Huntington Beach planners say no to closing-time exemptions

The Huntington Beach Planning Commission on Tuesday made clear its opposition to exempting two downtown businesses from a resolution requiring that certain establishments close at midnight.

The commission voted 5 to 1, with Clem Dominguez absent and Connie Mandic dissenting, to recommend to the City Council that HQ Gastropub and Black Bull Chop House be granted a conditional use permit and an amendment to a conditional use permit, respectively, but not be allowed to bypass the midnight closing ordinance as they requested.

The move comes a week after the council authorized city staff to look into changing parts of the 2013 resolution, which requires downtown businesses that serve alcohol to start closing by midnight at the point that they apply for or seek to amend a conditional use permit.

The resolution is part of the city's continuing effort to control often-rowdy crowds leaving the area's bars early in the morning.

HQ Gastropub is seeking a conditional use permit to move into the space once occupied by RA Sushi at 155 Fifth St. The gastropub, which will serve "specialty cocktails" and an "array of cuisines," according to its website, does not want the permit request to interfere with plans to operate until 2 a.m. three days a week.

The managing director of the restaurant, Mark Matters, said at the meeting that the business is largely cuisine-based.

"We are all about the food," Matters said. "We don't plan on building this establishment to have any problems in the area. We are not just about selling drinks."

The designer of the restaurant, Christine Vanrooy, said at the meeting that the concept is "very restaurant driven" and aimed at attracting higher-end clients.

"[Matters] wants people to come for the food, not just the alcohol," she said.

Commissioner Dan Kalmick said he has no problem with another restaurant moving into the location but added, "They don't need to be open until 2 a.m."

Kalmick said he was concerned that a restaurant that has "pub" in it's title is looking to serve alcohol at least in a secondary role, and that this would be done 15 feet from traffic moving 50 mph, referring to nearby Pacific Coast Highway. He added that if the restaurant is granted a 2 a.m. closing and eventually vacates the property, the next business in that spot would retain the late closing time, and it could be a rowdy bar.

Mandic disagreed with the rest of the commissioners, saying, "It's very important for downtown to stay profitable and competitive.

"Our merchants downtown are competing with Pacific City, which is a hipper environment."

The Pacific City development, which includes retail, restaurant, entertainment, hotel and apartment components, started opening in 2015.

The decision regarding Black Bull Chop House came after a failed 3-3 vote to recommend the approval of a new outdoor dining area as well as the midnight closing exception.

All six commissioners favored approval of the new outdoor dining area because it would replace an existing space that is uncomfortably close for residents of a nearby a condominium complex, Pier Colony.

But the three opposed had objected to allowing the 2 a.m. closing. Once the issues were separated, the 5-1 vote allowed the recommendation of the new outdoor space but not the exception to the closing time.

Originally, Kalmick, Mandic and Commissioner Michael Grant were in favor of allowing the exception.

But Commissioner John Scandura said he would have a problem exempting Black Bull from the midnight closure requirement after rejecting the same request from the HQ Gastropub.

"When you regulate you have to be fair and consistent," Scandura said.

Kalmick said the difference is "this is an existing business with a track record."

Resident Kim Kramer also showed support for the restaurant during public comments.

Kramer said the 2013 resolution has stopped downtown business owners from investing in their businesses because they don't want to trigger the change in closing time.

Mandic, who dissented on both votes, said it's "unfair" to business owners to worry about what the council timeline on amending the 2013 resolution will be, if it ever decides to do so. Mandic said Black Bull has already operated under a 1:30 a.m. closing time and that police have had "minimal" problems with the restaurant.

benjamin.brazil@latimes.com

Twitter: @benbrazilpilot

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