Christmas came a few days early for Mesko Restaurant Group members Jon Mesko and Michael Zislis on Tuesday when the Torrance City Council unanimously approved their amended plans for a Rock & Brews restaurant in the Riviera Village.
In a meeting that lasted until midnight and saw more than 40 people speak for and against the development, the city council voted 6-0 to approve a modification to the group's conditional use permit and their precise plan of development at the shuttered site of Oliver's at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Palos Verdes Boulevard.
The seventh council member, Councilman Cliff Numark, was forced to recuse himself from the discussion because he lives within 500 feet of the development.
"It is the biggest relief I have felt in a long time," Mesko said after the meeting. "We want to get this thing going."
Though the property's address is in Redondo Beach, it is located in the city of Torrance.
Mesko said that demolition on the old Oliver's building could begin as early as Thursday. Contractors have been champing at the bit to start construction.
At an October meeting, the Torrance Planning Commission initially denied the group's plans for Rock & Brews, forcing Mesko and Zislis to amend the restaurant's design and appeal the decision to the city council Tuesday night.
Mesko and Zislis told the council that since October, they have worked with nearby residents to alleviate their concerns about noise, traffic and other issues that could arise from the restaurant and bar.
"There is no loud music; there is no live rock and there is no blowing of fire, I promise you," Zislis said. "We have met with the neighbors ... We have changed the design 15 times ... We are here tonight to work with you."
In an attempt to appease neighbors, Rock & Brews reduced plans for an outdoor dining area by almost 800 square feet, completely enclosed the portion of the restaurant facing residences on Palos Verdes Boulevard and removed plans for an outdoor sound system.
The outdoor patio area will close starting at 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, the duo said. At the request of Mayor Frank Scotto, Rock & Brews will also cease the service of alcohol at 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, at 12 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and 10 p.m. on Sundays.
Mesko and Zislis also commissioned their own noise study, which concluded that any noise coming from the restaurant would be well within the boundaries of even the city's more conservative noise ordinances.
In the end, the approved conditional use permit comes with close to 40 different conditions that must be met by Rock & Brews to stay in business.
"I think in looking at this project, when you look at how it started and you look at the way it is now, they address a lot of the concerns I think were raised by the neighbors," Councilman Tom Brewer said in support of Rock & Brews. "We do have that ace in the hole that if he violates the CUP, he can get closed down ... I think there is something that we have in our back pocket that can control what could happen over there."
The modified plans presented to the council still did not appease some residents who live in the Hollywood Riviera near the Rock & Brews site.
Robert Keller, who has lived near the proposed site for 40 years, called for the restaurant to be completely enclosed like the many restaurants that previously occupied the space.
"Everybody that says they are for this restaurant do not live anywhere near it," Keller said. "It is going to be kind of a nightmare for us ... I assure you."
Bob Howard, who lives nearby on Palos Verdes Boulevard, said Rock & Brews brings to mind the problems he had with former bar in the same area.
"There was a parking problem and a beer can problem and a getting in the bushes with a girl problem," Howard recalled. "If (Rock & Brews) is a success, we are going to have the same kind of problems."
Representing the Riviera Homeowners Association, Judy Brunetti also speculated on the impacts of the restaurant's open design on neighbors.
"Give us the gift of peace this holiday season," Brunetti said. "This project will certainly impact the quiet and privacy of neighbors."
Supporters of the new Rock & Brews venue also came out in force and cited Zislis' community-focused business approach and the fact that a similar El Segundo Rock & Brews location has not created the noise levels once feared by neighbors.
Former El Segundo mayor Eric Busch conveyed his strong support for Rock & Brews and said that it has been a welcomed development in El Segundo.
"Rock & Brews came to our city and improved it ... Made it a better place," Busch said. "We wanted our adjacent businesses to benefit from a synergistic effect of new businesses coming into our city and rising the tide, and that is exactly what happened."
El Segundo residents who live near Rock & Brews also said that noise from the restaurant has never been an issue for them.
"Quite honestly, I couldn't even tell you what the hours that Rock & Brews is open because I never hear them," said Joseph Parker, who lives adjacent to the El Segundo location. "They have been good neighbors, and we are just here because they are good neighbors."
Multiple city council members also visited the El Segundo location to personally check on noise levels coming from the restaurant. All that visited said noise did not seem to be an issue.
"I made it my duty to go outside and walk around," said Mayor Frank Scotto, who visited Rock & Brews during peak hours on a Saturday. "I have to tell you... It was very difficult to hear (the noise)... As far as the sound goes, I am pretty confident that isn't going to be the issue."
Councilwoman Susan Rhilinger said that many of the worries expressed by the restaurant's opponents are merely speculation at this point and said that Rock & Brews should be given a chance.
"There are huge rumors out there that people are building on as they go," Rhilinger said. "I think we are being very subjective from our point of view—both sides perhaps—and that is creating a lot of the emotions that I think are driving what is behind all of this right now."
Other council members said that a new development on the Oliver's site would be a welcomed change to an aging lot on the border of Torrance and Redondo Beach.
"I think everyone can agree that the property we are talking about is pretty tired," said Councilman Pat Furey. "It is certainly not what I want to see when I am coming into the city of Torrance ... It is just not appropriate."
The new Rock & Brews location will feature a similar concept to its El Segundo predecessor and will serve up 52 different beers and pub style food in a family friendly environment, according to Zislis.
There is no word yet on a precise opening date, but Mesko said he hopes to open the restaurant by April.