Despite some lingering concerns over noise and public safety, the San Carlos Planning Commission last night gave the green light to expand the Carlos Club by turning a parking lot behind the night club into an open patio with live acoustic music and food.
The commission voted 4-1, with Vice Chair Scot Marsters opposing, in favor of the permit which was met with applause from owner Fred Duncan and his supporters in the audience. The decision can be appealed to the City Council within 10 days.
Unlike a lengthy January meeting that ended with more questions than answers, the Planning Commission Monday night made a decision in little more than an hour and without much public input save one Greater East San Carlos resident who opposed the plan.
Many of the commissioners said they liked the tweaks to the design and planned hours of operation but Marsters raised the opposition of the city’s top law enforcement official, Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Rothaus.
"I’m going to bring up the elephant in the room,” Marsters said. "While I think that you’ve done a great job with the design and addressing noise, I still have an issue with the safety.”
The question over safety has proved the biggest hurdle for Duncan who was already granted a parking exemption when Rothaus’ opposition arose during subsequent request for a conditional use permit. Rothaus cited the number of police-involved incidents at the club historically and said he thought encroaching into a dark alley only added to the possibility for new problem.
Rothaus, who oversees the San Carlos Patrol Bureau, reported 131 incidents from the Carlos Club between October 2010 and October 2011 but a breakdown shows that 69 were spot checks initiated by police and, according to Duncan, only seven were specifically alcohol-related.
Rothaus did not address the commission and it did not ask him any questions before the vote. Commissioner Angela Harper-Pederson said Rothaus had made an extensive presentation at a meeting last fall and Commission Steve San Filippo said he was "very clear” on the issues.
The Carlos Club sits at 612 El Camino Real and Duncan has said the addition of food and music will let him compete with other restaurants and bars with outside seating. In January, the Planning Commission debated for hours but held off on a decision saying it first wanted more information on noise, walkways and the entry and exit. The panel asked for an acoustic study and specifics on how noise and a greater patron capacity of up to 178 people might have on other issues like public safety.
Before the commission held its discussion last night, Duncan said the ultimate goal was for them just to make a decision. He also said he felt the city so far had "still found reasons for denial” without substantiation.
In response to the earlier queries, Duncan and his architect clarified the patio would actually have a maximum seated capacity of 96.
Duncan also agreed to limit his hours of operation from 4 p.m. to midnight with live music ending at 10 p.m. and to have patrons queue up inside the patio rather than the outside alleyway.
At the request of the commission, Duncan paid $6,500 for an acoustic study that, under existing conditions, doesn’t exceed standards but would if the front door was used as the main club entrance. Open portholes planned for the proposed patio’s perimeter wall would also exceed city standards from noise and live music but using clear Plexiglass would lower the volume enough, according to the study.
Senior consultant Fred Smith of Ilingworth & Rodkin, Inc., the group that conducted the study, said noise measured around 67 decibels from in front of the club which is "not terribly loud but it got louder of course when patrons were walking around the street.”
He said he once heard the club from the closest residence across the train tracks but the level was "fairly low.”
Michelle Durand can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.