's operator appeared before the Los Gatos Planning Commission Wednesday evening to seek a conditional-use permit [CUP] to bring the iconic dive bar into compliance with town rules and regulations.
The Tavern, as it's referred to by locals, is located at 15043 Los Gatos Blvd., was annexed into the town in 1991 and its use as a bar has been deemed "nonconforming" since it hasn't had a CUP to operate as a watering hole for the past 20 years, according to a staff report.
"They do not have a CUP and they have never had a CUP," noted Los Gatos associate planner Jennifer Savage.
Update: 9 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 26
However, by a unanimous vote of 7-0, commissioners granted bar operator Mike Ellenburg the CUP he so much desired. The issue now goes before the Los Gatos Town Council.
In their recommendation for CUP approval to the Council, commissioners didn't require periodic review of the permit, only that it be reviewed should the rezoning of the land or similar change occur within one year of the change, said Savage.
It's possible that the bar has been operating with a CUP obtained from Santa Clara County, however, that's not been determined yet, Savage added.
How was the bar able to operate without a CUP in town for so long? When it was annexed into Los Gatos more than two decades ago, town code allowed it 20 years to obtain the permit, Savage explained.
The fee submitted by Ellenburg for the CUP is $8,900, Savage said.
The 50-seat, 2,103-square-foot bar is located on a .64-acre site located in the , which is currently under review for development. It operates 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week. It offers karaoke on Thursdays from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. and occasionally has live bands on Fridays and Saturdays between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m., the report said.
The property owners, Robert and Georgianna Spinazze, have told town officials they would be willing to accept a condition for periodic review to allow them to determine whether its use remains appropriate for the proposed North 40 development, the report indicated.
Robert Spinazze declined comment Wednesday and referred questions about the CUP to wife Georgianna, who didn't return several calls seeking additional information about the bar's request.
Los Gatos Mayor Steve Rice said while he couldn't specifically comment on The Tavern's CUP application since it will be eventually come before the Council, such requests are looked at objectively and from a land-use perspective.
"We do pay attention to how many bars there are in town, how many restaurants, how many formula-retail stores we have. We look very carefully at the mix in an overall context ... We consider how every application is going to fit in town," Rice added.
In an Oct. 31, 2011 letter written to Council members, the property owners say although they would like to remain in operation, they don't have the monetary means to do any upgrades to the property for five years.
"We understand the town would most likely not want a bar here for the life of the land," they wrote, alluding to the impending development of the North 40.
If the Tavern is forced to close, the property owners said they’d lose $300,000 in rent from Ellenburg, money they say they desperately need toward the future development of the location.
The Tavern would also have to lay off eight employees, they added.
They also indicated that the bar has been in operation since the 1930s and that Ellenburg has contributed money to important town organizations such as the , the Brian Chiala Trust, the Bob Kaufman Fund, the Mindy O'Toole Epilepsy Foundation, and others.
Ellenburg, who bought the business in 2001, wrote to commissioners that he offers and encourages a designated driver program for customers and has worked with police officials to have a safe environment and uses a video surveillance system to monitor activities.
"... I am simply trying to have this use permit granted with a stipulation stating that when the area behind my business is developed, I will cease operations in a timely manner that is acceptable to the Council," he wrote.