WILSHIRE BLVD. — The owners of a popular ESPN Zone-style restaurant have appealed a decision by the Planning Commission last month to reduce the number of seats and hours that the establishment can remain in operation.
Ike Pyun and Silas Gaither are contesting a series of conditions that the commission imposed on The Parlor at 1519 Wilshire Blvd. when it granted both a variance to allow off-street parking and a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to legally permit the second-floor use as a restaurant.
Those conditions include decreasing the hours of operation from 2 a.m. to midnight on the weekends and 11 p.m. on the weekdays, and lowering the valet cost of $5.50 a car to $2 or less to compete with the less expensive city-owned parking lot behind the building. The commission also reduced the maximum number of seats from 225 to 135.
Paul Foley, senior planner with City Hall, said the commission imposed the conditions to reduce the impacts to the surrounding neighborhood where residents have complained about intoxicated patrons, whom they claim have urinated and defecated outside.
Neighbors have also questioned The Parlor’s designation as a restaurant, arguing that it operates like a sports bar.
Foley said that The Parlor fits under the restaurant category because it neither has a dance floor nor charges a cover fee, both of which are characteristics of a bar.
The request for the CUP and variance came to the commission more than two years after The Parlor opened in June of 2007, delayed as city staff searched for records that the second-floor of the establishment was ever authorized to be used as a restaurant, which it was when Cinch, the predecessor, was in operation.
It was when the owners came to City Hall to request an Alcohol Determination — which would allow the alcohol license to change hands from Cinch — that city staff realized that the parking variance for the location had expired more than 20 years ago and that the second-floor had been used as a restaurant.
The site was designated as a restaurant in 1981, the same time when a limited, nontransferable parking variance was approved for Verdi’s, the occupant of the location at the time. Just a year later, the variance was transferred to Cinch, which operated at the site for more than 20 years, according to a city staff report.
The variance expired in 1986, a fact that wasn’t discovered until 2007 when The Parlor requested a business license.
“The expired variance had gone undetected since no review of the restaurant operation had been called for,” the staff report said.
Foley, who was not employed with City Hall at the time the parking variance expired, said City Hall no longer issues limited variances and part of the reason is because of the difficulty in monitoring them.
“If you did limited variances how would you enforce them,” Foley said. “There could be something in the system that pops up (notification) but it’s way too problematic.”
Pyun said that he was unaware that there was ever a parking variance for the site to begin with.
“That parking variance was over so long ago that there is no way that we could find it,” he said.
He added to being unaware that the second-floor was previously unauthorized for restaurant use, noting that the state Alcohol Beverage Control permits it.
“For some reason it was OK by ABC but not [the] city of Santa Monica,” he said. “That is the only reason we started to expand — the second floor was being used even before we were here when it was Cinch and Verdi’s.”
A complaint was filed against Cinch in September 2004 for excessive noise and use of the second-floor deck. A city Code Compliance officer ordered that use of the deck, which was not permitted, be ceased.
The staff report noted that since the deck is only accessible from the second floor, the expansion of the restaurant to the upper level had taken place prior to the complaint.
“They had built a roof patio off the second floor and that was not permitted and eventually was removed,” Foley said.
Foley said that since the complaint was about the deck and not the second-floor, the use of the latter did not rise to the attention of the Code Compliance staff at the time.
Since an application for the CUP and variance was filed in a timely manner, The Parlor has been allowed to operate pending the outcome of the requests, the city staff report said.
The restaurant has been the target of criticism by a group of neighbors, who claim that they have seen patrons misbehaving outside.
Pyun said that while he would not refute the claims of public urination, he said that he has seen a homeless person — not a customer — defecating in the alley.
“I’m not going to say that it’s our patrons doing that,” he said. “I can’t see my patrons going out to someone’s lawn to do that.
“It doesn’t make sense.”
Pyun said the restaurant has added extra security with flashlights to look up and down the streets. On busy nights, The Parlor staffs six security guards, some of whom are stationed indoors to keep track of customers who are approaching inebriation.
“If we see someone being close to feeling the effects of alcohol, they look like they’re sidestepping or slowing their speech, then I need all the security on the side to tell the waitress or bartender to make sure they are not served anymore,” he said.
Not all feelings toward the restaurant have been negative. Many have also praised The Parlor as an enjoyable neighborhood hangout and have criticized the commission for imposing the restrictions on hours.
The appeal is expected to be heard by the City Council in December.