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Paso Robles Planning Commission will reconsider rezoning for cardrooms 

A zoning matter that quickly went from routine to contentious before the Paso Robles City Council in July 2014 has made its way back around and is again on the table for city officials to consider at the April 14 planning commission meeting.

The Paso Robles Central Coast Casino (PRCCC), which operates a cardroom on Black Oak Drive on the north side of the city, asked leaders to amend the zoning code in such a way that cardrooms be added to the list of accepted uses in areas zoned for manufacturing and industrial activities. That rezoning is necessary for the business to relocate to a building the owners have since purchased, located on Ramada Drive at the southern end of the city.

The planning commission approved the rezoning on June 10, 2014, with a 7-0 vote, but when the matter went before the City Council for final approval on July 1, the council reversed the decision with a 4-1 denial.

After that denial, Don Ezzell, who owns the PRCCC with his brother Rob Ezzell, called foul on the council and on Adam Firestone, an owner of the Firestone Walker Brewery, located just up Ramada Drive from the cardroom’s would-be new location. Ezzell accused Firestone of meddling in the process and throwing his weight around after Firestone spoke against the rezoning at the July 1 meeting while also attempting to buy the building. In response, Firestone told New Times he was speaking for several business owners in that neighborhood who had concerns that a cardroom wouldn’t be consistent with the area’s nature, and made a back-up offer for the building in the spirit of being a good neighbor.

Ezzell has questioned these concerns, underscoring that Firestone Walker Brewery’s Taproom Restaurant also operates in the evening and sells alcohol.

The matter has prompted a heated debate about how planners determine what is and isn’t appropriate for an area that’s both zoned for manufacturing and designated as one of the primary entrances to the city, dubbed “the gateway.”

After the council denied the rezoning, the Ezzell brothers insisted that the leaders reconsider while spreading campaign contributions to several candidates in the November 2014 election, including to recently elected council members Steve Gregory and Jim Reed and to Mayor Steve Martin. Firestone Walker Brewery LLC contributed money to John Hamon’s campaign for re-election.

The council eventually decided to reconsider the issue, issuing a tight 3-2 vote on Jan. 20. The two members new to the council since the denial—Gregory and Reed—were split on that decision, voting not to reconsider and to reconsider, respectively.

The item was originally planned to be heard March 24, but was postponed to April 14. If the planning commission approves the rezoning, it will go to the City Council for final approval. If denied by the commission, Ezzell would have the option to appeal the matter to the City Council.

Ezzell told New Times he has a positive feeling as to the direction this new round will take, saying he’s “very happy with the positive staff report,” and, “It’s one step at a time … .”

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

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