The controversy over Hurricane Bay nightclub’s plan to open near a neighborhood in east Mesa wouldn’t have surfaced two years ago.
That’s because late-night bars, pool halls and nightclubs weren’t allowed on sites next to the suburban stucco homes and grocery-store-anchored strip malls that are common throughout the city.
Mesa created an exception to its zoning rules in 2005 that allowed a handful of the city’s bar and grill restaurants to continue pouring pints in neighborhood commercial areas.
That decision paved the way for bars and nightclubs in parts of Mesa that were closed off to them for 45 years. But it hasn’t become a trend. Hurricane Bay is the first new business to test the rules.
“I guess the question is what they had in mind when this changed,” said Scott Somers, who took his seat on the City Council for that district six months ago. “We’re talking about a nightclub — that’s not a restaurant — it’s a different animal.”
Hurricane Bay is envisioned as a 19,000-square-foot beachthemed nightclub that would draw the 25-and-older crowd to a half-vacant factory outlet at Power and Baseline roads.
Owners Steve Pratico and Brian Crum, who run a Hurricane Bay club in Phoenix, set their sights on a location in east Mesa next to the tan stucco homes in the Superstition Springs neighborhood.
A recent economic study circulated by the club’s public relations firm shows an estimated $5.8 million boost over 10 years from taxes related to construction, retail sales and the bar’s operation if the city allows the nightclub to open, along with 60,000 square feet of new retail space also being proposed by the nightclub owners.
But nearby residents concerned about higher crime and traffic in the area argue the mall is simply not the right location for a club. Permitting a club near a neighborhood also would buck the city’s zoning rules that were in place when most of the people in the area bought their homes, opponents said.
Superstition Springs residents recently hired Robert Pizorno from the Beus and Gilbert law firm to represent them against Hurricane Bay, which has hired well-known attorney Ralph Pew.
“We have all agreed that if this was a bar and grill, then we wouldn’t be doing this,” said Dawn Teo, head of a neighborhood group of 45 people who oppose the club. “We’d like it. We’d go eat there.”
Councilman Rex Griswold, whose district is above Somers, said the city’s old zoning rules were conceived “back in the ’50’s, when we decided that bars, pool halls and nightclubs were evil or something.”
The recent change that allows night spots into neighborhood commercial areas makes Mesa consistent with other cities in the East Valley.
Mesa is “not known for nightlife,” Griswold said, and local executives entertain customers in Tempe, home to about 100 bars and nightspots.
But Griswold said he won’t necessarily support Hurricane Bay at the outlet location.
“Maybe there’s some better areas to look at,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a bad project, I just don’t think it’s the right place.”
Alex Finter, a city planning and zoning board member, recalled a 4-3 vote last year by the planning board that allowed a zoning exception for Famous Sam’s restaurant in east Mesa, which allowed the restaurant to continue operating in its location.
He called the zoning rule changes a “huge shift in policy” that’s come forward on a caseby-case basis.
“We had a system that worked for 45 years,” he said. “Your family members shouldn’t have to walk through or around or have any contact with a pool hall or a nightclubtype arrangement ... to do your normal shopping.”