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Veterans Groups Win Preliminary Victory to Serve Alcohol at Hall


Two veterans organizations with dwindling memberships won a tentative victory Tuesday in their yearlong bureaucratic battle to open a joint canteen in La Crescenta.

Residents who live nearby have attacked the plan, charging that veterans who drive after drinking will endanger dozens of children who live close to the Verdugo Hills Memorial Hall at 4011 La Crescenta Ave. They also say the canteen will increase parking problems in the neighborhood and decrease property values.

Since 1934, the hall has been occupied by American Legion Post 288, but the group is not licensed to sell alcohol. Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1614 wants to move from a rented commercial building into the Legion hall, bringing its liquor license to set up the joint canteen.

On Tuesday, Glendale City Council members weighed emotional pleas and legal arguments from both sides at a 2 1/2-hour hearing. Then the council unanimously instructed the city staff to prepare documents that would allow the variance the veterans need to open a canteen serving only post members and their guests. The variance will be returned to the council Dec. 18 for final approval.

But nearby residents and church leaders vowed to continue opposing the plan before the council and with state Alcoholic Beverage Control officials.

"We won't stop here," said Sharon Olsen, who raised $450 from her neighborhood to appeal an earlier city decision in favor of the veterans. "The main concern is that the city of Glendale never in its history has allowed the sale of alcoholic beverages in a residential neighborhood. We're opposed to this because it sets a precedent. This is a neighborhood--we didn't choose to live in a commercial zone."

She and other residents told the council that the residential streets next to the veterans hall have no sidewalks or curbs. As a result, children often ride bicycles, skate and play in the streets.

"There is no safe way to drink and drive," said Olsen, who is the finance officer for an alcohol education program. "If you put a bar, public or private, in a residential area, you'll have people leaving the establishment under the influence."

But city staff members urged approval of the variance, saying it would allow a modest expansion of social activities that have long taken place at the site.

Legion members have regularly rented the upper floor of their two-story hall for classes and social events. Alcohol has been consumed at social events in the building when a one-day ABC permit was obtained or when the drinks were provided at no cost, post members said.

"No evidence has been shown that the sale of alcoholic beverages at this location would make this neighborhood less safe," said John W. McKenna, the city's planning director.

The veterans pledged to drink responsibly and serve only members and guests. "We do care about the safety of children," said Jack Wager, adjutant of the American Legion post.

Members also cited their record of military service to their country.

"At issue here is not just the legality of a variance, but what we as the American Legion stand for," said Carl Peirolo, a post member who teaches a junior ROTC class at Crescenta Valley High School.

The veterans hall was built in 1934 in an unincorporated section of La Crescenta. The area was annexed by Glendale in 1952 and zoned for housing. The hall has been allowed to continue operating under a "legal nonconforming" land-use status.

Since 1970 the La Crescenta VFW has operated a private canteen at 2937 Honolulu Ave. But high rent and declining membership led the post to seek the city's permission in February to operate a joint canteen at the Legion hall.

Combined, the two posts have 334 members, but only about half live in the immediate area, post leaders said. The groups have estimated that a maximum of 50 people a day will use the canteen.

The posts would remain separate but would share costs and split the revenue from the joint canteen. Post leaders said any proceeds in excess of the hall's operating costs would go to support the organization's programs which benefit young people and veterans.

On April 26, Glendale Zoning Administrator Kathleen Marcus granted a variance to the veterans. But her decision was appealed by an area pastor, at the request of the neighborhood. On Sept. 13, the Board of Zoning Adjustments upheld Marcus' decision, but Olsen, the alcohol education program official, appealed it to the council.

City planning officials have attached 20 conditions to the proposed variance. Under these, the veterans must install additional landscaping and walls to separate their parking lot from the neighborhood.

The canteen must limit its operating hours to 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. The veterans also must maintain an alcohol abuse education program and post signs concerning drunk driving laws.

Mayor Larry Zarian said the conflicting concerns of the residents and the veterans made it difficult to decide the issue. He said he voted to let the variance proceed only after getting assurances from the city staff that it would not set a precedent allowing other drinking establishments in residential zones.

If the variance is granted, the veterans will still need state ABC approval to move the liquor license. Post leaders said they will continue to press for the joint canteen despite the strong opposition from the residents.

But David Haskell, commander of the Legion post, conceded: "We didn't know they were going to be quite as hard-nosed and stubborn as they are."

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