Restaurant permit

Las Islas Marias restaurant on Palmdale Boulevard will be allowed to more than double its size and add a dance floor and stage, but the Planning Commission denied the request to change its liquor license to sell hard alcohol instead of beer and wine only.

PALMDALE — Looking to prevent potential problems associated with a nightclub, the Planning Commission approved a requested expansion to a Mexican restaurant to include a dance floor and stage, but not the changed alcohol license to sell hard liquor in addition to beer and wine.

The restaurant, Las Islas Marias at 2133 East Palmdale Blvd., may reapply for the liquor license in the future, after there is some evidence of how the establishment operates with the additional dining and entertainment space.

The proposed expansion would more than double the size of the establishment, from 3,250 square feet to 8,500 square feet. It will include additional dining space as well as a dance floor, stage and bar area.

Along with the physical expansion, owner Jorge Ramirez also requested longer operating hours, from the current 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on weekends. However, the operating hours were scaled back at the request of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to midnight on Friday and Saturday.

The Commission voted 3-1 to approve the expansion, with Commissioner Bart Avery dissenting and Commissioner Jesse Smith absent.

“I think every Mexican restaurant should make margaritas with tequila,” Avery said, adding he could support the alcohol license change and expansion without the added entertainment space and later hours.

With the live entertainment and added security, it sounds as though it transitions at some point from a standard Mexican restaurant to a place where security is needed to monitor patrons, he said.

“I don’t think I can support what’s in this package tonight,” he said.

Ramirez stressed the intention was not to create a nightclub, but to remain a restaurant that could also accommodate events such as banquets, weddings and quinceanera celebrations.

However, Commissioners felt the combination of hard alcohol, an entertainment space and later hours would create a nightclub environment.

“It sounds like it can go in a couple different directions,” Commissioner Dean Henderson said. The banquet function is not problematic, “but the nightclub part seems a little scary on Palmdale Boulevard.”

“When you’re a full-blown nightclub, you will be a great proprietor, but you get knuckleheads that show up,” he said. “They drink too much and they turn into knuckleheads.”

Commission President Stacia Nemeth said they have seen this happen with other establishments in the city, including one in the same vicinity.

“It appears to be trending towards a nightclub, and nightclubs have caused problems in this city in the past. That is a big concern for all of us up here,” she said.

Ramirez detailed a security plan, which includes not only cameras as required by the city, but also armed guards in the parking lot and checking guests at the door.

The concept of guards checking bags at the door did not set Commissioners at ease as to the innocuous nature of the expanded space.

“It’s suddenly becoming not a family restaurant but something else entirely,” Commissioner Angela French said.

While the desire to expand to meet a need in the community is a good thing for the city, Nemeth said, “I’m concerned about the need to sell hard alcohol to make that happen.”

“I think this is a lot of change at one time,” she said.

The alcohol license requested was allowable using either of two methods to determine if there are too many alcohol outlets within an area, and while in a high crime area, it still fell within the range to allow for the license and the location had four calls for Sheriff’s service over the past year, according to the staff report.

Henderson requested additional detail in the crime statistics quoted in the staff report for determining if the location is in a high crime area, which Planning Department staff will include in such analysis in the future.

The Palmdale Prevention Community Council opposed the change to the liquor license, in part based on the specific crimes in the vicinity, including assault, offense against family, drunk driving and other alcohol-related crimes, PCC member Xavier Flores said.

Additionally, the density of alcohol outlets becomes higher when stores that sell alcohol for off-site use are included, not only restaurants.

The steps the Commission ultimately took followed a recommendation of the organization to approve the expansion and reconsider the alcohol license change after a two-year trial period.

The organization also requested the city develop clear definitions for bars, nightclubs and restaurants to differentiate between the uses.

The Alcohol Beverage Control Department defines a bona fide restaurant as one which serves food up until a half hour until closing and in which a dance floor is less than 30% of the total floor area, Planning Director Rob Bruce said.

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