ANTIOCH -- A longtime downtown restaurant and card room that closed last year was dealt a new hand by city planning commissioners this week.
Kelly's Restaurant and Card Room, which closed last year after 34 years in business, and new owner Tony Keslinke were issued permits to reopen Wednesday in a 5-1 vote. Commissioner Krystal Hinojosa cast the dissenting vote, saying she had reservations about allowing shared parking in the area. Commissioner Greg Baatrup was absent.
The approval includes a recommendation for Kelly's to run a 24-hour operation with six card tables. The City Council, however, will have the final say on the hours of operation and licenses for the tables.
The cocktail lounge portion of the 7,100-square-foot building would still be subject to state laws for selling alcohol and close at 2 a.m. The restaurant would remain open at all hours, though likely in a limited capacity during the early-morning hours, Keslinke said.
The Planning Commission also looked at security and surveillance and zoning issues.
"My goal is to take a longtime landmark that has so much history and bring it back for people to enjoy," Keslinke said.
Prompted by an anonymous anti-Kelly's campaign, a full house of residents attended Wednesday's meeting. The majority of those in the audience showed support of Kelly's and Keslinke, with many holding signs that read "I (heart) Kelly's" on one side and "I (heart) jobs" on the other. Public speakers in support outnumbered those against 28 to 3.
James Phillips, a 23-year business owner on O Street across from Kelly's, said the vacant building has attracted blight and vagrants. Having a 24-hour presence, including security guards, cameras and lights, would improve the area, he said.
"We're looking at what Tony's proposed to change all that," Phillips said.
Others touted the work Keslinke has done in renovating dilapidated buildings throughout downtown Antioch, including the ABC Building on A Street, along with the 50 new jobs the establishment would create.
A glossy mailer sent to residents this past week, along with phone calls by an opposition group calling itself "Protect Antioch," said a card room would increase crime, strain city police and fuel gambling addiction and loan sharking.
Attorney Thomas Willis of Remcho¿, Johansen & Purcell, a San Leandro law firm, sent a letter in opposition to Kelly's, saying the use permit "plainly violates" the city's municipal code and goes against what the community wants.
Though Willis's letter does not identify whom he is representing, it points out voters in San Jose, Richmond and Amador County have all opposed ballot measures concerning gambling in the past seven years.
Kelly's was closed by emergency order by the state's Bureau of Gambling Control in January 2012 because of a lack of funds and probation violations from longtime owner Al Cianfichi. Those violations included employees lacking valid work permits and the business failing to provide wage statements and workers' compensation insurance.
Cianfichi tried to sell Kelly's and its licenses that July, but a deal with an outside ownership group fell through.
In October 2012, the California Gambling Control Commission gave a tentative OK to Kelly's under Keslinke, pending local approval.