A Tempe hookah lounge no longer can offer customers pulls of flavored tobacco from water pipes after the City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to yank its permit.
But HB Tobacco, 53 E. Broadway Road, was tripped up by city code, rather than neighbors’ complaints about the possible damage done to the community. Opponents of the lounge repeatedly made reference to the proximity of Tempe High School to the business.
According to city staff, in late 2006 HB owner Anis Ben Harzallah landed a permit to act as a tobacco retailer only after agreeing no smoking would take place on the premises. But in March of this year, a complaint was lodged against the business that smoking hookah was, in fact, taking place. That’s when Harzallah began the process to amend the original use permit.
The Date Palm Manor neighborhood association tried twice before to have the permit pulled, but was denied by a hearing officer in May and again by the Development Review Commission in July.
However, the council seemed to be tripped up by the fact that smoking hookah should never have been going on there to begin with. Harzallah even admitted to this, but he was misinformed by city officials and other hookah lounges, he said.
“Do you not find that as the basis of our problem?” Mayor Hugh Hallman asked Harzallah and his attorney.
The appellant, homeowner association chairman Steve Stewart, had challenged the council to prove it was willing to forgo revenue to promote health and morals.
But that argument went nowhere with the mayor.
“I have to tell you, I find that pretty offensive,” Hallman said. “I can think of lots of reasons why somebody would approve this that have nothing to do with city revenue; you might believe in private property rights.”
Harzallah has said he would not let the matter drop and he would pursue it in the future.