CITY HALL — Months after the Planning Commission tried to cut business hours and slap other restrictions a popular bar and restaurant that some neighbors say is a nuisance, the bar’s owners are taking the fight up a notch, alleging City Hall made “illegal threats” against the business and violated its “constitutionally protected vested property rights.”
The dispute began as a permitting disagreement between The Parlor and city planning officials but escalated after residents who live near the bar, located at 1519 Wilshire Blvd., complained that patrons were causing a ruckus late at night and urinating in public.
The Parlor opened in 2007, but city staff this year determined the bar was out of compliance with current rules governing parking and lacked a permit to operate using the second floor of its premises. The Planing Commission allowed the bar to remain open but imposed several conditions.
The Parlor in September appealed the conditions to the City Council, which last week decided to wait until Feb. 8 to make a decision. If the council decides to uphold the Planning Commission’s recommendations, the bar would have to close at midnight on weekends, instead of at 2 a.m., and would only be allowed to admit 135 people at a time, instead of 225.
“It’d be a very, very hard blow to the business. It would be devastating,” said Silas Gaither, one of the bar’s co-owners.
The council agreed to postpone a decision on The Parlor at the request of attorney Stephen Jamieson, who last week told the council he had recently been retained to represent The Parlor by the bar’s landlord.
In a letter to the council presented Dec. 8, Jamieson said The Parlor has a “constitutionally protected” right to sell alcohol on both floors of the bar and should not have been required to apply for a city permit to do so in the first place, as the Planning Commission maintained. The site where The Parlor is located has continuously housed restaurants that served alcohol since 1982, Jamieson said, three years before City Hall began requiring so-called “conditional use permits.” As such, City Hall’s attempt to require the permit violates the bar’s “grandfathered” right, he argued.
Further, the bar’s owners only submitted an application for the permit “as a result of illegal threats by the city of Santa Monica to force illegal closure of the business,” according to Jamieson.
Jamieson also said that in order to impose the restrictions the city would have to prove that the bar constituted a nuisance and would have to give the bar owners proper notice, which it did not do.
The Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office could not be reached for comment on Jamieson’s allegations, and Councilman Kevin McKeown and Councilwoman Gleam Davis both declined to comment on the specific allegations because the appeal is pending.
Though the City Council put off making a decision about The Parlor at its meeting last week, it heard some public comments on the issue.
Mary Arjimon, who lives on 16th Street near Wilshire, told the council the bar has brought careless drivers, noisy crowds and litter to her block.
“I’ve had a flat tire from pulling out and having beer bottles in my driveway, I’ve pulled into my driveway and had men urinating in my driveway with my daughter in the car … . These are realities of our life every single day of every single week,” she said.
Hank Koning, who chairs the Planning Commission, said the panel’s recommendations were aimed at striking a balance between a business’ right to operate and the neighborhoods’ concerns.
“Certainly the commission doesn’t want to see businesses going out of business, but at the same time we have to be very mindful of our residential community,” he said.
Several speakers at last week’s meeting, like Milan Cvejic, described The Parlor as a well-run operation that benefits the community.
“As a business professional I feel that you should do everything you can to help small businesses on Wilshire including The Parlor,” Cvejic told the council.
Jamieson, who appeared at the meeting on behalf of The Parlor for the first time last week, said more than 100 people had come to the meeting in support of the bar.
McKeown, though, said the council will decide the appeal based solely on city law.
“This is a land use decision, and we have to make it based on what the code says. It’s not a popularity contest,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gaither said he and fellow co-owner Ike Pyun have lowered the music volume inside the bar, instructed security guards to keep watch over patrons as they leave the premises and lowered the price of valet parking to ease parking concerns.
He also said he encourages City Council members to come see what The Parlor is like for themselves.
“We’re going to be reaching out to the neighbors even more so than we have in the past,” he said. “Ike and I have committed our lives to making sure that this relationship is mended.”