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Cigar lounge tries again in Seven Fields

Council chooses to wait to vote

SEVEN FIELDS — In an extensive hearing Monday, borough council listened to the case for why a proposed cigar lounge should be permitted in the borough.

Club Leaf & Bean, which has a cigar lounge in North Strabane Township, Washington County, asked officials in September for permission to move into the borough. However, the answer will not come for at least another two weeks.

Monday's conditional-use hearing provided some changed details on the business, which will consist of a members-only smoking lounge and a retail space. The club's attorney, Kenneth Foltz, said it would contain about 150 types of cigars.

This is part of the business's attempt to be granted use as a retail establishment. In its first attempt, the club tried to obtain approval as a private club, but the borough's definition of that use is restricted to nonprofits.

Residents opposed

At an earlier hearing, borough residents spoke against the business, which would be located at the former site of Hines Ward's Table 86, arguing it would be a bad influence on children. They also believe the bring-your-own alcohol policy could lead to disastrous effects.

This week, Foltz began by saying the borough needs to base its decision on what is required by the ordinance, rather than “bizarre questions and insinuations” he claimed were rampant at the September meeting.

“The role of the borough here, in this matter, is not to utilize or inflict their vision on a business that wants to come into the community, but just to apply the law,” he said. “If they're legally permitted to be in the community, they should have an opportunity to do so.”

Foltz said questions at the September meeting, which he noted were “regarding prostitution, illicit drugs, things of that nature,” were “defamatory” to the business, which he added simply wants to operate a business that's been successful in other locations.

He also seemed to imply, without introducing any evidence to support a claim, that members of council had been advocating against the business. Foltz went on to stress council's role is to act as an independent, adjudicative body in deciding the request based on its legal merits, and “not to act as an advocate for or against the project in the community.”

“And if there are any members of council (who) have been advocating in the community against the applicants' request, we request that those individuals recuse themselves from the vote this evening on the hearing,” Foltz challenged.

During the public comment portion of the hearing, Seven Fields residents again aired concerns about the business, with questions about whether the establishment's patrons would be drinking at the business and then driving afterward.

Alcohol issues

Al Servello, who said he was a former law enforcement officer, raised concerns about the business being open 24/7.

Gary Koch spoke vehemently about the potential alcohol issue. “If anybody votes for that, that's wrong,” Koch said. “Somebody goes out there, causes an accident, kills somebody, hurts somebody; they're not going to haul them away. They should come to your home, haul you away.”

Servello is married to borough council vice president Dawn Servello and Koch, who used the word “we” while discussing a survey of neighbors and their positions regarding the bar, is married to council president Kim Regan-Koch.

Megan Turnbull, who serves as the borough's solicitor, asked each member of council if they were able to vote impartially, to which each of them answered affirmatively.

The business changed some details from its January planning commission hearing on how it would conduct business.

In January, Foltz said there would be an attendant at the club who would interact with members of the public during retail hours and work around 20 hours per week, but Monday he told council there would be more than three full-time equivalent employees stationed at the club.

That's a change of plans from its Washington County location, which is restricted to members. At the proposed Seven Fields location, Foltz said, a membership fee would cost about $200 per month.

Following a half-hour executive session, council elected to not vote Monday, but instead wait for at least two weeks to adjudicate the matter. The municipality can legally take up to 45 days from the conditional-use hearing to take action.

“Council wishes to consider this matter of great community interest carefully and deliberately,” Regan-Koch said. “We are going to review the record and transcript before taking action. Council will invoke its right under the municipality's planning code to adjudicate at a later public meeting that will likely be in two weeks.”