Encinitas gives win to downtown patio for Union Kitchen + Tap

Patrons of the lively downtown Union Kitchen + Tap will finally be allowed to eat and drink in the patio area, but its owners will need to provide the city with yearly documentation that alcohol isn't their primary source of income.

In fact, all of the downtown's alcohol-serving restaurants ought to provide percentage sales data on alcohol purchases on a yearly basis as part of their business license renewals, city planning commissioners said June 15 as they voted to approve the Union's patio permit request. The commissioners added that they hope a proposed alcohol regulatory ordinance that's now being developed by city employees will include this requirement.

"This is an opportunity to push that forward," Commissioner Kevin Doyle said, noting that concerns about downtown restaurants morphing into bars late at night have regularly been raised.

The proposed alcohol ordinance is part of the city's latest effort to curb years of complaints about alcohol-related problems in downtown, including late-night noise, vandalism and drunken driving. A "deemed approved" ordinance, which will create a new permit system for alcohol-serving establishments, also is in the works and it's scheduled to go before the Encinitas City Council on June 28.

After placing various conditions on Union's patio proposal — including a ban on live or amplified music — commissioners voted 4-0, to approve the permit. Commissioner Greg Drakos absent.

Up to 50 patrons will be allowed to eat and drink on the patio area, which will be renovated, roofed-over and soundproofed.

"We feel it's a benefit to the community. We feel it's something the vast majority of the community would like," said Chris Cox, director of operations for the OMG Hospitality Group, which operates the restaurant and a host of other establishments in San Diego County, including the PB Alehouse.

This was the second time that the patio proposal had gone before the commission. In January, commissioners heard the proposal, but declined to take a vote, saying they wanted to wait for the pending release of a city report on the ever-growing number of alcohol-serving establishments in downtown.

Commissioners said at the time that they weren't calling for a permit "moratorium" — they just wanted to "push the pause button" for a bit on approving any more alcohol-related permits. After receiving that staff report, the commissioners decided against recommending a moratorium, but instead asked the City Council to enact new regulations, including the "deemed approved" ordinance that's schedule to go up for a vote later this month.

Though the Union's expansion plans have been hotly contested in the past, public comment to the commissioners June 15 was initially upbeat. A representative for the nearby Self-Realization Fellowship said his organization had resolved its issues with the project and would support it as long as permit conditions were met.

Later, though, as commissioners began their deliberations, a man in the audience started loudly swearing and yelling out that the commissioners were caving in to the restaurant’s request. Commission Chairman Glenn O'Grady ordered the man to sit down and shut up. Ultimately, O'Grady banged the gavel and declared a recess in the meeting until order was restored.

"There are nights when I would expect something like that — tonight I wasn't expecting (it)," O’Grady said once the meeting resumed.

Barbara Henry is a freelance writer in Encinitas for The San Diego Union-Tribune.

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