CITY HALL — A dispute that pits a business interest against a group of angry residents will be front and center at City Hall tonight as the City Council considers the fate of The Parlor, a restaurant and bar accused of being a nuisance that is fighting back against restrictions its owners say could run them out of business.
At issue is whether the City Council will implement a set of rules recommended in September by the Planning Commission that would require The Parlor, located at 1519 Wilshire Blvd., to close earlier, admit fewer people and generally operate more like a restaurant rather than a sports bar.
Residents who live near The Parlor have complained the business took over a location intended to be a quiet neighborhood restaurant and since opening in 2007 has operated like a nightclub, staying open until 2 a.m. and bringing noisy and drunken crowds to their block.
The bar owners have countered that they’re operating within their rights and have taken measures to reduce impacts on the neighborhood. They also say the proposed restrictions amount to being shut down by City Hall.
While the hearing before the council will revolve around highly technical aspects of The Parlor’s obligations under City Hall’s land use laws, the dispute nevertheless continues to be emotionally charged.
The Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition, the main group organizing opposition to the bar, sent a letter to the council ahead of tonight’s hearing stating that as the council has delayed action on the bar’s appeal “the situation has continued to deteriorate.”
“Rowdy behavior on the part of their patrons ruined the Olympics for people who live in the neighborhood,” the letter said. “[Residents] dread Lakers’ games and March Madness. Whenever there’s a major sports event, people congregate at The Parlor for drunken revelry.”
The hearing before the council tonight is supposed to result in a long-awaited final decision on The Parlor’s future after the showdown was twice delayed because the bar’s landlord, John Makhani, changed attorneys and asked for more time to prepare.
But an objection from Chris Harding, the lawyer now handling the case for The Parlor, has led to the possibility of further delay.
Two council members, Bobby Shriver and Bob Holbrook, are not expected to attend tonight’s meeting. In a letter to the council last week Harding argued it would be “fundamentally unfair and constitute a denial of due process to take final action on this matter with only five council members present,” and requested the council conduct the hearing tonight but put off taking a final vote. Regardless of how many council members are present, The Parlor needs four votes in its favor to win its appeal.
Councilman Kevin McKeown said on Monday the council has a long standing policy of allowing appeals to be heard if at least five members are present and said he opposed a further postponement.
“I think we should have a decision while the public is there to speak,” he said.
Diane Krakower, an outspoken critic of The Parlor, said delaying the vote would be met with outrage from residents.
The Parlor’s main argument for keeping its business plan intact, it appears, is based on its grandfathered right to use the space according to state liquor laws, which allow it to operate until 2 a.m.
The bar’s operations first came under City Hall scrutiny after a 2008 renovation that expanded its floor area by opening a second story. City Hall officials have said the expansion means the bar now needs a special permit known as a “conditional use permit,” or CUP, to continue to operate. The CUP would allow the council to implement restrictions on the bar’s operations.
In his letter to the council, Harding laid out his argument for why his client should be spared the most onerous restrictions the Planning Commission recommended.
He said the bar should be allowed to operate on both floors without applying for the CUP. Previous restaurants located on The Parlor’s site used the second floor, albeit for things like storage and office space, so opening up the area to patrons doesn’t necessarily trigger the need for a CUP, he argued.
He said the bar should be allowed to operate free of restrictions if it agrees to limit its maximum occupancy to 168 people. In contrast, the Planning Commission has said The Parlor needs to limit its occupancy to 135 while also abiding by new operating rules that would require it to close by midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and by 11 p.m. during the rest of the week.
Harding has countered with an offer to slightly limit operating hours if The Parlor is allowed to admit 225 people. If permitted to let in more customers, he said his client would agree to close at 1 a.m. most weeknights and at 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Needless to say, Harding’s proposal is not close to the demands of residents like Wilmont chairperson Valerie Griffin, who see the bar’s operations as incompatible with maintaining the neighborhood’s quality of life.
In her letter to the council, she compared living next to The Parlor with enduring torture.
“[The bar’s patrons] yell to each other, slam doors, and rev their engines” late at night while walking to their cars, she said, waking up sleeping residents.
“Sleep deprivation is torture according to [the] internationally recognized definition. The Parlor has caused their neighbors to experience sleep deprivation for almost three years.”
The owners of The Parlor could not be reached Monday for comment.