by Joanne Turner
There was a big-deal issue in town that went away, but not without a fight and a whole lot of yelling and misunderstanding. The Fat Dog Lounge proposal seemed to divide our community in two, but the factions were of unequal proportion. Most were against it, and for good reason.
Many of the newer folks in town saw the proposal as a welcome change in Eagle Rock. They saw it as a means of building on our community’s burgeoning “hipness.” They seemed to think the proposal was a totally good thing if it were to become a part of our commercial district as opposed to a totally bad thing if we didn’t let it happen. In other words, to these folks the issue was either/or, black or white.
Those of us who have lived in Eagle Rock long enough to have witnessed the business district’s worst phases in the early 1980s through the middle 1990s know that there are always gray areas to every planning issue and that they can’t be ignored. Examining and working through those gray areas takes a lot of work, and a lot of time, two things many people can’t or don’t want to do, and we know from hard-fought experience that we certainly can’t expect the city to do its job the way it should without intense prodding from the citizenry.
Doing planning right by working through all those gray areas is called recognizing and investing in long-term benefits as opposed to giving in to short-term solutions, the former of which is a viewpoint politicians rarely embrace. Quick, thoughtless solutions very often have a dire effect and make the ultimate goal of community improvement much harder to reach.
The Fat Dog proposal was sold to the community as a high-end wine bar serving small plates that would be created by a known Westside chef. I was just as excited as anyone was, but we soon found out the proposal submitted to the city was anything but. What the proprietors of Fat Dog and their hired facilitator really wanted was a full-line alcohol license, to be open 24/7 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. with live entertainment, and to serve food that in no way resembled trendy small plates. They also wanted to buy up a disproportionate amount of parking spaces under the newly created Pilot Parking Program.
Understandably, those living close to the site and who had experienced patrons of the nearby full-alcohol Chalet urinating and vomiting on or near their properties were horrified. They also knew that parking, regardless of the good intentions of the pilot program, would become a huge problem, especially for the residents on Townsend Avenue. And, they knew loud entertainment until late hours would surely disrupt the lives of those who have to get up every morning, take their kids to school, and go to work.
Oh, and there’s another thing. It’s called the law. The Colorado Boulevard Specific Plan was written by citizen volunteers over a five-year period during our business district’s worst phases and became law in August of 1992. Yes, it puts restrictions on certain types of business, but it does so because its overall intent is to raise the standard of businesses in the area. It encourages a diversity of businesses with an emphasis on good design while discouraging those businesses that without a doubt have been shown to erode a community’s ability to improve itself. Blockbuster Video, in fact, told us it never would have moved here WITHOUT the Specific Plan.
Full-line alcohol licenses are not allowed within the Plan area without obtaining an exception to the Plan from the city, not an easy task. Think about it. If a full-line alcohol license were granted in this case, imagine the Pandora’s box that would be opened. How could the city say no to the next guy in line without facing a lawsuit? Before you know it, you’ve got Melrose Avenue.
Many people moved to Eagle Rock for a quieter, family-oriented life, but with some adult fun attached that doesn’t get out of hand. It’s called balance, and you can thank the citizens who saw and wrestled with those gray areas.