Tuesday Apr 12 2011
The Station and City of Roseville remain in bitter dispute
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
Superior Court of Placer County rules in city’s favor regarding revocation of dance permit
Three years later, and the City of Roseville and Station Ultra Lounge — a now-defunct restaurant and nightclub — still remain embroiled in a bitter dispute. On March 25, the Superior Court of Placer County ruled in favor of the city’s planning department in a lawsuit filed by the Station, alleging the city wrongfully revoked their dance permit. The court denied the petition for writ of administrative mandate, which means the city made the correct determination in revoking the business’s dance permit in April 2008 after finding zone violations. “It was a long time coming,” said City Attorney Brita Bayless. “It required a lot of patience on the part of the city.” For Roseville, the court’s ruling was an I-told-you-so moment, vindicating the same decision already made by both the Roseville Planning Commission and Roseville City Council that the Station Ultra Lounge had forfeited its legal nonconforming status to operate a nightclub at 1100 Orlando Avenue. The city says the business illegally expanded its nightclub operations without obtaining the correct permits. But the people behind the Station, primarily property manager and investor Len Travis, his son Corey Travis and property owners Irving and Carol Ross, say they did no such thing. They want the city’s determination reversed because not being allowed to operate a nightclub significantly reduces the property’s value, Len Travis said. They say the city tried to pressure the business into relocating to Historic Old Town, which is designated as an entertainment district. Len Travis has taken his allegations to Placer County District Attorney Scott Owens, stating in a recent letter that the planning department altered building permit documents to support its case and bully the Station out of business. “The alterations are so blatant, a grammar school kid could see it,” Len Travis told the Press Tribune. Assistant Planning Director Kevin Payne said no permits were altered. “That’s not the case,” Payne said. “The information provided is based on records on file.” One thing both parties agree on: Station Ultra Lounge may have been a victim of its own success. The Station opens for business In 1999, Roseville City Council established a nightclub ordinance in response to residents’ complaints over Big-shot Billiards on Melody Lane. The ordinance states that nightclubs must be at least 500 feet from a residential zone. Businesses that operated a dance club would be grandfathered in with a legal nonconforming use status. Under Roseville Municipal Code, “Nonconforming use may be continued, provided that no such use shall be enlarged or increased, nor extended to occupy a greater area than that which it lawfully occupied before becoming a nonconforming use.” This stipulation provides the basis for the superior court’s March decision in the city’s favor. From 1999 through 2007, a number of nightclubs operated at 1100 Orlando Avenue — both the city and Len Travis agree on that point. In late 2007, Corey Travis, a Granite Bay High School graduate and budding entrepreneur, decided to open a business at the Station. He approached the planning department and meetings with city officials followed until he got “approval to proceed with the nightclub,” he said. The Station Ultra Lounge opened Jan. 1, 2008. “The operation became quite a success,” Corey Travis said. “We had high-end acts and entertainment. (But) it became clear that I was working against what the city was doing.” While his business flourished, Historic Old Town floundered, he said. In April 2009, City Council deemed Old Town an entertainment district. Nightclubs are allowed there with a zoning clearance designed to streamline the conditional use permit process for applicants. By mid-March, the “heat was coming by the city,” Corey Travis said, with what he considers excessive visits from police and fire officials. The city agrees that they paid special attention to the Station, but for a different reason. Soon after the business opened, the city started getting complaints from nearby residents and businesses, which prompted the planning department to conduct an investigation. Complaints involved loud noise, overflow parking, patrons urinating outside, litter around the area and other disturbances. From Feb. 1, 2008 to April 21, 2008, the city received 54 calls for service, Payne said. This was compared to 1.5 per month for the previous business. City staff also heard rumors that the Station hosted adult entertainment. Len Travis said the business had Brazilian drummers and go-go dancers. Several fliers and online promotions showed bikini-clad women and advertised “Porn Star-ball,” “Bunny Night,” “Sinful Sundays” and other events. One time, the city got a call about a lingerie night and dozens of women standing outside in the parking lot waiting to get in free, Bayless said. To the city, these activities illustrated that the Station operated primarily as a nightclub. On April 5, 2008, the Station was cited for exceeding capacity. Their approved load was 205, and 286 people were in the building. This was the only citation the business received, although the city says this was the second violation observed by the fire department. Len Travis said the Station had attempted to get the occupancy load increased and a March 24, 2008 letter from a Roseville fire inspector states the fire department’s “strong desire (to) increase your occupant load to insure that we will not have to be out there every weekend.” But a few days later, Len Travis said the inspector told him he had been instructed not to assist with this process. On April 9, 2008, Corey Travis met with Roseville Planning Director Paul Richardson — who is also director of Roseville Redevelopment Agency — and other city representatives. He said Richardson offered him a $250,000 incentive from the city to move the Station to Old Town. Corey Travis said no. “(Richardson) made a suggestion that the Station was an appropriate use for Old Town because there were no neighborhood impacts … and similar uses had tapped into redevelopment funds to help that process,” Payne said. One such loan recipient was Basic Urban Kitchen and Bar on Pacific Street. The day after the meeting, on April 10, 2008, Richardson sent a letter to Irving and Carol Ross saying they would be subject to penalties if the Station continued to allow music and dancing. A few months later, Corey Travis closed the business. Expanded dance area In early 2008, as complaints started coming in, the city launched its investigation and found that the Station Ultra Lounge had added a second bar, installed an upstairs deck, removed fixed seating to expand the dance floor and changed the use from primarily a restaurant with ancillary nightclub use to primarily a nightclub with ancillary restaurant use without obtaining the proper permits. The city said the Station had expanded its dance floor from the 770-square-foot size allowed as a legal nonconforming use to 3,100-square-feet, and instead of one dance floor now had two. Len Travis has photos that show two dance floors previously in the facility. But the city says the Station physically expanded the dance area through mobile seating. “The entire facility basically became one large dance floor,” Payne said. Ultimately, the city says the nightclub expanded through both physical improvements and operational practices, which created a zoning violation. The Station’s dance permit was revoked. On June 26, 2008, the Roseville Planning Commission upheld Richardson’s determination that the use of the property for a nightclub is no longer permitted as a legal, non-conforming use. Len Travis appealed the decision, which was later upheld by the commission after two public hearings. The City Council also upheld the decision. Now, Len Travis is reaching out to District Attorney Scott Owens with his allegations of altered documents — and he is publicly supporting Gov. Jerry Brown’s attempts to defund redevelopment agencies in California. A banner hanging outside the former Station Ultra Lounge, now called the Steel Train Station, urges legislators to abolish these agencies and “Start with Roseville’s,” because he believes the city’s attempt to revitalize Old Town led to the demise of the ultra lounge. But Payne said it’s not that simple. “To a certain degree, they were a victim of their own success,” Payne said. “They expanded what was allowed at that location and there was an impact on the surrounding areas that didn’t exist before.” Sena Christian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.