Bel Air considers smoking lounge rules following hookah bar inquiry

An inquiry about opening a hookah lounge in Bel Air is prompting one of several proposed changes to the town's development regulations that were introduced at Monday's town meeting.

A new subsection is proposed to regulate smoking lounges, Planning Director Kevin Small told members of the board of town commissioners, explaining how after his office received the inquiry about what would presumably become the town's first hookah lounge, he realized the current regulations are inadequate to address such activities.


According to the performance standards and guidelines Small is proposing, a smoking lounge could not be within 1,000 feet of a school or within 100 feet of a residential use and would have to comply with all applicable requirements of the Maryland Clean Indoor Air Act.

"The Board of Appeals or reviewing agency shall impose such conditions as it may deem necessary to ensure the use will not adversely impact the adjacent area," the proposed standards continue.

Such conditions may include, but need not be limited to, hours of operations, age restrictions, ventilation of premises and accessory services such as the sale of food, beverages and live entertainment, according to the proposed standard.

Small said smoking lounges would be limited to B3 business zones and permitted there only as a special exception subject to board of appeals approval.

Small said the smoking lounge subsection is among "various issues" being addressed by Ordinance No. 754-12, which the commissioners accepted for introduction Monday.

A second proposed change to the development regulations would reduce the width of a front yard setback for a single family dwelling from the current 50 feet to 20 feet - or to 15 feet for other dwelling types - provided there is off-street group parking available and each unit is designed without a parking pad or garage. The setback in this case would be measured from the curb line, not the right-of-way line.

Another proposed change involves pens and runs for domestic animals. The regulations state that such structures must be at least 50 feet from the adjoining property line; however, Small said this poses a practical difficulty because of the small size of many of the town's residential lots and the fact that many town residents have dog runs.

Instead of the setback being measured from the lot line, the proposed change would require that pens or dog runs be at least 50 feet from the "primary residential structure" on any adjoining property.

Another change would permit a zoning approval for a project to continue in effect for up to 12 months if construction were halted because of litigation or other reasons. The town approval authorities could then, at their discretion, grant an additional extension of up to 12 months.

The final change being proposed will require that a shed permit be issued for any structure under 200 square feet and that such a permit be treated as an accessory use, typically meaning the building would not require additional zoning approval from the town.

Small said all the changes proposed in Ordinance 754-12 met approval from the town planning commission at its Sept. 6 meeting. A public hearing on the ordinance will be held at the next town meeting on Oct. 1.

Dump truck purchase

The four commissioners at Monday's town meeting unanimously approved the purchase of a single-axle, 2013 dump truck from Hickory International under a piggybacked bid with Harford County government. The cost of the new truck will be $139,197.

Public Works Director Randy Robertson said the new truck will replace the town's 1997 Ford F-800, which he said has 45,500 miles on it and has recurring hydraulic system problems and other age-related issues.


Robertson said the new dump truck will be placed with the department's construction section handling asphalt and concrete street work and snow removal and other uses as needed.

Parking garage loan

The town commissioners also passed a resolution enabling the town to participate in tax-exempt financing for its 33 percent share of what is expected to be a $960,000 project to make structural repairs and upgrades to the town's public parking garage.

The garage is 33 percent owned by the town and 67 percent owned by the county, with the town responsible for maintenance and operations, whose costs are in turn split between the two jurisdictions under the same percentages.

Finance Director Lisa Moody explained the cost of the repair project, including the fee of the consultant the town hired to evaluate the structure and manage the repairs, will be financed with tax-exempt loans. She said the resolution approved Monday is necessary to effect the transfer of the loan proceeds to the parking fund for the project cost.

With approval of the resolution, Moody said, the town will next solicit bids from banks for the financing package.

Praise for DPW, police

Commissioner Rob Reier, who was presiding over Monday's meeting in the absence of Mayor Eddie Hopkins, had high praise for town's public works staff and police department for their work in conjunction with the annual Festival for the Arts held Sunday in Shamrock Park.

Oktoberfest honor

The town will be honored during the four-day Oktoberfest celebration at Aberdeen Proving Ground on Sept. 28, Town Administrator Chris Schlehr told the commissioners.

"They are honoring the entire Town of Bel Air and want everybody to attend," Schlehr said, explaining an actual ceremony will be held between 6 and 6:30 p.m. during the event, which runs from 4 to 11 p.m.

Schlehr urged town officials, employees and citizens to join in the merriment and said anyone without a government ID will be welcome at APG's Route 715 gate during Oktoberfest, which runs Sept. 27-30 at the post's Shine Sports Field.

Other local towns will also be honored during the community outreach event for which admission is free; however, there will be charges for certain items such as games, rides, food and beverages.

Coming town events

• Lunchtime concerts continue at noon on Office Street with the Gentlemen of Jazz performing Friday, Sept. 21, and the Bel Air High Jazz Ensemble performing Friday, Sept. 28.

• The Harford County Wine Festival will be held at Rockfield Manor on Sept. 29 from noon to 7 p.m. For information visit or call 410-638-4565.

• Fire Prevention Day will be held Oct. 13 at the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

• Also on Oct. 13, Healthy Harford will host Healthy Harford Day at the Bel Air Farmers Market from 8 to 11 a.m. Free classes including yoga, Zumba and Pilates begin at 8 a.m.

• The next town meeting will be Oct. 1 at town hall beginning at 7:30 p.m.