By Jim Shilander
The San Clemente Planning Commission on Wednesday moved to reject a proposed rooftop bar near North Beach, citing concerns about safety for pedestrians and the effect of noise on the neighborhood.
As a matter of procedure, the commission will formally vote to dismiss the proposal without prejudice at its July 24 meeting, which would allow owner David Gutierrez to return with a different proposal in a year’s time.
Gutierrez, the owner of the property at 1509 North El Camino Real said, based on the concerns expressed by commissioners at the meeting, he needed to look more at what could be done with the building.
“There’s new information we have to review,” Gutierrez said. “We have to look at what our position is and what we want to do with the property.”
Gutierrez did not have a specific tenant signed to take over the property as a restaurant, but had been in negotiations with several companies about putting in a more artisanal small-plate type restaurant rather than a Mexican, Italian or burger establishment, many of which are already in the neighborhood. He said several parties had expressed interest in the potential of the property but all wanted Gutierrez to get the proper permits from the city before signing up.
Gutierrez said concerns about the type of noise at the noise were unfounded.
“This is far away from a nightclub, this is a family restaurant,” Gutierrez said of the proposal. “I see it more as a backyard dinner party.”
As part of the application, Gutierrez agreed to prohibit the use of amplified sound for anything other than background music or televisions on the roof, agreeing to limit the noise to 93 decibels. He indicated to the board that city staff had informed him that no noise violations had been given to dining establishments in recent years.
The application also included a number of requests for parking waivers, since the addition of a restaurant would greatly increase the level of use at the property. Street parking nearby is limited. Gutierrez said he had been in discussions with the nearby Elks Lodge and another restaurant about a space sharing agreement.
Mid-afternoon noise tests were performed at the building indicated that acoustic music and loud voices would still be lower than the prescribed levels. New commissioner Wayne Eggleston voiced disappointment, however, that the tests were not done at night when residents were home, in order to get a truer understanding of the effect of the noise.
Residents from the area who spoke before the commission all said they were concerned about the potential noise.
Bill Koezler said that conducting the sound tests in the early afternoon was insufficient, as it did not allow residents to hear what would happen if the bar was operating at night.
“We have to look at this empirically,” Koezler said. “A motorcycle is about 90 decibels, and I can hear it blocks away.”
William Conroy said he “wasn’t happy with the idea,” of adding the bar.
“As the city, you have to preserve and enhance the village atmosphere,” Conroy said. “It won’t stay at 92 decibels. Waltzes don’t fill bar stools.”
Another North Beach resident, Don Slater, said the area needs to bring more young people and job opportunities for them to thrive. Most of the customers, he said, would be locals who were more likely to walk than park.
Cole Mobley, who had worked at a number of restaurants in San Clemente, said the sound from spaces like Nick’s often dissipated with a few feet of the restaurant.
Commission members were mixed on whether they found the idea feasible, but all expressed reservations about the proposal, either due to the noise levels or the parking.
Commissioner Barton Crandell said he was not opposed the idea of a rooftop bar and noted that the sound could be controlled, but said his issues with the parking could not be overcome.
“We have to ask, if we built a new building here, would we come up with this? My guess is not,” Crandell said. “There’s so many small things that need to be adjusted.”
Commissioner Michael Kaupp said he was not convinced that a rooftop bar actually conformed to city statutes, in terms of whether rooftop dining actually help bring people to the area.
“It doesn’t seem like it would energize the streetscape,” Kaupp said. “This is such a big ask. I wonder who comes next.”
Eggleston said while he wants to see North Beach improve, he doesn’t feel the kind of establishment being proposed fit the bill but that he might be willing to back a smaller scale restaurant proposal, but one without a rooftop component.
“We’d be creating a neighborhood problem that can’t be sated,” Eggelston said. “It’s an incompatible land use as proposed right now.”