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Doubling down: There's much ado about a zoning amendment necessary for a cardroom's relocation in Paso Robles 

The age-old expression about not succeeding, then trying, trying again is a good fit for the owners of a Paso Robles cardroom who are looking to move the business location and expand—a move that can’t happen without a city-approved zoning change, and then the acquisition of a permit.

In July 2014, brothers Don and Rob Ezzell, owners of the Paso Robles Central Coast Casino (PRCCC) currently operating on Black Oak Drive in northern Paso Robles, asked the Paso Robles City Council to amend the zoning code so a cardroom would be allowed in the area along Ramada Drive in the southern part of the city. Their plans to relocate the cardroom to a larger, more visible building along Highways 101 and 46 West, an area currently restricted to manufacturing, hinge on a zoning amendment.

click to enlarge NEIGHBORS IN THE MAKING:  Paso Robles City Council members will decide whether they want to reconsider rezoning for a cardroom to relocate to a building on Ramada Drive (circled right). Neighbors—led by Adam Firestone of Firestone Walker Brewing Company (circled left)—aren’t very fond of the idea, saying that a cardroom is not appropriate for the area. - PHOTO BY KAORI FUNAHASHI
  • PHOTO BY KAORI FUNAHASHI
  • NEIGHBORS IN THE MAKING: Paso Robles City Council members will decide whether they want to reconsider rezoning for a cardroom to relocate to a building on Ramada Drive (circled right). Neighbors—led by Adam Firestone of Firestone Walker Brewing Company (circled left)—aren’t very fond of the idea, saying that a cardroom is not appropriate for the area.

The council shot that request down 4-1, with some council members saying it was a straightforward issue of zoning consistency, and others saying they didn’t want a cardroom to tarnish the image of that neighborhood, which is designated as a gateway to the city. That vote followed a brisk series of parliamentary procedures at the July meeting after Don Ezzell, who had already spoken on the issue at previous meetings, decided not to address the council because he apparently thought the matter was a shoe-in.

However, Adam Firestone—owner of Firestone Walker Brewing Company, which operates a facility a few hundred yards up Ramada Drive from the building the Ezzells have their sights on—stepped up and told the council he didn’t consider a cardroom to be appropriate for the area. That twist brought a look of irked surprise to Ezzell’s face. Within minutes, the council voted against the proposal.

Now the cardroom’s current lease is set to expire, and the Ezzells own a building on Ramada Drive they aren’t allowed to use for its intended purpose. In December, Rob Ezzell asked the council to reconsider the issue; his request was granted after new councilmember Jim Reed successfully swayed his colleagues to direct staff to bring the issue back. Reed told New Times he didn’t think the previous decision was handled well.

“[Don Ezzell] was just shot down without having a chance to say anything,” Reed explained. “It was just really arbitrary, really abrupt, really short, and I just didn’t really think he was treated right.”

How the process played out and whether it was fair may become part of the discussion when the council decides whether or not to reconsider the issue at its Jan. 20 meeting. If the council does vote to reconsider, the members will actually visit the issue itself on a later date.

Mayor Steve Martin, who sat as a councilmember when he voted against the rezoning in July, sees the issue as a potential slippery slope in a fairly cut-and-dry matter of city planning and maintaining the integrity of zoning.

“In the long run, it turns the area into a sort of hybrid area,” Martin told New Times in July. “I thought that the manufacturing zone should be kept as discrete as possible.”

More recently, Martin said he still considers this matter to fall within the same parameters.

Since the issue initially flared up, the council has welcomed two new members—Reed and Steve Gregory—and Martin is now mayor after running unopposed in the November 2014 election. Of the five sitting council members who will be hearing this decision, four received financial campaign contributions from the parties involved. PRCCC Inc. gave $250 to both Martin’s and Reed’s campaign, and Don Ezzell gave $500 to Gregory’s and $1,000 to Pamela Avila’s. Avila wasn’t elected. Firestone Walker, LLC gave $990 to John Hamon, and the brewery’s warehouse manager Miguel Ibarra donated $250 worth of beverages to Hamon.

For Rob Ezzell, the contributions were intended to get some fresh eyes on the issue.

“We were supporting all of the challengers, because we were defeated, so we thought we’d have a better chance with new people,” Ezzell said.

Martin initially declined a campaign donation that Ezzell offered, because it was during a time when the issue was still before the council. After the matter was put to bed, however, Ezzell kept his word and again offered the contribution, regardless of Martin’s vote against the rezoning. Martin in turn told Ezzell to not expect any sort of quid pro quo in the future.

The Ezzells may still face an uphill battle, as the majority of businesses along Ramada Drive oppose the rezoning, led by Firestone and their Home Owner’s Association, the River Park West Association.

“We just don’t like the direction if the city is able to change our zoning just because one individual shows up and says ‘I want to change it,’” Firestone told New Times. “The zoning was created for a very rational and sensible reason.”

 

Contact Staff Writer Jono Kinkade at jkinkade@newtimesslo.com.

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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