Downtowners fuming over Gasoline Alley expansion

City planners will decide May 16 whether downtown bar and club owners Sam and Kathy Guadagnoli will be allowed to expand their Gasoline Alley nightclub at 28 N. Tejon St. into a vacant building next door.

Neighbors, including home owners’ groups in downtown lofts and a prominent businessman, submitted public comments to Colorado Springs Land Use Review planner Ryan Tefertiller, asking the Downtown Review Board to deny the Guadagnolis’ request for a conditional use permit.

The neighbors complain that there are already too many bars downtown and that they create a noisy and unsafe environment at night and dark, empty streets during the day, which discourage other businesses from taking root.

The Guadagnolis say they’re trying to improve downtown by adding a new business and opening the addition for lunch to enliven the block between Kiowa Street and Pikes Peak Avenue during the daytime.

The city’s new form-based code allows almost any use downtown as long as the physical structure fits in with the architectural fabric of the city. But conditional use permits are required for auto repair shops, some human services like homeless shelters or detox centers, sexually-oriented business like adult bookstores and for bars.

“Every successful downtown has bars,” Tefertiller said. “And bars are an appropriate urban use.”

The reason they require a conditional use permit is to give the city more control over where bars are located and allow a case-by-case consideration of how new bars will impact nearby property owners, he said.

The downtown review board, formed in 2009 when the form-based code was instituted, is the governing body that will consider the application.

This will only be the third conditional use permit the downtown review board has addressed. The others included the Springs Rescue Mission and bars at the Mining Exchange Hotel.

The board considers three criteria for the application, including that the use will align with the values and qualities if the neighborhood, the use promotes public health, safety and welfare and that it’s in keeping with the city’s comprehensive plan.

The planning and development team’s recommendation for the application is to approve it with conditions and modifications.

The Guadagnolis own several bars on the block of Tejon between Kiowa and Pikes Peak, including Blondies-Red Martini Piano Bar at 22 N. Tejon, Cowboys and the Downtown Lanes at 25 N. Tejon and The Mansion at 20 N. Tejon.

The space they want to expand Gasoline Alley into is a 3,475-square-foot retail shop that has been mostly vacant since Zerbe Jewelers moved farther north on Tejon Street in 2009. It’s situated directly between Gasoline Alley and The Mansion.

While the Gudagnolis said they plan to put a kitchen at the front of the location and would serve food, Sam Guadagnoli said he did not think he would be able to get by with a restaurant liquor license, for which he would not need a conditional use permit.

The Gasoline Alley expansion would not likely get a high enough percentage of its revenue from food sales.

“Cowboys across the street has a big kitchen and does a large percentage of food sales, but it doesn’t meet requirements,” Sam said.

The city requires that any establishment getting less than half its revenue from food sales get a tavern liquor license rather than a restaurant license even if it does have a kitchen, Tefertiller said. The state only requires food sales to exceed 25 percent for a restaurant liquor license.

Neighborhood opposition

Several downtown condominium owners submitted letters requesting that the review board deny the application for conditional use.

“Downtown is an image and symbol of the region and has the opportunity to reaffirm its identity as the epicenter and economic engine of the city,” says one letter submitted by the home owner’s association presidents and residents of the Carriage House Lofts, the Daniels Lofts and the Giddings Lofts. “Downtown Colorado Springs development needs to be broad-based and needs to attract a broad and diverse mix of Colorado Springs inhabitants.

“Presently, the block between Pikes Peak and Kiowa is dominated by bars open late into the night and has lost its daytime vibrancy.”

Loft owners also said the “proliferation of bars deters other development … and often results in violence, loud music, drunken yelling and screaming and police sirens.”

Dan Marvin, president of the Carriage House Lofts homeowners association, wrote that the block is already dominated by bars.

“Security and the nuisance factor is already high and adding yet more capacity will only increase those issues,” he said.

Businessman Kevin O’Neil, who lives in a downtown loft, also wrote to complain about the effect the bars have on the new building he purchased for his Braxton Technologies at 6 N. Tejon St.

“My building has extra operating costs due to the bars,” O’Neil said … “I often have vomit and trash left over from the bars, including blood from fights that break out after hours.”

O’Neil pays crews to wash the sidewalks and alleys around his building because of urine and dirt that he attributes to bar patrons.

“You can keep opening bars like the ones down there and see if our downtown continues to struggle,” O’Neil said. “It will. I could start with me pulling $20 million in payroll back out of downtown.”

Balancing interests

One person submitted a letter supporting the application.

Terrence Van Sant, an architect who Tefertiller said is not involved with the Guadagnolis or their project, writes that he is sympathetic to the complaints from retailers, many of whom have fled the block.

“In this case, however, I feel this is a good use since this entire block of Tejon Street has such establishments,” Van Sant said. “In that regard, I support the use.”

Kathy Guadagnoli said the location is right for a bar expansion because of what is already around it — bars.

“We are in the heart of the entertainment district downtown,” she said.

While the letters from neighbors lament the abundance of bars in the area, Downtown Partnership Executive Director Ron Butlin said he doesn’t believe discussion about getting rid of the existing bars is beneficial.

“I think the discussion we need to have is — how do we integrate the clubs,” Butlin said. “I think that space remaining vacant is not a good thing for downtown.”

Sam said he knows one of the biggest complaints about his downtown clubs is that they are empty and dark during the daytime.

“We started talking about how we can help and how we can fix that,” Sam said.

And offering lunch seemed like the most logical answer, he said.

“We’ll have a chef preparing food and the kitchen will be right up front where people can see it and smell it,” he said. “That should open up part of the block to not look so closed during the day.”

As for complaints about noise, he said he plans to put the stage at the rear of the expansion to mitigate noise and that he has worked with police and the downtown community on noise complaints in the past.

“I am sensitive to the lofts,” he said.

But there will be noise downtown and that vibrant urban atmosphere is what draws people to live downtown, he said.

“I would hope a lot of the reason people want to live downtown is to enjoy the restaurants and the clubs and the entertainment,” he said.

As for safety concerns, Sam said he has worked with the Colorado Springs Police Department on safety issues and to control fights. Since the clubs’ identification scanners started communicating with each other, the clubs have been able to deny entry to people who misbehaved in one location and prevent their continued drinking at other downtown establishments, Sam said.

That has made a big difference, Butlin said.

“It has improved a lot in the last four years,” he said.

There’s still work to do and Sam said he tries to keep the streets and sidewalks in front of his clubs clean. Butlin said that while the city is looking for new ways to keep the streets clean and considering new equipment purchases, it might be good for club owners like the Guadagnolis to have their staff expand clean-up efforts up and down the street.

If the review board denies the application, the Guadagnolis can appeal it to the City Council, Tefertiller said.

Gasoline Alley public meeting

8:30 a.m. May 16

City Council chambers, 107 N. Nevada Ave.

Downtown Review Board members

• Wayne Timura, planning consultant

• Michael Whitley, architect

• Richard Guy, owner, Computer Resources, Downtown Development Authority

• Daniel Hankins, Shook’s Run neighborhood association

• Gary Marchio, planning consultant and landscape architect

• George Cruz, architect

• Dan Robertson, downtown loft builder

• Ed Gonzalez, planning commissioner

• David Neville, Urban Renewal Authority

One Response to Downtowners fuming over Gasoline Alley expansion

  1. I think it is really sad what has happened to the downtown. I have not taken my family downtown to a resturant in years in the evening. There are other safer parts of town to enjoy. Of course business development is a balancing act, but the liquor consumption in the downtown is beyond the tipping point.

    charlie.brown@rl-sp.com
    May 11, 2012 at 8:33 am