Planning Commission Rejects Tighter Alcohol Rules for New Downtown Restaurants

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(From the Huntington Beach Independent)

huntingtonbeach.jpgThe Huntington Beach Planning Commission voted not to place tighter restrictions on when new downtown restaurants and bars can serve alcohol.

The proposal that failed Tuesday night would have changed the city’s zoning in the area to require new eating establishments to close at midnight and stop selling alcohol at 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Existing establishments would be exempt. Hours for those restaurants vary, but they all serve alcohol later than 11 p.m.

The commission voted 4 to 1, with Commissioner Mark Bixby dissenting, to deny the zoning change. The public has 10 days from Tuesday’s vote to appeal the decision to the City Council.

Commissioner Ed Pinchiff recused himself because he lives near the area being discussed. Commissioner Dan Kalmick was absent.

“I think we’re encumbering our ability to attract new businesses, especially with Pacific City coming in,” commission Chairman Erik Peterson said. Pacific City is a retail and restaurant center scheduled to open next summer at Pacific Coast Highway and First Street.

Peterson and other commissioners added that the Police Department should be enforcing current city laws that they believe are sufficient to curb alcohol-fueled problems downtown, such as noise and public drunkenness.

In June, the City Council voted to have new restaurants close at 10 p.m. every day. However, the issue was reconsidered in July, and council members voted to allow those businesses to stay open later but with restrictions on when they can serve alcohol.

The vote in July required the approval of the Planning Commission, which in effect was denied Tueday.

Councilman Joe Carchio said then that allowing the restaurants to stay open until midnight would allow them to sell food and recoup some of the revenue they would have made selling alcohol.

Planning commissioners argued that the proposed zoning change would manipulate the market by increasing the value of existing businesses’ conditional use permits, which can be handed down if a business is sold, acting Planning Manager Jennifer Villasenor said.

Commissioner Lyn Semeta and others also were concerned that Pacific City could harm business at downtown restaurants. Because Pacific City is not in the downtown area, some establishments there would be allowed to stay open until 2 a.m.

“It would be a real problem to create two classes of restaurants, some that are allowed to serve later in the evening and some not,” Semeta said. “I don’t think that’s something we want to do.”

Bixby said the zoning change wouldn’t discourage more upscale restaurants from setting up shop downtown.

“Both Morton’s and Mastro’s [in Costa Mesa] close at 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays,” he said. “They seem to be doing rather well ‘¦ so I don’t see the earlier hours as an impediment.”