HUNTINGTON BEACH Downtown restaurants will now have an easier path to get approval to stay open late.
The City Council voted 5-1 Monday night, Aug. 7 to change an ordinance that automatically triggered midnight closings for downtown restaurants looking to make changes or those moving into existing restaurant spaces that had later hours. The earlier ordinance, approved in 2013, reduced operating hours for businesses with alcohol and live entertainment in the downtown area because of complaints about late-night, alcohol-related problems.
Now instead of having to go to the council, businesses seeking later hours can have their requests handled at the zoning administrator or Planning Commission level, as long as they meet certain criteria.
Councilwoman Jill Hardy, who has consistently voted against any establishment serving after midnight, was opposed. Councilman Billy O’Connell, who has an ownership interest in a downtown restaurant, recused himself.
Black Bull Chop House and HQ Gastropub can be seen as the latest object lessons of problems with the old way of doing business.
In April the owners of the two restaurants, which had permission to serve alcohol after midnight, appealed to the City Council to overturn the requirement that they close at midnight. The City Council voted to allow the restaurants to remain open and serve alcohol until 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m., respectively.
HQ Gastropub was a new operation that moved into a existing restaurant space with a 2 a.m. closing time. Despite having an operation plan that was universally praised by the council for its thoroughness in handling security and training, the ordinance required the midnight closure.
“I have never seen an applicant come with such a well-prepared security plan,” Councilman Erik Peterson said during the meeting, adding that HQ was precisely the kind of patron the city was seeking for downtown.
The Black Bull Chop House was an existing restaurant that was allowed to remain open and serve until 1:30 a.m. When the restaurant sought approval to enclose its patio dining on Main Street, while adding outdoor dining in an area away from the main drag, the Planning Commission imposed the midnight closing time to approve the changes.
Both operators said the midnight closing would have put them at a significant economic disadvantage against establishments in nearby Pacific City with later hours.
The owner of the Chop House said the Planning Commission ruling would stop him from making the…