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Council Approves Beer Pub, Neighbors Vow ABC Appeal if Problems Arise

The City Council voted 3-1 to uphold a January decision by planning commissioners to allow a boutique beer pub to open at 745 San Pablo Ave. Some neighbors say they are still concerned about noise, garbage, parking and safety.

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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If there's something in this article you think should be corrected, or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email her at albany@patch.com.

Tracy Arrowsmith February 23, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Can't wait for this to open!
Skip Moore February 23, 2012 at 04:00 PM
"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." Are you kidding me? Since when was San Pablo Avenue a residential community? I just don't get the proprietary position these newcomers take. It's like moving in next to an airport and then complaining about the noise.
Michael Taylor February 23, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Bring the pub to Albany. Let freedom ring!...while you down a pint.
Gregory February 23, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Unbelievable. We can’t get a cell tower in Albany so that people can do business here effectively b/c the towers might either be a health hazard or an eye sore but we can bring a bunch people here to drink because that's not a health hazard for themselves and the people around them when they leave the pub drunk. That is just plain idiotic. As soon as my girls are out of High School I will sell my house and get away from here. I live by the Hotsy Totsy and I can’t tell you how many people have crashed, been stooped, almost hit my kids on their bikes after leaving the "pub" drunk. This is a huge mistake. Mark my words. This will be a disaster! This is just plain IDIOTIC. Our leadership has no idea how to bring business here. Such BULLSH_ _!!
Dawn February 23, 2012 at 06:06 PM
I'm amazed at the people who decide to live right near a busy street like San Pablo and then complain that there's noise!! When you live an urban area, like Albany, you don't get to move in and then require the rest of the city to comply with your noise level preference. I think it's great that a building that has been vacant for five (!) years will finally have some great businesses in it. I also don't think it's our job to legislate morality. Sure, some people get drunk at bars. People also drive too fast and run red lights, so do we get rid of car repair shops? Some people eat too much and cost taxpayers lots of money in health costs, so should we get rid of the bakeries and ice cream shops?
Tim Q. Cannon February 23, 2012 at 06:12 PM
somehow I'm reminded of the Woody Allen/Diane Keaton exchange: hardly ever...three times a week/ constantly...3 times a week.
Clay Larson February 23, 2012 at 06:19 PM
ABAG’s Bay Area Plan calls for Albany to add 1341 new households by 2040 (down from the initial estimate of 2,440 households). San Pablo and Solano Avenue have been identified by Albany as priority development areas to accommodate this growth with stack-and-pack infill development. These areas will increasingly become residential areas.
Skip Moore February 23, 2012 at 07:42 PM
Then they need to realize they are moving into an area where the zoning laws have been compromised. I'm all for mixed-use developments - they are the vitality that is the city - but if you choose to live there you had better accept the externalities inherent in the core environment.
Jeff Watts February 23, 2012 at 08:44 PM
You're exactly right, Skip. The appropriate phrase here is "moving to the nuisance" (not that I consider this a nuisance, at all). Yes, San Pablo has residences, but it's clearly a mixed use zone with many businesses, and yes, even bars. Calling any stretch of San Pablo a "residential area" is being intentionally misleading and is just another example of NIMBYism. I live nearby, have a young child, and for the record I'm excited about these businesses opening up.
Michael Barnes February 23, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Gregory, Actually there was some progress on the cell tower issue that the Tuesday 21st meeting as well. As for the pub, many restaurants are allowed to serve beer, and some even hard liquor, so I am puzzled why the enmity is focused on this business. If your concern is the Hotsy Totsy club, perhaps you should focus your energy there. As I mentioned during the meeting, the Circus Pub in Kensington, near my house, is an institution and an important part of the neighborhood. I am hoping for everyone's sake that the new brew pub becomes a similar family-friendly institution. I wish the new business well, and I'll stop by occasionally, since I don't like to drink anything stronger than beer. But the Circus Pub will remain my main pub, since I can walk there. As is often the case in Albany, the new pub will work if we make it work. Take your kids, make the pub and the restaurant next door the kind of place you want it to be. The owners will be responsive to their best customers, otherwise they won't succeed.
Clay Larson February 23, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Jeff, I assume that you agree that it’s appropriate to place limits on the business (e.g., hours of operation) and perhaps types of business allowed in deference to the dual or mixed use in our San Pablo and also Solano Ave. districts. I think that’s all that happened in the case of the brew pub. Skip, I’m surprised that you’re excited about mixed use development. I don’t think that this kind of development has worked out well in Albany. Many empty storefronts, or unremarkable personal services businesses. I do see that we’re getting a new massage parlor at 727 SPA; the 4th or 5th on the avenue. Perhaps this is all just indicative of the current economic woes.
Skip Moore February 23, 2012 at 10:57 PM
Clay, I admit that my interpretation is built on wonderful neighborhoods that are of a much higher density; Greenwich Village, Noe Valley, the waterfront district in Nashville, Seattle's Old Town, etc. There's a book by Jane Jacobs called Death and Life of Great American cities, and even though it was written in the early 60's, many of the principles and observations are quite relevant to modern urban society. It establishes the urban land use equivalent of the symbiotic relationship between residences and retail. But I'm reaching here when considering Albany. Still, I believe this trend will continue to manifest itself in the inner city areas as travel and convenience become mutually dependent. And, yes, I believe Albany qualifies as the inner city. No matter what the new residents covet, establishing a bucolic setting on San Pablo Avenue just isn't in the cards. Residences can co-exist with commercial uses. If you look at the examples I've quickly come up with, there are externalities from each use that affect the other. All are congested, noisy places, yet full of vitality and opportunity. That's part of living in the big city. If someone wants a quiet, boring environment, move to Orinda, or as my kids called it when we lived there, Borinda.
Skip Moore February 23, 2012 at 11:11 PM
As an afterthought, I'd like to add that on a recent night out, I was impressed with all the pedestrians and activity in the mid-evening on Solano (we were at Little Star Pizza (and I just realized the connection - they serve beer, wine and good food)). There were people going to dinner, going to the theater or just enjoying a walk down the Avenue. I've been a part of the Albany community for over 34 years and it never seemed like the place I wanted to hang out after work. IMO, the introduction of different businesses and new residents in direct proximity with each other has resulted in a much more lively and appealing community.
Brian Parsley February 23, 2012 at 11:54 PM
I believe there is much misunderstanding of the type of establishment that is proposed. This is not a bar. No hard liquor will be sold. This will be a bottle shop and taproom serving craft beer at moderate to expensive prices. Think of a Solano Cellars for beer. Although wine bars such as Solano Cellars or the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in San Francisco have been around for some time, the beer equivalent is relatively new on the scene. City Beer store in San Francisco and Beer Revolution in Oakland are both popular examples. However with the addition of the grass fed burger restaurant this will probably look more like Walnut Creek's ØL Beercafe & Bottle Shop http://www.beer-shop.org/. I doubt you will see anyone walking down San Pablo Ave drinking their Stillwater Artisanal Ales Cellar Door Saison at $14 a bottle or Fifty/Fifty Brewings Eclipse Barrel Aged Imperial Stout at $28 a bottle out of a paper bag.
Clay Larson February 23, 2012 at 11:57 PM
Skip, while, I’m not sure that San Pablo Ave. would be characterized as “bucolic,”, I agree that it’s underutilized, but doesn’t’ this conflict with your "moving in next to an airport" analogy that you offered earlier today. Perhaps it’s a bucolic airport. I think that you are” reaching” when it comes to Albany. City planning experts point out that there’s a critical mass requirement for high density, mixed-use development to really work. Calling our several blocks of commercial district, San Pablo and Solano Aves. (funny how Solano hardly ever makes it into this conversation) an “inner city” is not realistic. We don’t have enough population to support local serving business. We do have nail salons, high tech tanning parlors, and massage establishments covered though.
Skip Moore February 24, 2012 at 12:17 AM
Clay, the massage parlors and nail salons do seem to proliferate, but it must be a matter of demand and supply economics, It's generally baffled me, but they do contribute to the local economy. Perhaps these businesses mischaracterize the district. When I'm asked why we keep our offices here, I generally stand by the convenience. I have at least 15 places to eat within 3 blocks. I walk to my bank, my cleaners and to get my haircut (no, she doesn't do nails). Then there's chiropractic and dental offices, tire and car repairs. It's all right here. And I have 14 employees that do the same. That's what makes the whole thing tick. No, it's not Greenwich Village, but, as you've pointed out, it will continue to become increasingly dense. I don't believe it conflicts with my airport analogy, or other comments I've made about choosing to live in a congested urban area. If someone chooses to move into a place on San Pablo or even Solano, you had better be ready to accept what comes with it.
Jeff Parker February 24, 2012 at 06:46 PM
This sounds like a great place. I look forward to visiting it.
Zack M. February 24, 2012 at 06:51 PM
I can't wait for the beer pub to open! I'm super excited to have a place within WALKING distance to grab a couple good beers with friends, maybe a tasty burger, and then safely walk home, all while keeping my money local. Thank you to the city council for approving this. Gregory, I'm very sorry to hear you're so upset with the decision; I hope that none of your fears about the place come true. I really feel it will be a positive, not negative, addition to Albany. For the record, hasn't the Hotsy Totsy been there since the 1930s? So didn't you know it was there when you bought your house? And how do you know all these people behaving badly are coming from there? People drive like idiots all over, not just around bars. You should see how fast people drive down Key Route in front of my house, and there's not any place you get buy beer around there. I'm in no way defending their reckless behavior, as someone who bikes and walks everywhere, I'm well aware of the dangers of reckless drivers, I'm just saying it's probably not only the fault of the Totsy.

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