In a split 3-2 vote, Hattiesburg City Council members have taken from the table and approved a request for conditional use to allow a property at 340 North 25th Avenue to operate as a hookah bar.
The item was discussed at the June 21 council meeting, where Council President Carter Carroll and Vice President Mary Dryden voiced their disapproval of the conditional use. The next day, Carroll and Dryden voted against the measure, which allows the operation of the bar in a B-2 (neighborhood business) zone.
“There are good reasons why this area was zoned B-2, which is designated for professional offices and similar businesses,” Dryden said. “In this case, it is a buffer between a heavily trafficked business corridor and a residential street.
“There are many reasons not to put a bar in this location: it is across from a day care center, the parking is insufficient, it would add to the already congested intersection with vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and it would diminish the quality of life for the residents with additional traffic and noise. It could exacerbate an already challenging situation for law enforcement.”
As a condition of the hookah bar’s opening, council members added three stipulations as follows:
- The establishment will not be allowed to stay open past midnight;
- The proprietors must obtain the appropriate licenses from the state in order to sell alcohol or allow alcohol to be consumed on the premises; and
- The owners will not be allowed to obtain a dance hall permit.
“Also, there is a building code issue that will limit their occupancy to 25, unless they end up making some alterations that might open that up more,” said Andrew Ellard, director of the Hattiesburg Urban Development Department. “As it sits right now, occupancy can be no more than 25.”
Alexandria Flowers and April Warnsley, who filed the request for conditional use, met on May 10 with the Hattiesburg Planning Commission, which recommended the approval of that measure. Warnsley said she and Flowers proposed opening the hookah bar in order to create a small setting as an alternative to larger club atmospheres in the city.
The establishment will allow for hookah smoking and on-premises beer/light wine sales, with the appropriate license. Hookahs must be smoked outdoors, per a Hattiesburg ordinance that prohibits smoking inside public establishments.
“The planning commission specifically called it a ‘hookah bar,’ and the land code doesn’t define what a hookah bar is,” Ellard said. “So (the owners) applied as a ‘club or bar’ for conditional use – that was the closest thing, definition-wise, in the land code that we could match it up to.
“But then the planning commission chose to be very specific in their recommendation, and said hookah bar only. So if it ceases to be a hookah bar, in other words, it couldn’t just become a regular run-of-the-mill bar.”
The matter came up before council in late May, but Dryden requested to table it, saying her main concern is a lack of parking at the site. Currently, there are four spots in front of the building, two of which will be used by an adjacent business.
According to a document submitted to the planning commission, a total of eight parking spaces are required, and the remaining spaces will be accommodated by the adjacent site. One parking spot will be compatible with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and one loading space will be provided.
“I have talked with both (Flowers and Warnsley),” Dryden said. “This is not a ‘who’ question – this is a ‘what’ and ‘where’ question for us as a council.
“We are being asked to make a decision about zoning and planning. I applaud these women for their desire to become entrepreneurs, (but) this is not an appropriate location for their business.”
The building is currently vacant; its last use was as barber shop in 2020.