HUNTINGTON - Members of Huntington's Board of Zoning Appeals agreed Tuesday to allow a downtown cigar and wine lounge to expand into a rooftop bar that serves alcohol.
The decision came after several nearby residents spoke out against the expansion, fearing a new bar in the neighborhood would create noise problems. However, a majority of board members said they were satisfied that some of the bar's design fixes would remedy any potential noise problems.
Bob Gleason, owner of LaFontaine's Tobacco & Wine Shop on 10th Street, had asked board members during a July 16 meeting for permission to renovate his business to add an elevator and a rooftop lounge. Space on the first floor, which already has a cigar-smoking area and humidor, would be used to serve drinks and appetizers. The rooftop would be a space where customers could take their drinks and smoke outside, he said.
It would be the only rooftop bar in Huntington, which is a concept Gleason said he's developed for two years. His son came up with the idea after visiting similar rooftop bars in other cities.
Board members held off on making a decision during that meeting because they wanted more clarification from Gleason about the bar's design layout. Mainly, they were concerned the rooftop lounge would create noise and create other disturbances to an apartment complex located next door and to condominiums at the St. James building across the street.
Gleason brought more information Tuesday about a proposed glass wall that will face 10th Street on the roof, which is thick enough to block any sound, he said. The designs also call for a brick wall to be built facing the adjacent apartments, so patrons cannot look inside or have smoke reach those windows, he said.
Jesse Leftwich, who owns the buildings on both sides of LaFontaine's, said he opposed the expansion because no one will want to rent his apartments. The expansion will create noise and also blocks the line of sight from those apartment windows, he said.
Leftwich also owns the building housing Sharkeys and leases it out. He said the only sound complaints that come from Sharkeys are from patrons who are too loud on the street or if the front door is left open.
"Here we are on the rooftop, so we are going to have unrestricted noise all the way up to St. James," he said.
Jason Milstead, who rents one of Leftwich's apartments, said the expansion will happen right outside his windows. He expressed concern for cigar smoke reaching his windows, which could be a health hazard, he said.
Several residents of the St. James building also spoke against the expansion, saying they had to deal with noise coming from other bars in the area for years.
"Our bedroom faces that particular structure," said Glenda Lawman. "We are usually asleep by 11. It really does wake you up at night."
Board Chairman C.W. Dolin said his biggest concern for the expansion was the potential noise. He believes the proposed glass will make the bar quieter than his own neighborhood, he said.
The Huntington Police Department enforces noise downtown, but officers have more things to worry about than regulating sound coming from a bar, said board member Jacqueline Proctor. She expressed concern for the health effects of smoking outside.
Board member John Earl said he feared his fellow board members were being too stigmatizing to the business, which he said would be different clientele than a bar catering to college students. The county health department would also regulate smoking, he said.
"We're touching on too many areas that are really not what we do," Earl said. "At least not as I see it."
Board members Dolin, Earl, Izzy Cross and Howard Anderson voted in favor of allowing the expansion. Proctor voted against it. Board member Lee Cunup was absent.
Gleason thanked board members for their confidence in him and said the next step will be to bring in a structural engineer to finalize planning documents. He hopes to begin construction by October, he said.
Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.