California Street Pub owner Christian Cole withdrew an application to expand his bar to a patio in the back after neighbors wrote letters and showed up at Wednesday night’s Lodi Planning Commission meeting to complain about noise and parking.
Before the commission even received public comment, most of the members said they would not be able to support the project.
Commissioners said the number of police calls, neighborhood opposition and city staff recommending the commission not move forward with the project all raised concerns.
“The timing of this is a little awkward for me, coming off an avalanche that is somewhat negative,” Commissioner Dave Kirsten said. “It might be a good opportunity to make amends with the neighbors and make amends with the city.”
About 30 residents showed up to the meeting to speak, but the bar’s attorney Jeffrey Fitzer withdrew the application before public comment started.
“We appreciate your time. We’ll regroup and take your constructive criticism,” he said to the commission.
City staff said one of their main concerns is the number of police calls to the bar. Since March 1, when Cole turned in the application, there have been 37 calls for physical fights, disturbances of the peace, public intoxication, public urination and noise complaints.
Associate Planner Immanuel Bereket said city staff felt that was too many calls for a bar.
“An outdoor seating and serving area would only create more problems for the Lodi Police Department, city staff and for the neighbors,” he said.
City Manager Rad Bartlam, who also is the city’s community development director, said the calls are coming from a handful of residents, who are generally concerned about noise and parking.
The city also received more than 10 letters complaining about the bar and asking the Planning Commission to reject the project.
Commissioner Debbie Olson said while she appreciates that the bar is investing in the area, she has concerns that so many neighbors are unhappy.
“I don’t think this is going to stay a quiet and sleepy corner, but it is clear to me you do have a problem, and maybe the problem is partially yours,” she said.
Cole said he only had 10 calls from January to March, and that as soon as the neighbors found out he wanted to open up the back patio, they started padding the calls with false reports.
He submitted a letter signed by eight neighbors who he said lived next to some of the residents who have complained saying they did not see a problem.
“What you are reading and seeing is not really what’s going on,” Cole said.
When Cole purchased the bar in 2009, he did not have to get a use permit unless he decided to expand it. The location was grandfathered in because it has existed since the 1960s, long before the city required use permits for bars.
Bartlam said usually the use permit process is fairly routine, but that is not the case in this situation.
“This is the reason we have the use permit requirement. It’s for when an establishment is not fitting in well with the neighborhood,” he said.
Fitzer said the owners have been frustrated that this project has been portrayed as an expansion. The owners hoped to put five tables and 24 seats on the back patio, but keep the occupancy at 86 people. Fitzer said they recognized it would be irresponsible to increase it because it is a neighborhood bar.
Cole said one of his main problems is when the front door opens, the noise travels to the surrounding houses.
He said the number of complaints would go down by having the only entrance be in the back during peak times, which would be after 9 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The area in the back is more commercial, Cole said, and the patio is surrounded by three concrete walls that would hold in sound.
Commissioner Randall Heinitz said Cole should have come before the Planning Commission before putting concrete on the back patio and letting people sit there. By moving forward, it aggravated neighbors, and annoyed city staff because he didn’t follow protocol, Heinitz said.
Heinitz recommended that Cole go back to neighbors and city staff and find a way to regain trust.
“Go back and have a nice neighborhood bar. After you make nice, and have the trust of neighbors and the city, then you can come back. ... I think what you want to do is great, but I think you are going at it the wrong way.”
Cole said he realizes when he first opened the business he made some mistakes and agitated people.
But during the past year and a half, he said he has monitored the noise, worked with police officers who patrol the area and reduced disturbances in the parking lot.
He does not believe he will ever be able to appease the neighbors.
“I really don’t believe in my heart they are going to give me a chance to change their perception of me. ... No matter what I do, no matter how hard I work, nothing is going to change,” Cole said.
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at firstname.lastname@example.org.