A traditional hookah lounge is stuck between a rock and a hard place – namely Fraser Health and the city -- meanwhile their business is going up in smoke.
Hafez Tea House recently moved locations and has a business license pending, but because of the smoking bylaw requiring a smoking room in its premises, the family who owns the now closed hookah lounge appealed to council to fix the bylaw at Monday night's meeting.
In 2004, the business had run into the same issue of being shut down by Fraser Health, who enforces the city's smoking bylaw, but council was able to make an exception so the business could operate.
"I'm here today speaking on behalf of my family, to be granted an exemption from the city bylaw enforced by Fraser Health Authority that is holding us back from operating our traditional tea house that has been part of the Burnaby community for about 12 years approximately," Honeyeh Adibi-Larijani, daughter of the tea house owner, said to council.
Adibi-Larijani noted the purpose of the business is to provide hookah and Persian tea to its patrons in a traditional setting that replicates the Middle East, Turkey, India and Egypt.
"The reason why we're here today is because earlier this year, shortly after our licence was renewed by the city, our landlord sold the building we were operating out of and the new owner refused to renew our licence that was expiring, in order to redevelop," she said. "So after 12 years of operating out of that location, we were forced to relocate."
The tea house found a new location near the corner of Sperling Avenue and Hastings Street, Adibi-Larijani said, but history repeated itself and the business once again needs an exemption from the smoking bylaw.
"We don't have non-smokers that enter our premises," she said. "They're entering an establishment that is strictly for smoking. If we build a separate smoking room, our patrons will only be restricted to smoke, and we will not be permitted to serve water or tea, which is an integral part of the traditional tea house, and that's why we call it a tea house."
Adibi-Larijani said building a smoking room would not only isolate customers, but come at a huge cost for her family to build, ventilate and keep heated.
"We believe that it will severely alter the culture aspect of the tea house, as the seating provided consists of cushioned benches, and our patrons will essentially be staring at a wall rather than each other, what they're used to, if a wall is built to separate the room."
Mayor Derek Corrigan said businesses in Burnaby have gone through these issues in the past, such as pubs that needed smoking sections, which were later prohibited.
"The provincial government then said they can have smoking rooms," he said, noting legions and clubs retrofitted their buildings for them, at a cost. "Then the provincial government decided that in fact, smoking rooms were not permitted and so all of them lost the investment that they had put in."
Corrigan noted the changes happened within a few years of each other, and the businesses did not have the time to bounce back from it.
"(There was) no time for them to be able to regain that investment that they put in, so this is not something that we haven't dealt with before, which is the regulations that are imposed on cities by Fraser Health," he said.
Corrigan noted that he too was confused over why Port Moody and Vancouver could make exemptions for traditional hookah lounges, but Burnaby staffers have told him Fraser Health will not permit them.
Lou Pelletier, director of planning and building, said Port Moody and Vancouver accommodated tea houses through an amendment in their smoking bylaws.
"We have to level an investigation to look into an amendment and take that through a correction process, to see if that would be approved at a correction level," he said, adding that Fraser Health may have to approve it.
Burnaby council asked staff to come back with a report on the issue quickly, to see if the business can be accommodated without getting into trouble with the health authority.
"I'm a little more interested in how Port Moody's doing it, if they're accommodating it, because it will be close to us," Corrigan added. "They're under the local government act, and they're going to be dealing with Fraser Health."
However, a Fraser Health Authority inspector said it’s only enforcing the Burnaby bylaw and not it's own policy.
Gordon Stewart is the manager of health protection in Burnaby, and he said the city's bylaw was revised in 1997.
He told the Burnaby NOW that the provincial rules are based around tobacco smoke, whereas the city bylaw includes hookah smoke.
"In the Burnaby bylaw, it talks about smoking anything," he said.
The interpretation comes down to whether or not the business is a private club or open to the public. If it's open to the public, then it needs a smoking room, according to Stewart.
Stewart said Hafez Tea House was evicted from its previous place because the building was undergoing a redevelopment and it was working with Fraser Health to get a new spot that would comply with Burnaby's bylaw.
However, a few weeks ago Stewart said they found Hafez had opened to the public but did not get Fraser Health's approval so it was shut down.
"We found them operating two weeks ago and we closed them down," he added. "From my perspective, we were still working with them ... then all of a sudden they were open without our approval. It's a bit of a challenge."
He said the operation has also changed as it now has a stage for entertainment, which goes against the strict guidelines of a smoking room as it only allows for smoking equipment to be present in the completely separated room - and nothing else.
"We had to take some action on them just so they would go through the normal approval process," he said. "We've been working with the city to get this done up until the last couple of months."
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