Discussion is heating up again over where a Paso Robles gambling establishment can relocate, this time as the business gears up to ask the City Council on Tuesday to reconsider its previous decision not to allow card rooms in the city’s manufacturing district.
The operators of the Paso Robles Central Coast Casino want to move their business from Black Oak Drive into a larger space they purchased last summer on Ramada Drive next to Highway 101 at the southern end of town.
The new location at 1649 Ramada Drive is now home to Knight’s Carpets & Interiors. Moving there would double the card room’s footprint so the owners could add a restaurant and bar.
But the area is now zoned for manufacturing, which doesn’t allow card rooms. The Paso Robles Central Coast Casino operators hope to persuade the council to add card rooms to the list of allowed uses in manufacturing zones.
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The card room is operated by Paso Robles residents Rob and Amy Ezzell; brother Don Ezzell owns the business.
When the Ezzells originally brought the idea to city leaders last summer, the Planning Commission unanimously supported the zoning change. Then the City Council shot down the idea in July after neighbors, including Firestone Walker Brewing Co. and the Trailer Barn, said a casino was not a good fit for that area of town.
Card rooms are regulated by state and city laws and involve players making bets on card games only, not slot machines.
At the Paso Robles Central Coast Casino, players make bets against each other, with a maximum of $500 per bet, in games of poker, blackjack and three-card poker. The house doesn’t participate in the gambling, but instead collects a host fee for providing the table and venue.
The Paso Robles Central Coast Casino is the only card room in the city.
Rob Ezzell said he wasn’t able to formally present his plans to the council in July and, in December, asked the council to reconsider hearing his pitch.
“Council policy is currently to wait at least a year before a denial can be reconsidered,” said Susan DeCarli, the city’s acting community development director. “So Tuesday’s item … is really a preliminary step to see if we even want to talk about this again at a future date.”
For the Ezzell family, Tuesday’s meeting is an opportunity to focus on the first step in the process — the zoning change.
Once that issue is resolved, the Ezzells would still have to apply for a conditional use permit to allow the specific plans they have for the business.
Any opinions about whether his specific card room would be a good fit for Ramada Drive should come later, Rob Ezzell said, if the council considers a conditional use permit for the card room.
“We’d like to keep the focus on exactly what we’re asking for — just the modification to the zoning,” he said. “When Firestone was going off into left field about casinos not being appropriate for the area — that shouldn’t be in this hearing. We think Firestone is confusing the issue by making it about that location.”
Councilman Fred Strong, who seconded a motion to allow Ezzell’s request to be heard Tuesday, said the procedural steps concerning rezoning versus the specific plans for the property have been confusing to the community.
“That’s where it’s gotten muddy,” he said. “People are making it about that specific location and that’s not what is in front of us at this point.”
For his part, Adam Firestone, co-owner of the brewery on 1400 Ramada Drive, told The Tribune that his concern is on the zoning change issue.
“That would change our zoning and that of all our neighbors,” he said via email. “Collectively, we felt that wasn't a sensible move for the city nor for our neighborhood.”
Firestone said that card rooms operate late hours, which is inconsistent with manufacturing zones that tend to close up by evening.
“The casino can locate on any of the hundreds of commercially zoned lots (in the city) without amending the zoning rules,” he said.
Similarly, Susan Claassen Borene, co-owner of the Trailer Barn at 1195 Ramada Drive and president of the neighborhood’s property association accounting for about a dozen businesses, said it’s the consensus of the group that the area’s zoning should remain the same.
“We came into this area because of the zoning and knowing what would develop around us,” she said. “If they change it for this gentleman, who else are they going to change it for? That sets a precedent and now we’re going to have a bunch of mismatched planning.”