Vote To Permit Tavern Next To School Haunts Timm In Council Run

(October12)  Upland Planning Commissioner Carol Timm, who is vying against four others seeking the city council position now held by Ken Willis, finds herself in the uncomfortable position of having to defend a controversial vote she made nearly four years ago to allow a tavern to set up operations inside an historic church in one of Upland’s upscale residential neighborhoods next to a junior high school.
Like all five candidates in the race, Timm is seeking to show that she has the experience, judgment and demonstrated commitment to serve on the council. But the December 2008 vote is being cited by her opponents and residents of the neighborhood where the tavern was slated to be located as an indication that she has not mastered the rudiments of urban planning, as her 14 year tenure on the planning commission would suggest she possesses, and that she was too easily swayed by political pressure placed on the planning commission by now disgraced former mayor John Pomierski.
At the basis of Timm’s political dilemma is Old St. Mark’s Church, the original Episcopal church in Upland, which was constructed at the corner of Euclid and F Street in 1910. In 1965, it was moved to its current location at 525 West 18th Street, between Euclid and San Antonio avenues as part of proposed park,  after the congregation, which now meets at a larger church located on 16th Street, outgrew the picturesque structure. The park was never developed and most of the park property with the exception of the church museum site was sold by the city during Pomierski’s ternure as mayor for residential subdivision use.
The church building was acquired by the Chaffey Communities Cultural Center Foundation, which serves as the benefactor to the Cooper Museum, also known as the Cooper Regional History Museum, in downtown Upland. The Chaffey Communities Cultural Center Founcation shares some of its membership with Upland Heritage, a group promoting the preservation of historic buildings in the city of Upland, of which Carol Timm is president.
The church now  serves as a repository of  many of the historical exhibits acquired by the Cooper Museum. Additionally, in 1997, the Chaffey Communities Cultural Center Foundation obtained from the city of Upland a conditional use permit to operate 3,125-square foot Old St. Mark’s, renamed a chapel, as a ceremonial forum where weddings and/or funerals were held. The proceeds from these ceremonies, which were restricted to concluding no later than 8 p.m. and host no more than 125 attendees, were used to support the Cooper Museum.
In the fall of 2008, the Chaffey Communities Cultural Center Foundation applied for a modification to the conditional use permit granted in 1997 in order to allow up to six events, including  retirement dinners, funerals, weddings and/or wedding receptions per week that would accommodate as many as 175 people and allow for the dispensing of alcohol, in the form of beer and wine, and the serving of meals, accompanied by music. The hour to which the events could continue was extended to 11 p.m. six days a week  and 10 p.m. on Sunday. Under the application, the foundation listed restaurateur Ray Podesta, a longtime political supporter of John Pomierski who at the time operated both Spaggi’s restaurant and the International House of Pancakes in town, as a partner in the effort to transform the chapel to a more lively and profit-making venue.
On December 17, 2008, two of the Chaffey Communities Cultural Center Foundation’s board directors, Dave Stevens and Max Williams, succeeded in convincing the Upland Planning Commission to grant the conditional use permit modification, despite the protests of eleven nearby residents, who entreated the commission to consider the incompatibility of a commercial  venture  with an otherwise quiet residential neighborhood beside a school. Project opponents, anticipating that the conditional use permit would be granted, went to the uncommon length of hiring a court reporter to faithfully record the proceedings and take down the utterances of all individuals putting statements on the record. The vote to allow the serving of alcohol and the other intensifications of use inconsistent with the zoning of the property passed by a 4-0 vote, with commissioners George Morris, James Sheridan, Robert Schauer and Timm assenting.
In response to residents’ expressed concerns that the expanded conditional use permit would attact an undesirable element, commissioner Schauer assured those in attendance that “We’re not going to see the Hell’s Angels there.”
Armed with the work of the court reporter, a group of residents, represented by the law firm of Reiss & Johnson, filed an appeal on December 31, 2008, seeking to nullify the planning commission’s decision.
Those involved in the appeal questioned the wisdom of allowing alcohol at the site, a short distance from Pioneer Junior High School, and delved into indications that the city’s planning staff and the planning commission had been directed by then-mayor John Pomierski to facilitate the modification  of the permit. Widely disseminated at that time was a report that Pomierski, who had an affinity for alcohol, wanted to establish Old St. Mark’s as a location where he could carouse into the early morning hours with a select group of his associates outside the scrutiny of the public. Old St. Mark’s, for Pomierski, had the added advantage of being a relatively short driving distance – entailing just five stop sign intersections – from his residence.
An energetic effort to galvanize the public against the modification of the conditional use permit ensued, including the printing and distribution of 8,000 leaflets that protested the Chaffey Communities Cultural Center’s plan to operate the tavern.
More than 300 residents turned out at the February 9, 2009 evening council meeting when the hearing on the appeal was scheduled, filling the entire seating capacity of the meeting chambers and leaving dozens standing in the aisles as the meeting was to begin. Several came armed with information and prepared statements with regard to Pomierki’s role and motivation in the approval process, including notation of the consideration that he had personally appointed five of the commission’s seven members, including three who had voted in favor of the conditional use permit on December 17, 2008.
Earlier, that day, however, at 3:39 p.m., Stevens, the chairman of the Chaffey Communities Cultural Center Board, had filed with the city clerk’s office a letter in which he had stated “The board of trustees for Chaffey Communities Cultural Center are requesting to withdraw our original application for conditional use permit 97-10 modification No. 1 without prejudice. We have listened to the tremendous concerns of the neighborhood and wish to step back and try to work with the citizens of the area neighboring the St. Marks Church building.
“Chaffey Communities Cultural Center wants to re-file at a later date for a conditional use permit that does not include alcohol or outdoor music, Stevens’ letter continued. “We would at that time work with city staff and residents to come up with a compromise that will allow us to have food only. We need time to come up with another plan that the community can be comfortable with.”
Shortly after the February 9, 2009 meeting commenced, Mayor Pomierski informed the teeming crowd in City Hall that the conditional use permit modification had been withdrawn, and speeches and statements by as many as fifty residents who had come to put their concerns  on the record were never heard.
There tumbled out thereafter acknowledgements that locating a tavern in the midst of a tranquil residential neighborhood next to a junior high school was not that good of an idea.  Steve Ipson, the recording secretary on the Chaffey Communities Cultural Center’s board would call the scheme to get the conditional use permit approved “harebrained.”
Even Stevens seemed to distance himself from the alcohol sales concept, although there were indications he was biding his time to reinstitute the application. In time, however, any vestige of hope for the tavern expired when Pomierski’s political career flamed out. In June 2010, City Hall was the target, along with Pomierski’s home and those of three of his associates, John Hennes, Jason Crebs and Anthony Sanchez, of an FBI raid. In February and March of 2011, all four were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges related to extortion plots against individuals and businesses with permit applications before the city. Pomierski utilized his authority at City Hall and his influence over the city’s planning division and the planning commission to shake down businesses by either threatening to withhold permit and project approval or offering to facilitate that approval. Hennes, who was on the city of Upland’s Housing Appeals Board, was like Timm, a Pomierski appointee. As a consequence of his indictment Hennes was forced to resign his city position.
One revelation to emerge from the Pomierski indictment was the depth of the mayor’s alcoholism. His attorney, H. Dean Steward, told the court that many of the depredations his client had engaged in were alcohol-fueled and the court stipulated that a six-to-eight-month alcohol rehabilitation program should be part of his two-year sentence.
Pomierski reported for prison and alcohol rehab earlier this month, just as the Upland municipal race was heating up. In that race, Timm, who was originally appointed to the planning commission by the late mayor Robert Nolan in 1998 and reappointed by Pomierski three times subsequently, now finds herself pressed to defend why it was that she went along with granting the conditional use permit for the tavern.
She says she stands by the commission’s decision, which she saw less in the context of a land use issue than a historic preservation effort.
“The Chaffey Communities Cultural Center was proposing to have entertainment to include food and beverages at St. Mark’s Chapel,” she said. “This was for weddings and funerals. This was not for the sort of wild parties that some people suggested. It would have been a good thing for St. Mark’s Chapel and the Chaffey Communities Cultural Center, which supports the Cooper Museum. They are in danger of losing St. Mark’s because they can’t afford to pay the taxes on it since it’s not [considered by the county assessor] a nonprofit and Dave Stevens says they will have to sell it or give it to some other entity. They were already having funerals and weddings and they wanted to be able to serve alcohol like they do in restaurants so they could generate money. That money was needed to have more services at the Cooper Museum and to hold on to the chapel. They were simply offering alcohol for entertainment purposes to make sure the museum was properly funded.”
As to the land use aspect of the decision, Timm downplayed suggestions that allowing alcohol to be served there or extending closing time from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. constituted an onerous burden on the neighboring properties.
“I don’t think this would have affected the students at the school,” she said. “The school wasn’t in session most of the times they were having these events. I stand behind how I voted. I am not a large alcohol consumer. I saw this as something more like when you go to a restaurant and have a glass of wine, and they were not having anything there that went past what a restaurant would have. There are restaurants that are close to schools in Upland. There are restaurants that are near the high school. This is a facility like that. It was a restaurant, not a wild party atmosphere. That is how I saw it.  I do not approve of wild bashes where alcohol is served. I am very conservative. I have been a teacher at Christian schools for thirty years. I am a person who cares about kids and I would never put them in harm’s way.”
Timm said she did not think it out of line to suspend the residential zoning restriction on 18th Street in granting the conditional use permit alteration.
As to the overwhelming sentiment of the residents of the area who were against permitting the tavern, Timm asserted she and the commission had done nothing contrary to their interest.
“I don’t consider the commission or myself to have fallen down on this issue,” she said.
Timm categorically rejected the suggestion that she and the commission were doing Pomierski’s bidding in approving the conditional use permit or that she had exhibited weakness of character or resolve by not standing up to him.
“I never heard that it was to be a drinking place for him,” she said. “That is absolutely absurd and something somebody just made up. If that was the case, I would have shut it down myself.”
She dismissed the suggestion that it was the pending revelation that Pomierski wanted to utilize Old St. Mark’s as a nighttime lounge that prompted Stevens to withdraw the conditional use permit modification application. “There was too much controversy,” she said. “That’s why Dave pulled it.”
Timm insisted that she was not answerable to Pomierski and had no contact with him, despite his having thrice reappointed her to the planning commission he was alleged by federal prosecutors to have manipulated for his own gain. “I never had any conversations with Mr. Pomierski,” she said. “He never told me how to vote.”
Her taking the heat  for her December 17, 2008 vote was unfair, Timm said.
“It was not portrayed as a wild place where we would have problems with wild characters,” she said. “This was a non-profit asking for a license. The planning commission looked at it in a balanced way. We never heard this was a drinking establishment. It was supposed to be a place of culture where people would be able to have a glass of wine. These were all pure motives. A non-profit had needs and we were trying to help them. That is why I voted for it.”
Stevens told the Sentinel, “We weren’t thinking of this as a bar or even a restaurant. We wanted to hold retirement dinners, things like that. It was going to be catered by Spaggi’s There was no intent to hurt the people up in that neighborhood. We were doing this to raise money for the museum.”
Stevens said that early on February 9, 2009, Upland’s then-director of community development, Jeff Bloom, informed him that Pomierski was going to vote to overturn the conditional use permit modification and that he elected to withdraw it.
Cathrine Osberg, a resident of 18th Street proximate to the Old St. Mark’s Chapel, said the planning commission’s action on December 17, 2008 was an example of atrocious land use decision making.
“People who purchased property in this neighborhood since 1965 expected they would be able to continue to live in a quiet residential district and to one day learn that a bar was about to go in across the street or just up the block was just outrageous,” Osberg said. “It is ridiculous to think they would even consider encroaching upon a residential neighborhood with a commercial development. Ray Podesta, who owned the International House of Pancakes and co-owned Spaggi’s, would not have gotten involved in something like that if he was not going to see a significant return on his investment. For that banquet facility to be profitable it was going to be heavily and regularly used.  To extend the hours of use to 11 p.m. on school nights or work nights was an insult to the residents of the neighborhood.  And to put in a tavern, which is a place where alcohol and food is served, in a residential neighborhood bordered by a junior high school? Come on! That is unacceptable.”
Osberg related that some time after Stevens withdrew the conditional use permit modification, a funeral for a member of the Devil’s Diciples motorcycle club was held at Old St. Mark’s during a weekday afternoon. The Upland Police were called and remained in place while the outlaw motorcycle gang members congregated in the parking lot and students from the school made their way home on foot.  “I guess commissioner Schauer was right,” Osberg said. “The Hell’s Angels weren’t there.  But the Devil’s Diciples were. Can you imangine what that might have turned into if they had been serving alcohol?”
Osberg questioned Timm’s suitability to serve on the city council, given the disregard she had shown toward the residents of the 18th Street neighborhood and the students at Pioneer Junior High when she was on the planning commission.
“She has fourteen years on the planning commission and you would think that she would be familiar with zoning from the aspect that you cannot compare what goes on along the Foothill Corridor, which is a major thoroughfare, with what we have on 18th Street, which is a quiet residential street where there is very little traffic, especially after sundown,” Osberg said. “The high school was located along Foothill Boulevard into a mixed use zone where the only significant residential properties are apartment complexes that came in as infill development in what is primarily a commercial zone. The junior high fronts on a residential street. That she cannot tell the difference between those two does not indicate to me she learned what she should have in her time on the planning commission.”

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