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"He was kind of belligerent," reports Perk co-owner Dave Blanchard. "Once he figured out we had done our homework, he chilled out a little." Blanchard and his partner, Kimmie Cominsky, had not only done their homework, they'd saved every bit of it. So Blanchard printed out the plans they'd made for a ramp up the single step into their six-seat spot at the corner of South Emerson and Ohio, as well as the estimates that such a ramp would not only cost $5,000, but would extend into the city right-of-way. Then he printed out the city's response citing a statute that exempts an older building -- like the century-old storefront that houses the Perk & Pub -- from complying with such requirements when it might put the business inside out of business.
"Of course," Blanchard points out, "in the beginning, we had all this paperwork from the city that said we could have a patio, too."
When he and Cominsky opened the Perk & Pub last April, they did so believing they could put a patio out on the sidewalk. And they did, creating a neighborhood gathering place that was packed on sunny days -- which meant just about every day -- until a few members of the West Washington Park Neighborhood Association complained, the city decided that it had permitted the patio in error, and the Denver City Council passed a measure proposed by Councilwoman Kathleen MacKenzie that made it officially illegal to have outdoor seating in many residential districts ("Brew!, October 26, 2004). The day before Thanksgiving, the Perk & Pub rolled up its sidewalks -- to the dismay of 1,100 neighbors who'd signed petitions supporting the patio.
After reading about the Perk's plight, Councilman Charlie Brown introduced a proposal that would roll back the measure passed last June. His proposal went before council's Blueprint Denver committee last Wednesday -- and then MacKenzie, whose district includes West Washington Park, postponed consideration for two weeks, until March 9.
So now Blanchard is wondering what's going to hit him this Friday. "This has divided friends, it's divided next-door neighbors," he says. "The only reason we're still hanging on is because of the overwhelming support of the close neighbors. We have people taking off from their jobs to go to city council meetings." Without the income from the patio, which more than doubled the shop's seating, he and Cominsky have had to lay off seven staffers and also put a proposed Highland Perk & Pub on hold. If Brown's proposal doesn't pass, they don't think they'll be able to hang on in West Wash Park, either. "If we do get the patio back and we can operate our coffee shop as we already had planned, then we guess it's time to build a ramp," Blanchard says. "But if we don't get the patio back, there's no reason to build the ramp, because we're going to have to close our doors."
They won't give up on their coffee shop concept entirely, though. They'll just take it to an area that has a neighborhood association that's a little more neighborly than the WWPNA.
MacKenzie insists the delay wasn't designed to grind Perk & Pub to a halt. "This change is mostly in reaction to one business," she says of Brown's proposal, "and the earlier change was mostly in reaction to one business. We need to step back and decide what would work citywide." Specifically, she wants to be sure that liquor and noise issues are addressed.
Noise? "The noise of rocks crashing through windows at night -- that's the big noise issue for me," says Brown. As for alcohol, although the Highland Perk & Pub would serve liquor -- and already had that neighborhood's blessing to do so -- Blanchard and Cominsky have gone on record that they would never go wet in West Wash Park. Besides, there's no space in which to do it, not unless they mix martinis in the washing machines of the scenic, peaceful laundromat right next door.
There goes the neighborhood.