The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
‘We can’t just stand by and watch’
Officials demand hookah lounge’s zoning permit be revoked after fatal shooting, complaints
MIDDLETOWN — The Middletown police chief, local business owners and city officials are recommending revoking the special zoning exception given to the Hidden Hookah Lounge to operate in the city, following the fatal shooting of a 20-yearold New Britain man.
Officers responded at 3:49 a.m. Sunday to a report of shots fired at 695 S. Main St., and found the victim, later identified as Jonathan Semidey Jr., in the parking lot with a gunshot wound, police Chief Erik Costa said.
Semidey later died at Middlesex Hospital, Costa said. A memorial with some 50 candles and other objects was set up outside the lounge for the victim Monday.
A suspect remains unidentified and police are continuing to investigate the shooting, the chief said Wednesday.
The business owner is listed in assessor’s records as Sunshine Equity LLC of Charlestown, Mass. The health department has Song Chen as the principal, but he could not be reached for comment.
In light of Sunday’s shooting, the owner of the Hidden Hookah Lounge voluntarily closed the business for two weeks, according to Health Department Director Kevin Elak.
Costa told Downtown Business District meeting members during their Wednesday meeting that Semidey was involved in a disagreement that led to his death.
Part of the reason why Costa is recommending the zoning permit revocation is in light of the more than100 police calls for service since the beginning of the year, as well as a past shooting at the lounge when it was under prior ownership.
In early November 2021, a 30year-old man was shot multiple times outside the business, police said at the time. He suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
Also, it has become a burden having officers having “omnipresence” at the site at the conclusion of the evening shift, Costa said.
“This type of business is unsafe for the city. It has been a nexus for many shootings, and disturbances and loud noise complaints. It’s a detriment to the surrounding business community; the neighborhoods that are adjacent to this location,” he said.
“It’s been causing too much effort to make it successful on the community side,” the chief continued. “I think it’s time for action for this type of business.”
He also planned to speak at Wednesday
night’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, where members will deliberate on whether to change zoning code to outright prohibit hookah lounges and nightclub businesses citywide.
“Any use which can be reasonably considered to cause, despite existing environmental safeguards, hazardous or noxious conditions, or which would violate performance standards,” would be prohibited, the proposed amendment reads.
Other cities Costa has consulted have encountered similar calls for service regarding violence, he said. “We have to do
something. We can’t just stand by and watch.”
DBD Chairwoman Jennifer Alexander said members have spent a good deal of time over the past few years addressing the issue. She requested membership to write a letter to present to the PZC at its next meeting, which was approved.
City officials and the police chief have met and are working with the legal department to determine “what will hold up in court; what is going to get this job done,” Interim Director of Economic and Community Development Bobbye Knoll Peterson said at the meeting.
She passed the chief’s letter on to the Land Use Department, and a public hearing is scheduled to take place June 14, Knoll Peterson reported.
“The unfortunate incident at the hookah lounge represents a public health crisis — not only violence and gun use, and things like that, and the obvious part, too, of smoking indoors,” Elak told DBD members.
He fully supports the measure requesting a revocation of the special exception.
Information on Wednesday night’s PZC meeting can be found at bit.ly/3MryyIK.