City OKs ‘family friendly’ biz in former site of troubled nightclub

Assured that the successor to a rowdy night spot won’t be following that same path, the Oak Harbor City Council unanimously approved a nightclub application.

Assured that the successor to a rowdy night spot won’t be following that same path, the Oak Harbor City Council unanimously approved a nightclub application.

The new business plans to occupy the same location as the former troubled downtown night spot, The Element.

Owners of the new business, The Loakal Public House, say their venture will be nothing like the former nightclub. They shared plans for a more “family friendly” atmosphere at 656 S.E. Bayshore Drive, including a restaurant, craft beer, live music, comedy shows and dinner theater.

“We are not a night club,” owner Kory Dyer told the council. “It’s a horrible name for a license.”

“We have no intention of being anything like that place before.”

The Element operated as a night club in the Bayshore Drive location from 2007 until it lost its liquor license in 2013 for over-serving alcohol and serving alcohol to minors. That business became a nexus for alcohol-fueled violence, noise and other disruptions downtown.

Neighbors who lived in waterfront condos across from The Element were among those who regularly called Oak Harbor police to complain about noise and rowdy patrons.

Just after The Element was closed, the city of Oak Harbor filed a letter of opposition with the Washington State Liquor Control Board stating officials didn’t want the same type of business at that location.

The owners of the The Loakal, Dyer and partner Mark Szypula, both of Oak Harbor, attended a public hearing on the license July 5 to let city leaders and concerned neighbors know they plan to bring much-needed entertainment to the city — not trouble.

Dyer said that he recognizes noise was a problem for The Element, and he plans to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again.

“I can’t stress enough we aren’t a night club,” Dyer told the council. “We’re out to prove it.”

Though the owners don’t consider their business a nightclub, the city does. It requires a license that must be approved by the council.

The city defines a “night club” as any business with music, singing, dancing or a combination of those activities that occurs after 10 p.m. one or more days a week.

If the business happens to play music, but receipts for sales of food make up 75 percent or more of the gross business income, it’s not considered a “nightclub” unless there’s also social dancing on site.

About a dozen business and residential neighbors testified or sent letters to the council expressing concerns.

Many recalled the previous nightclub’s patrons spilling into the parking lot early in the morning, causing noise and other problems.

One of those concerned residents is Billie Cook.

“I feel the most disruptive problem at the Element Nightclub was the loud noise from the parking lot, both vehicle and sound systems and crowd noise,” Cook wrote. “The failure of The Element security personnel to clear the parking lot at closing led to partying in the parking lot, violence, illegal drug use/transactions, lewd behavior, indecent exposure, and trashing of their premises, Bayshore Drive and surrounding properties.”

Another neighbor, Tom Tveit, asked the council to consider some additional changes to the area to improve safety, including reducing the speed limit on Bayshore Drive to 25 mph and adding a crosswalk across Bayshore.

Day and night, Tveit said he’s seen people scurrying across the road.

Council members expressed interest in looking into those ideas at a later time.

Councilwoman Erica Wasinger noted the tension between the city’s interest in promoting new business and maintaining quality of life for residents.

“We want people to live on our waterfront,” she said. “I’m offering my tentative support.”

City building officials and the fire chief also reviewed the plan to ensure the application meets city codes, and the police chief conducted background checks of the owners and reviewed the plan to determine if there were concerns with noise, traffic or public health and safety.

The application includes provisions set out by interim Police Chief Terry Gallagher that include noise-dampening efforts, such as keeping doors and windows shut, as well as security measures such as the pub providing designated security personnel.

The police chief originally recommended four  security guards based on previous recommendations for the Element, but the council eventually agreed to two after the owners pointed out the financial strain that would place on a fledgling business.

“I don’t want to set up a new business to fail,” said Councilwoman Tara Hizon. “They already have a high standard to meet.”

Gallagher noted that while the concerns of the neighbors are well founded, the city recognizes the commitment of the new owners “to operate a business that proves to be an asset to the community, rather than a public safety challenge or neighborhood nuisance.” Given the different nature of this business, he agreed two security personnel would be sufficient.

Gallagher told the council that he heard The Element was a hip hop club, which are “notoriously violent, noisy and a major problem.”

“That’s not what the Loakal intends to be,” Gallagher said.

The City Council will revisit the application in six months to make sure the business is complying and there are no problems.

Councilwoman Beth Munns was absent and did not vote on the proposal.