City council rejects moving card room to Ramada Dr.
Paso Robles card room operator blames Firestone for decision
Paso Robles Central Coast Casino operators Rob and Amy Ezzell need a larger space for their card room that has outgrown its location at 1124 Black Oak Drive, north of the Paso Robles Event Center, so they put in a request to the city of Paso Robles for a zoning modification to conditionally allow for card rooms in manufacturing zones in the Ramada Drive area. The request was unanimously recommended for approval by the Paso Robles Planning Commission.
The Paso Robles City Council, however, voted 4-1 to deny the modification on July 1. Councilman Fred Strong was the dissenting vote.
Rob Ezzell said that he expected the city council to approve the modification as the planning commission had. He said that all changed when Firestone-Walker Brewery owner Adam Firestone got up to object.
“When he objected [the council] started a conversation with him about ancillary things not related to the issue,” Ezzell said, adding that after Firestone’s objection, the council “just had a vote,” without asking for the applicant – him – to respond.
The next day, Ezzell found out that Firestone had made an offer on the same property, located along Ramada Drive which Ezzell has a contract to buy. The offer Ezzell made has a contingency that the zoning change be approved by the council. He said that he blames Firestone for the decision the council made.
Firestone said he made an offer on the property when he found out that the casino wanted to relocate to the property. He said that he knew his objections would likely lead to the modification not being approved and he did not want to damage the property owner’s sale.
“That property has been for sale for a long time,” Firestone said, adding that he had passed on buying the property because it was located too far from his brewery. “I knew that as soon as I, and the other property owners, spoke, it would damage the sale for the Wright family.”
While Ezzell has said that Firestone had ulterior motives in opposing the zone change, Firestone said that he does not.
“We just don’t think a casino is the right thing to see when you come into the city of Paso Robles,” Firestone said.
Ezzell said that the discussion turned from the issue at hand – allowing card rooms in a manufacturing zone – and more about his particular business locating in that particular area.
“We believe that the neighborhood zoning should not be changed to permit casino card rooms,” Trailer Barn owner Susan Borene wrote in a statement for the River Park West Property Owners Association. “We feel that the M Zone is properly zoned and that there is no need to make changes or exceptions. Our neighborhood is the southern gateway to Paso Robles. For many years, we have all worked hard to improve our properties within the parameters of the existing zoning. We want to stay the course and maintain the existing culture of our neighborhood.”
Strong disagreed, saying he voted against denial “because the entire hearing got diverted for something that it wasn’t [meant] for.”
“I don’t think we would want to not allow card rooms in any industrial area,” Strong said, adding that even with the zoning modification, any card room wanting to locate in a manufacturing zone would need to obtain a conditional use permit.
While Ezzell said that the hearing for CUP would be the appropriate time for objections on a casino locating in a particular place, Firestone said that if he didn’t voice his concerns now, it would be brought up later.
Councilman Steve Martin, on the other hand, said that he voted in favor of denial because he does not think that a card room should be located in a manufacturing zone.
“My opinion, based on the issue before us, is that a manufacturing zone would not be an appropriate [location for a card room],” Martin said.
Mayor Duane Picanco said that he did not feel that a casino would be appropriate in a gateway area.
“I did not feel it was appropriate to change the wording in the entire M zone to accommodate one business,” Mayor Pro Tem Ed Steinbeck said about why he voted for denial.
Paso Robles Community Development Director Ed Gallagher said that there were two issues related to card rooms on the agenda. One was for the modification to the zoning and the second concerned municipal code changes: changing the number of tables allowed from four to six and the total allowed in Paso Robles to 18, increase wagering limits from $200 to $500, and allow bets by owners, operators or employees while on duty in certain situations. The code change issue, Ezzell said, was handled differently and passed 5-0.
Gallagher said that the vote could be reconsidered by the council with the required three-fifths votes to put it back on the agenda. If the council does not, and he said he’s not sure that the council will since four members voted to deny the modification, the applicant can ask for the modification again after one year from the July 1 meeting.
Ezzell said that he, his wife and his brother, Don Ezzell, the owner of the casino, are looking at other locations in Paso Robles because they know they need a larger space.
“Obviously, we are going to move the card room at some point – it’s too small to meet our needs,” Rob Ezzell said, but added that the zoning modification gives them more options on where to move the business. “We spent a couple of years researching this. We have to think about what’s going to help [our business].”
Don Ezzell bought the casino three years ago; one year after the previous owner moved the card room from downtown to where it is presently.