Harvard Avenue residents protest hours, parking issues at Meat Cellar
As construction moves forward on The Meat Cellar expansion at Wolfe’s Market, a snag has cropped up that could impact the opening.
Claremont resident David Lindley, who lives a stone’s throw from the new restaurant at Foothill and Harvard Avenue, has joined several neighbors in filing letters of protest to the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), citing unresolved concerns about noise, parking and proposed late-night hours.
John Carr, public information officer for the ABC in Sacramento, confirmed they received the letters and said the ABC will move forward with verifying the residents’ concerns.
After review in Sacramento, the protests will then be returned to the local ABC office for mediation. If they can’t agree on modifications, the matter could go to a hearing with an administrative law judge.
“The protest period on this application [was] open until December 1,” Mr. Carr explained. “If they keep the protests on file, scheduling a hearing with an administrative law judge can take a while. We’ve had these take months and some that go over a year, depending on when a judge is available.”
Community Development Director Brad Johnson indicated the city is doing what it can to keep the project on schedule.
“The concern of the restaurateur is a long delay, like six to eight months. The city is very supportive of the business and getting a historic building adaptively reused,” he said. “We’re totally supportive of it.”
Anthony Villegas, owner of Meat Cellar, emphasized t hat they have gone through all the appropriate legal channels for the opening.
“This thing could drag out to May or June,” Mr. Villegas said. “We have only been courteous. I walked the neighborhood and introduced myself. If they had a problem, they should have gone to the CUP [conditional use permit] meeting. We are in the position now where these people missed the protest period on the local level. We asked for our hours and they were approved by the city. The ABC doesn’t really care about our hours, that’s a city thing.”
The vision in June 2017 was to expand on the Meat Cellar’s first location by offering a specialty market with a few farm tables for group dining.
By September 2017, when the Meat Cellar went to the city to ask for a CUP, there were two components—a daytime retail food business (boutique butcher shop), and an evening and nighttime restaurant, featuring later hours and a full bar.
That’s still the city’s vision, said Mr. Johnson. For the restaurant to offer live entertainment, for example, the owners would need to go through a separate application process with the city.
“They probably wouldn’t be issued one by the city,” Mr. Johnson said. “This is more of a high-end steakhouse, not a sports bar with finger foods, so between 10 p.m. and midnight, they are really winding down.”
But the resolution doesn’t clearly identify a mandate for a separate application to offer live entertainment and instead states, “video screens, amplification and live performance shall be limited to the interior of the premises,” the city resolution read.
Mr. Lindley and his neighbors—Michelle Boland, Steve Boland and Matthew Adams—attended the November 7 planning commission meeting to reiterate their concerns.
“I get the feeling we registered as dissenters with the city,” Mr. Lindley said. “The commissioners were cool though. But that’s when we first met Johnson.”
Days after the commission meeting, Mr. Johnson called up the neighbors to schedule a meeting at city hall where, according to Mr. Lindley, the community development director made a “raised-eyebrow suggestion” that they withdraw their letters from the ABC.
“Nobody agreed to do it,” Mr. Lindley said. “At this point, everybody in the neighborhood is planting their feet.”
The process feels deceptive, Mr. Lindley said, and he gets the impression the city wants to push through the approval without taking into account the neighbors’ trepidation.
“This fast track means we lose our rights as far as hours and parking issues,” Mr. Lindley said.
Mr. Johnson assures that no effort has been made to rush the project through.
“We don’t have a huge backlog, so it’s not like we set aside other applications to get this through,” he said. “It just went through the normal commission approval process. I would disagree with that comment.”
Mr. Lindley said he isn’t inclined to make a handshake deal with the city, particularly given the city’s financial investment and the neighbors’ perception that the Meat Cellar is getting special treatment.
On November 17, the Claremont City Council approved a funding request of $150,000 to the Meat Cellar under the community development block grant job creation program.
“The main point that stuck out to me was how much money does the city have invested in this business? How many grants and small business loans have they received for this? At this point, it’s got to be in writing,” Mr. Lindley said.
In addition to the midnight closing on weekends, a major point of contention for the Harvard Avenue residents is adequate parking. The expanded business plan increases the restaurant’s size from 3,334 square feet during the day to 4,857 square feet from 5 p.m. to midnight, when it will offer approximately 100 seats for evening dining.
There is plenty parking for both Wolfe’s Market and The Meat Cellar during the day between the 30 spaces on the current lot and an existing parking agreement of seven spaces at the State Farm Insurance office at 140 W. Foothill Blvd.
However, at night, with the additional 1,500 square feet of service space, the city will require at least 49 parking spaces, 12 more than what’s currently available.
Meeting the Claremont Municipal Code parking requirements was satisfied through approval of another joint use parking agreement by “borrowing” 12 more spaces from State Farm. Further, employees “shall park, whenever possible, in the seven spaces” already available at the insurance office.
Another possibility is valet parking—a service never offered in Claremont before—but something Mr. Johnson said is an option. The business plan, according to the owners, is also to “encourage” customers to use rideshare programs like Uber or Lyft to help with parking demands.
Mr. Villegas said his staff would tell customers who are making reservations to not park on Harvard Avenue and, he said, he’s willing to foot the bill for valet service.
“They can park on Foothill all day long. It’s within our legal right,” Mr. Villegas said. “But we want to be good neighbors. We’re well intentioned people.”
Mr. Johnson emphasizes there are measures in place to protect residents from disruption.
“We certainly understand the concerns of the neighbors,” Mr. Johnson said. “When I met with them I offered that should any concerns arise in the future, we have a tool to bring the conditional use permit back for a modification.”
But the idea of valet parking and a late-night bar just a block from his home has Mr. Lindley worried about the “Gucci-fication” of Claremont, he said, in reference to the high-end designer.
“I’m worried about the drunks and the half-digested cheeseburgers under my rose bushes,” he said. “We don’t want that.”
Mr. Villegas feels he’s done everything he possibly can to resolve matters with the neighbors, including offering to close early if business is slow.
“Everything in Claremont dies down at 9 o’clock, so we would only stay open if we had a private event,” he said. “This is a family-run restaurant that serves alcohol. It is not a bar.”
The city hopes to facilitate discussion to see the project move forward without lengthy delays. A second meeting between the neighbors and the city, including the mayor, took place Tuesday morning.
According to Mr. Villegas, City Manager Tony Ramos assured him that they city was working to alleviate hurdles related to the parking issues.
“Tony Ramos himself told me they were looking at making Harvard permit-only parking after 6 p.m.,” Mr. Villegas said. “So I think that’s part of the negotiation.”
Mr. Lindley and his neighbors want more of a guarantee that their concerns are being addressed.
“This is a residential area. We would back off if they closed at 10 o’clock, that is restaurant hours,” Mr. Lindley said.