MIDDLETOWN – Town officials are looking to revoke a permit for a South Main Street hookah lounge after a 20-year-old man was shot and killed in its parking lot last month.
Middletown Police Chief Erik Costa said officers have received over 100 calls regarding the Hidden Hookah Lounge at 695 South Main St. since he took over the department in 2021, including reports of shootings, slashings and fights.
At around 3:45 a.m. on May 21, Jonathan Semidey Jr., of New Britain, was shot and killed in the hookah lounge’s parking lot, according to news reports.
In a letter to Mayor Ben Florsheim’s Chief of Staff Bobbye Knoll Peterson after the shooting, Costa said police found rounds fired by the gun that killed Semidey in the direction of adjacent neighborhoods and businesses. Costa also asked for the lounge’s operating permit to be revoked.
“During a number of these investigations [of incidents at Hidden Hookah Lounge] we have found that the business does not have careers and separates themselves from being the nexus to the clear public safety and health concerns they have caused while in operation,” Costa wrote.
It’s up to the Planning and Zoning Commission to revoke the permit, and a public hearing is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. to consider Costa’s request.
According to a memo from Town Planner Marek Kozikowski, the commission can revoke a special exception permit like the one granted for the hookah lounge if terms of the permit aren’t being complied with. That includes a requirement that the lounge won’t harm the health and safety of residents or workers in the area, the memo said.
The commission approved the special exception permit for the lounge in September 2021, and it has been occupied by two businesses that have operated a hookah lounge since then, according to the memo. Kozikowski wrote that city officials, neighboring business owners and residents have all complained about violence, littering, noise and loitering in the early morning hours.
Since April 2022, there have been 138 calls for police to respond to the hookah lounge, according to records provided by Middletown police. That includes 103 calls for a property check, almost always after midnight, and often multiple times in one night.
There were calls to respond to assaults in June and October 2022; a fight in March; four disturbances in June 2022 and one this past April; and a report of gunshots in March.
Ninety of those calls to police have come in the first six months of 2023, including 15 in May before the fatal shooting on May 21. There have been five more calls to the hookah lounge since the shooting, despite the lounge closing.
Middletown police said the issues at the hookah lounge appear to be random, isolated acts of violence, and that there’s no indication the incidents are connected.
The building’s owner, Song Chen of Sunshine Equity, LLC, said he didn’t object to the commission potentially revoking the hookah lounge’s special permit.
“I am aware that there were over 100 calls for service to the Police Department over the past two years, a fatal shooting, nonfatal shootings, a slashing, and fights involving people who went to the hookah lounges, as reported by Chief Costa of the Middletown Police Department,” Chen wrote in the memo. “Therefore, I do not object to the termination of the special exception approval for my property.”