued the business has met the board’s requirements and pointed out the Crimson Lion Hookah Lounge was in operation nearby on East South Street. Parking, which had been an obstacle to approval in the past, was taken care of with a five-year lease to park in a lot across the street.
The board approved a request by Scott Seeherman, owner of the lot, to clean it and cover it with crushed stone to accommodate up to 48 vehicles. However, the approval had a two-year limit, at which time the lot’s owner would have to reapply to the board.
Still the residents who attended the hearing were disappointed with decision on Mr. Pizza.
“This is a sad day,” said Ann Lewis, a resident of West River Street.