HUNTINGTON - Members of Huntington's Board of Zoning Appeals wanted more information Tuesday before voting on a special permit to expand a downtown cigar and wine lounge into a rooftop bar that serves alcohol.
They heard from the landlord and a tenant from adjacent properties who said they would be concerned with potential noise disturbances and a lack of parking.
Bob Gleason, owner of LaFontaine's Wine and Tobacco Shop on 10th Street, asked board members 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, he said. The rooftop would be a space where customers could take their drinks and smoke outside.
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.
Expansion is necessary because wine tastings and cigar sales are not enough to sustain his business alone, Gleason said. He's currently losing customers to cigar bars in Teays Valley, West Virginia, and Ashland.
"We truly don't have some place outside that's a nice setting and is addressed toward that ... where they can sit down and smoke a cigar," he said.
Before board members could make a decision on the special permit, they heard from Jesse Leftwich, who owns the buildings on both sides of LaFontaine's. One of the buildings houses professional offices, while the other contains several second-story apartments and Sharkey's Huntington, a dance club.
Leftwich said opening a bar on the rooftop would disturb his tenants living above Sharkey's, which already have problems from the noise generated there.
"I just think it's a horrible idea," Leftwich said. "I don't mind a cigar bar, it but it doesn't belong there."
Board member John Earl questioned why Leftwich was concerned with LaFontaine's being there and not Sharkey's. Leftwich said he's leased his building to Sharkey's for years and has lowered rent for those tenants because of the noise they have to put up with.
One of those tenants, Jason Milstead, said he was concerned because the rooftop lounge would be placed beside his apartment's window. He is concerned about privacy and music being heard from inside his apartment.
Gleason said architectural plans include a sound-proof fence built around the rooftop area to protect customers and alleviate any privacy concerns. Only the portion of the uncovered roof facing 10th Street will have glass. Music would not be played outside and live music would only be played inside during daytime hours, he said.
"It's really going to be a smoker's lounge, which serves some alcohol," he said. "It's not really a bar because we are not going to cater toward the atmosphere you might see in a bar, as far as the loud music and the crowds of people. It's going to be more professional."
Joanne Maynard, who has a condominium in the St. James building, said she was also concerned with parking. A parking space designated for unloading directly in front of her building is often taken by people going to Sharkey's, she said.
Earl made a motion to table the special permit request until a compromise could be reached between Gleason and Leftwhich about the bar's hours or where music would be played. Several board members said they felt the rooftop bar was a good idea, but wanted to know more about its design, particularly about the privacy fence. Board member Lee Cunup said she felt comfortable voting on the permit Tuesday, but was concerned about the fence as well.
They agreed to postpone consideration of the permit until the board's Aug. 20 meeting.
Also during the meeting, board members voted C.W. Dolin to serve as chairman and Howard Anderson to serve as vice chairman. The board also includes Earl, Izzy Cross and Canup.
Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.