By Lou Ponsi, Special to the Independent
A taco restaurant providing a “fast-casual dining experience” and licensed to serve beer and wine will take over the spot where one of the oldest Taco Bells in the country stood for 54 years.
The City Council on Wednesday voted 4-1 to approve the conversion of the now-vacant building at 699 S. Coast Hwy. to The Taco Stand. Taco Bell vacated the building in September.
The small chain operates locations in Orange, San Diego, La Jolla, and Las Vegas.
Mayor Bob Whalen, Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf, Councilmember Peter Blake, and Councilmember Toni Iseman voted in favor of the project. Councilmember George Weiss turned in the dissenting vote, citing parking concerns.
“I love the fact that we are getting a brand-new restaurant that has outdoor seating,” Blake said. “The beer and wine and the type of restaurant it is, is just going to make it more interesting. It provides a place for the residents who live in that neighborhood to go a grab a beer and taco and enjoy themselves.”
Several upgrades are expected to make the Taco Stand more aesthetically pleasing. Those include a ceramic tile mural on the building’s exterior that faces Cleo Street, fulfilling the city’s Art in Public Places requirement.
Renovations also include the addition of a covered outdoor dining area accessible from the street and designed to cater to walk-up customers.
The outdoor patio will accommodate 33 patrons with seating for an additional 12 customers inside. Landscaping, a fire pit and decorative iron fencing will be added to the outdoor dining space.
The Planning Commission in June unanimously approved the project.
“It will be an upgrade to the building and the quality of food,” Project architect Marshall Ininns said. “There won’t be as much drive-in [and] take out. There will be some take out but you are encouraged to eat there. I think it’s a benefit for the locals. We’ve met with the locals on several occasions and they support this project.”
Iseman voted for the project but was concerned about noise from passing vehicles disturbing customers eating on the patio.
“They are going to be listening to motorcycles and cars go by, to the detriment to their enjoyment,” Iseman said. “If we make this commitment, we need to make a commitment that we will enforce the noise ordinance. I’m just concerned that it’s going to interfere with the enjoyment who are going to be sitting outside.”
Kempf offered an easy fix to the noise issue.
“If they don’t mind the noise, they’ll sit outside,” Kempf said. “If they do, they will sit inside.”
Resident Jacob Cherub, one of only two speakers commenting on the project, said the restaurant will cause parking problems in the nearby neighborhood where he lives.
“The parking situation is going to make things dire for the neighborhood,” Cherub said. “Make no mistake about it. People who are working in this restaurant, unless you make some kind of provision, are going to be parking in the neighborhood. You are also going to have visitors who are going to be parking in the neighborhood.”
Weiss opposed the project for those exact reasons.
“I can’t really support it, because of the negative impacts to the neighborhood,” Weiss said.
The councilmembers who supported the project acknowledged the lack of parking, but said the solution is to add more parking, not turn away new restaurants.
“Parking is an issue, but it’s an issue all over town,” Kempf said. “We can’t keep penalizing people for following the rules, when we don’t provide any parking for the neighborhoods.”
Whalen echoed her comment saying, “We all know parking is a problem here. We should figure out a way to get more parking.”