Turlock OKs alcohol for Tower events

TURLOCK -- Alcohol service in Tower Health & Wellness Center's atrium is OK, the City Council decided Tuesday night, but not without conditions.

Events scheduled for the building on Colorado Avenue north of Hawkeye Avenue, which range from weddings to wine tastings, may go on, but no new events can be set until access to restrooms and a study of safe exits is done.

Downtown business owners lined up against plans for the upscale health mall to offer catered events. They claimed that the venture was getting preferential treatment.

One of Tower's neighbors, Art Dhallin, claimed the building's founding family, the Romeos, manipulated city code. Dhallin and some anonymous backers hired a private investigator to look into a possible conflict of interest between the Romeos and Mayor John Lazar.

There isn't one, according to the city attorney.

Councilman Ted Howze scolded Dhallin in the middle of the public hearing for his tactics and his claim that the city has turned a blind eye.

"Don't sit up there and claim city planners are running amok. It's disingenuous to say no one was looking at (the project)," said Howze, who was on the Planning Commission when the project first was approved.

Police Chief Gary Hampton said the Romeos have followed the letter of the law.

"There haven't been any underhanded tactics. The applicant has been upfront with the police," Hampton said.

The Romeos' attorney, Mike Warda, said there has been no special treatment. He asked those who support the project for a show of hands. Nearly half of the arms in the packed council chamber went into the air.

Four people spoke against the project and five spoke for it.

The meeting topic then amounted to a simple question: to serve or not to serve.

Larry Detomasi, an art teacher at Pitman High School, praised the Tower group for offering space for student art shows, as did a city arts commissioner for helping after the Carnegie Arts Center burned down.

"In less than two weeks, my son has a wedding planned for the Tower," said Fred Brendon. "Make a good decision for the community."

Councilman Kurt Vander Weide said he was concerned that allowing expanded alcohol service in a commercial office district could set a bad precedent. Councilwoman Beverly Hatcher said zoning changes must be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

"Things change," Hatcher said. "And if we stay static, we won't attract any economic development."

Sam Romeo, Tower's founder, said he was fine with the city's conditions.

"This has not been a guessing game," he said. "It's been deliberate all the way through."

Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at mshea@modbee.com or 578-2391.