Footloose in Roseville

Did the suburb ban dancing and live music everywhere except its Old Town?

The Station Bistro & Lounge’s manager, Brian Vokal, says he’s been in business for three years and never has had a complaint. So why not let his patrons dance?

The Station Bistro & Lounge’s manager, Brian Vokal, says he’s been in business for three years and never has had a complaint. So why not let his patrons dance?

Photo By jerome love

Parallel to whooshing Interstate 80 traffic at the abrupt mouth of Orlando Avenue on the outskirts of Roseville, an elongated tract of trolley cars and modular attachments sits festering in the hot summer sun. Inside The Station Bistro & Lounge, the only faces are the framed visages of Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe and a televised John Lithgow, whose apoplectic reverend from the film Footloose is delivering a pulpit-pounding screed on the evils of dancing.

The 1984 tribute to white-boy dancing has been playing on an endless loop at the restaurant and club since the city of Roseville began enforcing a zoning ordinance that prohibits The Station from allowing dancing or loud music.

“It was tongue-in-cheek at first,” explained manager Brian Vokal, “but there’s no way we can survive another six months this way.”

The city amended its zoning ordinance last year to prevent businesses like The Station, as well as the now defunct Big Shot Billiards and Cloud 9, from running de facto nightclub operations within hoofing distance of residential districts. But the new rules created an interesting discrepancy between Roseville’s historic district and the rest of the city.

Last year, Roseville associate planner Gina LaTorra explained that a “500-foot separation requirement from residential properties” pertaining to live music and dancing would no longer apply to Old Town Roseville’s clubs, bars and restaurants. City director of planning, redevelopment and housing Paul Richardson says that the allowance was the result of an extensive public process overseen by a 26-member steering committee, charged with the goal of turning a grungy downtown into a Gaslamp Quarter similar to Old Sacramento.

The Station’s Vokal interpreted this differently.

“A lot of redevelopment money went into downtown,” he said. “In my personal opinion, they’re trying to bring all dancing downtown. I think we’re just in their way and they’re going to do whatever they want to do to get us out of business.”

Vokal says The Station is losing about $7,000 a week due to the ordinance. He also says he’s been saddled with another $11,000 in fines, an amount that is likely to increase as the restaurant continues to flaunt the city’s directives with its regular dance classes and live music.

“We’ve been in business three years, and we’ve never had a problem [with complaints],” Vokal contended.

The Roseville Police Department’s service calls log backs him up. Sort of.

Since The Station reopened under new management as a bistro and lounge in July 2008, local police have received only two noise complaints (compared with nine for the nearby A&S BMW Motorcycles dealership). But that wasn’t the case for the property’s two previous incarnations, each of them overseen by or involving property manager Len Travis.

For three straight months in 2008, service calls to the police department regarding problems at The Station reached double digits, peaking at 23 in May of that year. The calls represented a menagerie of problems, most of which could fall into three categories: assault, theft and noise complaints. At that point in time, the business was operating as The Station Nightclub & Ultra Lounge, with raucous club beats raining down on a 700-foot dance floor and its hip-swiveling denizens.

Though complaints dropped precipitously after the property’s latest reinvention, the city had already taken action.

Irish pub The Boxing Donkey in Roseville is one of a handful Old Town bars and nightclubs exempt from the city’s residential zoning ordinance.

Photo By jerome love

“They lost the use of the property to do dancing and nightclub operations,” said Richardson. “Once they lost the use, it doesn’t matter who the owner is.”

After a city-led investigation, The Station was stripped of its exemption status to the residential zoning ordinance.

It wouldn’t be until months later, however, that the business would start feeling the pinch from that decision.

City officials say they deliberately waited to begin enforcing the nightclub ordinance until the Placer County Superior Court weighed in on a petition brought by 1100 Orlando LLC, the group of investors that owns The Station and of which Travis is a member. When the court ruled in the city’s favor this past March, the city wrote Travis that it would begin issuing citations. The first one arrived on May 8.

That’s around the same time the business started getting customers riled up over charges that dancing had been outlawed everywhere except Roseville’s freshly polished Old Town, cleverly marrying the plot of a kitschy Kevin Bacon movie to accusations of regulatory favoritism.

And, suddenly, the dance-off was piquing the community’s curiosity.

“It’s crafty, but it’s not accurate,” said Megan McPherson, Roseville’s public affairs director, of The Station’s grassroots media blitz, which has resulted in official rebuttals from both the city and also its police department. “There’s not a ban on dancing in Roseville. That’s ridiculous.”

Of course there isn’t.

What there is is a kerfuffle over who gets to do what where in Roseville.

When the city council quickly amended its nightclub ordinance last September, no one made a fuss. The city sent out 90 letters to businesses offering the opportunity for input, and received three in return, according to LaTorra. The amendments nailed down the city’s definition of what constituted a nightclub: If there’s loud music and dancing, it’s a duck. Old Town was exempted.

Richardson says he hopes The Station leaves the West Coast swing and country line-dancing lessons behind and makes a go of being a full-scale restaurant again.

Vokal isn’t the only one who thinks the city is playing favorites.

“We’re almost like The Fountains’ stepchild, you know what I mean?” said Joe Tucey, general manager of popular Old Town pub The Boxing Donkey, in reference to the city’s retail complex glinting along Galleria Boulevard. He joins a chorus of Old Town voices who think that the city ignores everything that’s not Galleria at Roseville, while Old Town suffers from a lack of economic diversity.

“Downtown Roseville will never be able to compete with The Fountains,” said Wendy Gerig, CEO of the Roseville Chamber of Commerce. “It has to find its own niche.”

And so, apparently, will The Station. Travis, the bistro’s property manager, had a meeting last week with City Manager Ray Kerridge to discuss the police chief’s denial of his application for a dance permit and was scheduled for another meeting this week.

So for now, at least, Kevin Bacon is still boogieing.