PASO ROBLES, Calif. - They've been playing cards for money at the Paso Robles Central Coast Casino on Black Oak Drive near Highway 101 for years.
"There are a ton of Paso Robles residents that find out all the time for the very first time, that there's a card room in Paso Robles", says card room owner Rob Ezzell, "we've been here, and the card room was here before I was here, people just don't know about it."
Ezzell says he and his family have been scouting around for a new, larger location in town.
"We've kind of maxed-out our potential here", Ezzell says about the current card room location on Black Oak Drive, "our customers are happy and they love playing but we're looking for a little bit more."
The Paso Robles City Planning City Planning Commission gave a unanimous thumbs up to the Ezzell family plans to move into a much larger location along the 1600 block of Ramada Drive, in a carpet shop in a mostly manufacturing area at the southern entrance to the city.
"We spent two years researching this", Ezzell says, "we talked to a lot of card room owners, finding out what is the best location where you an attract the most business. That is a freeway visible location from both directions, not only would we be able to get the tourism business but also the local business."
"People just don't seem to see and know that we are here", Ezzell says, "its just not the greatest of locations, whereas that location would be ideal, everybody that drives on Highway 101 would see us."
But the Paso Robles City Council voted to deny a zoning change for the Ezzell's new card room.
"That happens to be a manufacturing zone and they have a chart for what is permitted for what zone", Ezzell says, "but its the most permissive location in the city, we thought it was a simple rubber stamp kind of thing."
Those opposed to a card room at the Ramada Drive location say the project is inconsistent for the zoning of the area that is seen as a gateway to the City of Paso Robles.
"We are the first thing you see as you come through town, we have been for years", says Susan Claassen Borene, owner of the Paso Robles Trailer Barn just down Ramada Drive from the proposed new card room site.
She agrees with the City Council's decision not to change the zoning for the project.
"Its manufacturing zoning, its been that way for years", Claassen Borene says, "everybody has conducted their business accordingly, and if they change it for this are they likely going to change it for something else."
Claassen Borene says she and neighboring business owners, including the popular Firestone Walker Brewery and restaurant, feel a big, new card room with restaurant and sports bar open late at night would not be a good fit for the area.
"Its not so much not wanting a sports bar in our town, its more the other side of it the gambling side of it that may, may not, being more desperation to our area where we've already had theft", Claassen Borene says about crime along Ramada Drive, "we've probably lost $15,000 in the last four years."
"Card rooms can increase the desperation of a person, 'I gotta win it back'," Claassen Borene days, "we just think that perhaps its not suited for this area. We don' t have street lights down here, its very dark, we don't have a police presence down here."
Ezzell says none of the business owners in the Ramada Drive objected to the new card room project during the planning process until Firestone Walker Brewery co-owner Adam Firestone voiced opposition at the City Council meeting.
"When we went before the City Council they asked if there was any public comment, only one citizen came forward and that was Adam Firestone", Ezzell says, "he said that is the gateway to the City and a casino would be a negative impression for the city and he didn't believe there should be any kind of a zoning change."
Adam Firestone tells Central Coast News there's plenty of available space in Paso Robles where the zoning is consistent with the Ezzell's planned card room, casino, sports bar and restaurant and adds he would have expressed opposition to the project earlier in the planning process if he had known about it.
Ezzell says he and his family will ask the City Council to reconsider its decision about re-zoning for the new card room project, or at least allow them to make a full presentation of their project.
"We never got a chance to present our plans to the City Council", Ezzell says, "we have an architect, its a multi-million dollar investment, we are going to build a great project."