With a 4-3 vote, the Torrance Planning Commission on Wednesday denied an application to modify the conditional use permit and a precise plan of development for a proposed Rock & Brews where Oliver's sits on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Palos Verdes Boulevard.
Metsko Restaurant Group members Jon Mesko and Michael Zislis, who applied for the permit modification, indicated right after the meeting that they would appeal the planning commission's decision to the Torrance City Council.
All approvals must go through the city of Torrance because though the building has a Redondo Beach address, it is on the Torrance side of Avenue I.
The group wants to remodel the existing Oliver's building to fit with the aesthetic of the burgeoning Rock & Brews chain, which is owned in part by rock star Gene Simmons. The proposed restaurant, which would be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., would offer a selection of 52 beers, gastropub food, a children's play area and even a pet-friendly outdoor dining area, according to Zislis, a local restauranteur who owns the original Rock & Brews in El Segundo and the Shade Hotel in Manhattan Beach. The parking lot will be redone, and the restaurant's new footprint would be smaller than the current one.
"I'm going to open up an outdoor family friendly beer garden," Zislis explained. "We have one in El Segundo—it's kind of a nice place. We kind of blur the line between indoors and outdoors … We're not hiding anything; this isn't a 'Gotcha!' moment. This is an improvement to the area."
There will be no rooftop deck or live music, contrary to the claims of some neighbors, the group said. In response to neighbors' concerns, the group changed the restaurant design to feature a glass wall and no outdoor dining along Palos Verdes Boulevard.
There will be "absolutely never any live entertainment. I think there's like a little bit of a witch hunt out there," Zislis told the planning commission. "Nothing further from the truth."
During the public comment portion of the meeting, neighbors expressed concerns about noise from the restaurant, a possible decrease in property values, parking issues, traffic and public urination.
Speakers said that sound tends to carry at night, and Riviera Village is usually very quiet. Additionally, a local real estate agent told commissioners that "by approving this kind of project, this will set a precedent for like kinds of establishments in Riviera Village."
She also implied that allowing Rock & Brews to open would have the same effect as opening the bars on lower Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach. "Now (lower Pier Avenue) is just a lot of drinking, and a lot of noise, and it's become really a filthy area," she said.
Enough people spoke about the noise that commissioner Steve Skoll quipped, "We've heard the issue of noise, loud and clear."
Multiple neighbors also commented on the possibility of patrons urinating in the yards of Hollywood Riviera residents.
"To be frank, (Rock & Brews) is a bar. Got 50 beers on tap—it's a bar," said Anthony Rigolatto, who lives on Palos Verdes Boulevard. "We're going to see public intoxication when this place closes at 11 p.m. They'll be … urinating in front of my house, throwing garbage."
Hollywood Riviera residents also presented a petition against the proposed restaurant with more than 80 signatures.
Nevertheless, some people did come to support the permit approval. Barbara and Joseph Barker, a mother-son duo who live next door to the Rock & Brews in El Segundo, told the commission and neighbors that "(Zislis) always lived up to what he said he was going to do, and followed up" with residents in the area.
"I live about 200 feet from (Rock & Brews)," Joseph Barker said. "Never hardly hear anything out of the place. Don't have a problem in the evening with drunks … We've had absolutely no problems. These guys are great."
Toward the end of the meeting, Zislis and Mesko indicated that they were willing to continue to work with neighbors on noise and other issues.
Though the commission indicated that it would be amenable to continuing the hearing to a later date so members could check out the noise levels at the El Segundo Rock & Brews, members of the Mesko Restaurant Group requested a vote Wednesday night, noting that the restaurant had already been in the planning phase for months and it was a decision that would probably be appealed no matter what happened.
"If I'm forced to make a decision tonight, sir, my decision would be no," chairman Ray Uchima told Zislis.
Despite the vote, Mesko said he thought they "made some progress" with the neighbors. He noted after the meeting that Rock & Brews would bring additional tax revenue to the city, as well as possibly pitch in to sponsor city events that might be canceled due to budget woes, such as the Fourth of July fireworks.
"Rock & Brews is the kind of business that would pick that up," he said. "I like to contribute … I hope they see the benefit of this project to Torrance."
The Torrance City Council will hear the appeal during a future meeting.