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Paso Robles City Council votes to reconsider cardroom rezoning

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The Paso Robles City Council will once again endure a discussion about particulars of the city’s zoning code, and the blurred lines that go with it.

The council voted Jan. 20 to reconsider a request to amend the city’s zoning code to allow a cardroom in the manufacturing zone. The item was first heard in July, after owners of the Paso Robles Central Coast Casino (PRCCC) asked the city to amend the code so they could relocate the business from the city’s north side to Ramada Drive near the interchange of Highways 101 and 46 West. That request was originally denied 4-1, with the council deciding to keep zoning as-is.

That decision irked PRCCC owner Don Ezzell, who accused Adam Firestone, owner of Firestone Walker Brewery, of unfairly meddling with the rezoning process after Firestone spoke against the effort on behalf of several Ramada Drive business owners, saying a cardroom wouldn’t be compatible with the area.

“With all the confusion in the last round, it is possible that the previous decision got sidetracked by invalid rumors,” Ezzell said during a long PowerPoint presentation that resembled an attorney’s opening statement. “In reality, we are the good element of Paso Robles.”

In order to reconsider the zoning amendment, the council had to make an exception to its rule of waiting at least a year before revisiting a decision. If changed, the cardroom would still need to obtain a conditional use permit in order to operate in the building the owners bought on Ramada Drive.

During public comment, speakers often wandered away from the specific zoning question toward a more nebulous discussion of the cardroom’s character and whether it would be a beneficial addition to the neighborhood.

Supporters repeatedly mentioned several surrounding businesses—Subway, Chevron, Jack in the Box—and Mid State Baptist Church, all of which currently are permitted. Business owners in favor of keeping the zoning code intact and some city officials reminded the audience that those are already allowed uses, and that the decision before them wasn’t whether such uses were appropriate, but whether a cardroom was.

For Tom Madden, a Paso Robles-based attorney who’s worked with Adam Firestone, it’s all in the zoning.

“I think Mr. Ezzell’s presentation is wonderful,” Madden said. “The people wearing the shirts [supporting the cardroom] are good members of the community. What we’re looking at here is zoning and consistency.”

“Mr. Ezzell, what he’s pointing out, is that he bought that property knowing that a cardroom is not an appropriate use,” Madden said.

Councilmember John Hamon said he didn’t want to see the council make an exception to its rules at the request of one business.

“Consistency is extremely important when you’re making decisions in regard to other people’s livelihood and that matter,” he said.

He was outnumbered, however, when Mayor Steve Martin and councilmembers Fred Strong and Jim Reed voted to reconsider the issue, after each expressed some frustration with the confusion over zoning or how the denial was first made. Hamon and Steve Gregory voted no.

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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