Planning Commission approves two event centers that bookend Main St.

January 27, 2017
Santa Paula News

In front of a packed City Hall Chambers the Planning Commission Tuesday approved two special event centers to be forwarded for consideration by the City Council, projects that bookend the historic Downtown.

The new Palazzio Event Center, wants to open at 814 E. Main St., just east of 8th Street. The existing La Terraza, which had received permitting in the past that lapsed, has taken over an adjacent building for expansion of the eatery and banquet facilities, at 10th and Main streets.

Both received approval after extensive public comment but not without questions largely centered on Palazzio, proposed by Jose Melgar.

The new venture would be open Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.

The maximum occupancy being requested is 569. 

Parking had been an issues for the planned Palazzio, which would be opened in phases; initially the venue would have catered events on the bottom floor. The second phase would add a kitchen and new windows at the front of the building that over the decades housed J.C. Penney’s, antique shops and later, The Salvation Army Thrift Store. Restrooms will be added on both floors as well as children’s area.

Permits would also be phased from opening to beer and wine and later distilled spirits. 

Contract Planner Joyce Parker-Bozylinski told commissioners the “historic tile” on the building would be retained.

Music would be limited to special events such as weddings and due to the thickness of the walls and air conditioning to be installed Parker-Bozylinski said noise should be muffled.  

Melgar would like to serve 550 guests with 14 employees to meet the building’s code allowed capacity, a number that still must be reviewed by Fire and Building & Safety.

“Parking is one of the issue we spent much time on,” to lessen impacts to Downtown businesses but Melgar has secured 150 spaces on private lots, 40 parking spots short of what full capacity of the event center is calculated to need.

“We have analyzed the worst case scenario” if both Palazzio and La Terraza have full to capacity events at the same time. 

Parker-Bozylinski said the latter would have 124 spaces for valet parking and use 52 spaces on public lots.

City owned parking lots provide 184 spaces — the parking lot at the Agriculture Museum was not factored in — and a “spot check” by both applicants noted the public lots are only utilized by about 20 percent after hours, allowing the use of 147 spaces. 

Events that have a cover charge other than dinner for nonprofits, award ceremonies and other similar uses are banned, “Mainly to prevent the facility from turning more into a nightclub.”

Police, fire and Downtown merchants would be notified of any planned event over 300 people, which, said Parker-Bozylinski “should be easy as most events” of that size are scheduled well in advance.

Commissioner Mike Sommer asked  wwwwat length about the restrooms questioning the number and layout and then noted, “The amount of stalls does not seem nearly enough for 569 people…” 

Commissioner Robinson questioned the trash enclosures and was told that the present one in the building’s parking lot would likely be expanded.

Melgar told the commission he has been an area resident for 27 years, a professional photographer with his business Downtown, and such an event center “has been a dream of mine” for two decades.

“During my career I have noticed a shortage of nice venues,” in Santa Paula he noted.

“It would break my heart to do the photographs of weddings,” held locally that were forced to stage receptions out of town. 

“I was able to find the right place to do it,” and other resources that have allowed the application.

“I have seen many banquet halls, been in the most humble,” to the finest and Melgar said it is his desire to provide a showcase that rivals the Hilton and will “bring dignity to my clients.”

“This place will be big enough, beautiful enough,” to draw business that Melgar said would also benefit the Downtown

One supporter he noted is “Lee Cole, president of Calavo…he is excited,” and although present in the audience did not wish to speak but allowed Melgar “to quote him.”

Due to the number of speaker cards Commission Chair Ike Ikerd held comments to 2 minutes each.

Connie Tushla said, “My feeling is it is the right project for Main Street by the right person.” 

She was just one of more than a dozen speakers that offered support but a resident of the apartment adjacent to the second floor of the Palazzio voiced concerns.

Steve Meisel said he and his family — including a 1-year child — live next door to the proposed event center.

“Our daughter is our biggest concern, the noise,” that would be generated by special events that would also keep his wife — who must leave for work at 5 a.m. — up late.

“I’ve lived there for two years and we hear everything…” 

Lack of parking, he added, as well as alcohol and safety, are also concerns.

Opening the center would “almost force us to move out, which puts me in a predicament…”

Special event producer Seana-Marie Sesma said to “Take those dollars outside Santa Paula,” due to the lack of a venue, “just makes me cringe.”

Lorenzo Moraza said the project would “add to the beauty of our business district,” and provide job opportunities from remodeling to staffing, positions that he said Melgar said would be hired locally.

Antonio Rodriguez, also a tenant of the apartment’s next door, said he knows and trusts Melgar whom would work out an agreement with him with Meisel that perhaps would solve their parking dilemma.

The balance of the speakers also supported the proposal including property owner Jeff Becker, who noted his “personal support for his [Melgar’s] concepts. I talked to him for many months now,  he’s put his heart and soul into it. I feel it will activate that part of the downtown and I want to help him get that off the ground.”  

The project said Tina Urias, would be a “win-win” for the community offering space for seminars, classes and nonprofit gatherings.

The executive director of the Santa Paula Art Museum said she is often contacted about renting space for events: “Santa Paula,” said Jennifer Heighton, “needs an elegant venue.”  

Commissioner Sommer asked if Building & Safety had signed off on the proposal and architect Marilyn Appleby said the facility would not be given a building permit until it undergoes a Building & Safety review.

Commissioner Robinson said he was “overall comfortable with the project — Santa Paula needs something like,” especially in a building with historic significance.

“Parking, we can beat that to death and,” he added, “I’ve looked at all the charts, public parking and private parking.”

Robinson noted that last summer’s closing concert of the Ojai Music Festival drew a large crowd to the Downtown and that event, as well as the monthly Cruise Nights held April through October show “people will find a way…”

He did express concern for the venue’s neighbors and was assured by Melgar they would reach an agreement.

Robinson made the motion for the Planning Commission to recommend the project to the City Council, which passed unanimously.

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