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Another setback for cafe

A rule is a rule, according to La Jolla Community Planning Association board members who again overwhelmingly denied a permit for a sidewalk cafe for Barfly/Aroma (formerly Bistro 101 and Hard Rock Cafe) at 909 Prospect St.

At the May 6 meeting, trustees voted twice —10-5-1 and 12-3-1 — to oppose restaurant owner Oved Haskal’s request because a portion of the proposed outdoor dining area for his new sports bar and bakery has less sidewalk clearance than what is required in the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance (PDO).

The ordinance — which sets guidelines for developments in the community — requires 8 feet of clearance on the sidewalk for an outdoor cafe; Haskal’s proposal calls for 6 feet of clearance on a portion of its space.

Now that LJCPA has decided to appeal the city’s grant-ing of a permit for Haskal’s outdoor cafe, the issue will be heard by the city Planning Commission.

Barfly/Aroma architect Mark Bausback said they are frustrated.

“We’ve tried to do everything by the book,” he said. “Now they’re appealing the project, and they want us to go through an unnecessary cost and step just because they have a beef with the city.”

Bausback added he has been told by the city that LJCPA’s appeal likely can’t be heard until the end of June or early July.

“We were hoping to be open by the end of May,” he said. “This is going to push that back another month, and is probably going to cost $4,000 to $5,000.”

Before the group’s vote, Trustee Phil Merten said, “It is clear that the PDO calls for 8 feet, and we can’t ignore our PDO.”

Another board member, Jim Fitzgerald, added: “We should not rely on the city to interpret the rules. If it’s that important, and critical, to the success of their business, they need to follow the variance approach and gain the exception rather than just arbitrarily overruling the PDO.”

After the board’s vote, Haskal challenged its decision. He pointed out there are several existing nonconforming outdoor patios in the Village with less than 8 feet around their outside space. He charged the board with singling him out.

“Why aren’t you going after everybody who has less than 8 feet of sidewalk clearance?” he asked. “Why do you have to kill La Jolla business?”

“This is not personal; this is a matter of principle,” replied Trustee Greg Salmon, noting that the board’s difference of opinion is not with the restaurant but with regulations in the city’s municipal code.

Haskal said a city staffer has told him that a variance is not required to grant his permit.

“If we don’t need a variance, why are they (LJCPA) against us?” Haskal asked. “In the last 25 years, nobody’s had a problem with it (outdoor cafes with less than 8 feet of sidewalk clearance). How come they ignored it for so long? My intent was not to jeopardize other outdoor cafes, but to make a point that I’ve been discriminated against.”