A request to serve beer and wine at an eastside coffeehouse drew a large crowd to the Kalispell City Council meeting Feb. 7, with the majority testifying in favor of the proposal.
The Boiler Room, located at 535 Eighth St. E. as part of the Eastside Brick development, has asked for an amendment to the planned unit development (PUD) for the neighborhood that would allow the establishment to serve beer and wine under an on-premises consumption license. Its application for the transfer of the license is currently pending with the Montana Department of Revenue.
The issue has been playing out publicly, with several neighborhood residents opposed to the request, saying it would increase noise in the neighborhood, and it’s unsafe to introduce the sale of alcohol so close to Hedges Elementary School and its playground.
At the public hearing, at which no votes were made by the council, 21 people spoke up, with 13 in favor of the Boiler Room’s request (though that number included staff and co-owners of the coffeehouse) and seven opposed. One person didn’t offer an opinion.
Vince Padilla, the managing member of The Boiler Room, said his intent was not to turn his business into a bar, but to grow it with the ability to serve a glass of beer or wine to those gathering in the evening to eat or watch live music.
“We’re not going to sell less expensive product to encourage more consumption,” Padilla told the council. “What we’re merely wanting to offer is something other than coffee to our customers, just as you would have in a restaurant.”
He added that The Boiler Room would only serve alcohol between the hours of 4 p.m. and 10 p.m., when Hedges school is not in session.
Supporters of the request said Kalispell needs more venues where customers can have beer or wine in the evening, accompanied by live music, and that the Boiler Room’s previous positive contributions to the neighborhood demonstrate integrity and a willingness to follow through on stated intentions by its ownership.
“I see nothing wrong with his proposal to offer a little tasteful ambience in the evening,” John Hinchey said. “I have five grandchildren at Hedges.”
Billings attorney James Healow spoke on behalf of Vicki Dunaway, the owner of the beer and wine license who wishes to transfer it from its previous location at Tacos Caliente to The Boiler Room. Healow urged council members to put as many restrictions and conditions on the PUD amendment as they saw fit.
“This is a capitalistic society that rewards people who are able to adapt and evolve,” Healow said. “The alternative to The Boiler Room with beer and wine might be empty storefront.”
“You’ve got some righteous business people here, trying to do a righteous thing, trying to make a living in a tough economy and you should let them do it,” he added.
Opponents of the request, however, argued against introducing alcohol of any kind to a neighborhood where kids can currently safely travel from their homes to the Hedges school and playground.
Greg Ennis said his two young children regularly walk from his house in the neighborhood to their grandmother’s, which is nearby.
“Having alcohol served right across from the school – I just don’t see how it could be allowed,” Ennis said.
“I appreciate the fact that people need to make a living in this economy,” he added. “I don’t want to introduce this to our nice neighborhood.”
Other neighbors said, contrary to supporters of the request, that they have had serious noise problems from musical performances at the Boiler Room in the past, and fear it will only get worse with beer and wine being served.
“They play loud music all summer long, obnoxious music,” Floyd Bechtold said. “I think I have the right to peace and quiet like (Padilla) goes home at night and gets his peace and quiet.”
“If it’s inside or outside, it’s still too loud that I can hear it across the street,” Bechtold added. “He calls this respecting his neighbors?”
The issue comes before council again on Feb. 22.
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