A San Pablo Avenue building that's been vacant for nearly five years may, later this year, house a gourmet beer pub and grass-fed hamburger shop following approval Tuesday night by Albany officials.
Plans for the hamburger restaurant were approved in 2011, but the beer pub and bottle shop application stumbled in January when a group of neighbors asked the City Council to take a second look at plans approved earlier that month by zoning commissioners.
Opponents said they were concerned about noise, garbage, smoking, public intoxication, parking and public safety.
In response to their concerns, Councilwoman Joanne Wile asked for a review of the planning decision.
That review took place Tuesday night before the City Council.
Property owner Faramarz Pakzad and pub applicant Saed Toloui said they were more than willing to work with the city to address any concerns that arise, and would welcome a review within six months to check in.
Pakzad said he also owns the lot where El Cerrito's popular Elevation 66 opened, adding, "They've been open for nine months. There haven't been any of these issues we've been talking about."
According to the staff report for Tuesday's meeting, Elevation 66 brings in $4,000 in food and beer sales daily. Pakzad said he has invested $1.9 million already in the Albany property, and has plans to invest another $500,000 in tenant improvements related to the beer and burger businesses.
Several neighbors asked the council to consider requiring the beer pub to close at 10 p.m. nightly; the planning commission had said the pub could stay open until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights, and close at 10 the other nights.
(The beer pub will be connected via an internal door to the hamburger restaurant, and the planning commission voted that it would thus make the most sense if the businesses had the same hours.)
The council voted 3-1 Tuesday night to approve the hours set by the Planning & Zoning Commission, and said they would review the business six months after it opens.
Council members Farid Javandel, Peggy Thomsen and Marge Atkinson voted in favor; Councilwoman Joanne Wile said she voted "no" because of the 11 p.m. closing time on weekends. Wile also said, however, that she appreciated the applicants' work and thought they would be "a wonderful addition to Albany."
(Councilman Robert Lieber recused himself from the discussion because he lives near the property.)
Neighbor Orwin Juntanamalaga told the council that nearby residents would keep a close eye on what happens with the business: "We're prepared to challenge the liquor license if we think this will disturb us," she said, adding that the beer pub "will be in what's essentially a residential community."
Several other neighbors also said they were concerned about the establishment's closing time, and the effect the business would have on their San Pablo Avenue neighborhood.
Eight local residents and business owners spoke in favor of the beer pub.
Former school board member Michael Barnes compared the business to the popular Kensington Circus Pub, which he described as a neighborhood institution "that keeps the area together."
Others said the proposed pub would offer a beer selection not currently found in Albany, and could become a destination for the growing international trend of specialty beer enjoyment.
Still others said it was time for the city to take a more welcoming stance toward entrepreneurs who consider bringing their business to town.
"Other cities roll out the red carpet," said resident Brian Parsley. "We show up with pitchforks and say 'Get out.' Enough is enough. We need small businesses in Albany."
After the vote, beer pub developer Saed Toloui estimated that the ABC application would take another three to four months to work its way through the system.
He said he would like to see the businesses open in 2012.
"We're hoping this year," he said. "The end of the year."
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