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Council reverses course on changing lounge zoning

Monday, October 4, 2004 by

Staff to study area to determine the number of bars and police complaints

The City Council last week rejected efforts to alter the CS-1 zoning of a small building at 515 Pedernales Street that has previously served as a bar. Powerhouse Lounge owners Johnny and Tommie Lopez filed a valid petition against the zoning change on July 28—the day before the first Council hearing. But they did not understand the hearing process, and failed to make a statement when the Council heard the case for the first time on July 29. As a result, the Council approved the zoning change on first reading without dissent.

However, Council members had second thoughts after they heard, belatedly, that the loss of the income-producing property would produce a grave hardship for the Lopez family.

On Thursday, Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department Director Alice Glasco explained that the property is part of the Holly Neighborhood Plan area, and was not slated for rezoning by that plan. Glasco said some properties were identified for downzoning, but the Powerhouse Lounge was not one of them. It currently has a certificate of occupancy, but is not in operation. The property is across the street from the Pedernales Live-Work Lofts at 2401 E. 6th Street.

After the neighborhood plan had been approved, Gloria Moreno of the Pedernales Neighborhood Association and Gavino Fernandez and Paul Hernandez of the El Concilio political organization asked the Planning Commission to initiate downzoning on the property. The commission did so, but when city staff recommended against the zoning change, commissioners could not agree on what to recommend to the Council.

Last week, Tommie Lopez haltingly told the Council that her hopes and dreams and those of her husband to pass on the bar to their sons would be ruined if the Council downzoned the property. She said they had owned the bar for the past 32 years, and had run it themselves for 23 of those years. Now, she said, the neighborhood association was making it difficult for her tenants to get a permit to operate the lounge. “I’m going to be cornered to run it as something else—to lease it out as something else.” Another bar resides about half a block away.

Council Member Daryl Slusher asked Lopez whether she had faced any complaints about noise generated by the bar. “Do you get many police calls to this bar, or noise complaints?” he asked.

She said she was not aware of any, adding, “The railroad track runs right by it, so to me that would make more noise.” She was not aware of any complaints to or visits from the police during the time her tenants have run the bar.

Council Member Raul Alvarez made a motion to postpone the zoning case indefinitely and to direct city staff to determine the number of area properties with CS-1 zoning. He said he felt the Lopez couple had been treated unfairly, especially since the city had initiated the zoning after the neighborhood plan was completed.

Mayor Will Wynn said, “I do agree with Council Member Alvarez, because it seems like these people were unfairly targeted. I think it is bad precedent and bad form to have initiated a case that our Planning Commission did.” However, he could not support Alvarez’ motion, he said. “I’ll be supportive of just terminating this case,” he concluded. Slusher, who had seconded Alvarez’ motion, said he agreed with the Mayor and asked, “What about terminating the case and still doing the study Council Member Alvarez is talking about?” Wynn said he would agree to that.

Finally, Council Member Brewster McCracken made a substitute motion to deny the zoning but to continue the study. That motion won unanimous approval.

Downtown Goodwill site slated for apartment complex

Planning Commission recommends change with neighborhood's blessing

A zoning change for the Goodwill site at 300 N. Lamar—close to the bustling intersection of West 5th Street and Lamar—sailed through the Planning Commission on consent last week. If approved by the City Council, the change from LI-CO to LI-PDA-NP will allow Dallas-based Phoenix Property Company ( to proceed with plans to transform the local headquarters for the non-profit agency into a multi-family residential complex. Goodwill already has plans to relocate to an eight-acre tract near I-35 and US 183. While both designations are limited industrial, the new one is part of a Planned Development Agreement within the neighborhood plan.

The Old West Austin Neighborhood Association agreed to support the re-zoning request with one key stipulation: they want the facade of the existing building to be preserved, which is guaranteed by the conditions attached to the site’s demolition permit. In a letter to the Planning Commission, OWANA Chair Linda MacNeilage also urged the developer to include some affordable housing in the project, along with incorporating the work of local artisans and comments from the OWANA design committee.

Staff supported the change to PDA zoning based on the Old West Austin Neighborhood Plan, which calls for more residential development in existing industrial areas. MacNeilage confirmed that sentiment in her letter to the Commission. "We look forward to the prospect of an increase in the residential population of our neighborhood," she said. Since it is on the west side of Lamar, staff concluded it would not be appropriate for either CBD or DMU zoning. The conditions approved by the Planning Commission include a list of prohibited industrial and commercial uses. There is also a provision that the number of residential units on the 1.8-acre tract not exceed 300. The actual number of units could be less than 300.

The complex will be just yards from the rail tracks running to the adjacent Amtrak station. Those same tracks include a spur to the old Seaholm Power Plant, but do not connect to the rail line that terminates at the Austin Convention Center upon which Capital Metro has proposed to operate commuter service as part of its "All Systems Go" proposal.

Planning Commission OKs 7th Street downzoning

Property owner wants to protect single-family home

Last week the Planning Commission unanimously agreed to recommend downzoning a tract within the Old West Austin Neighborhood boundaries at 1111 W. 7th St. The owner, Tyson Tuttle, is seeking to re-zone the property from MF-4 to the less-intense SF-3-NP and SF-5-NP.

Tuttle had purchased a property on nearby Baylor St. in order to restore a historic home, said agent Sarah Crocker. At the same time, he purchased the lot on 7th Street, which is currently divided into two tracts, one vacant and one containing a single-family home. "He purchased them because he was concerned they were zoned MF-4," said Crocker. "They stayed MF-4 through the neighborhood planning process…and he was very concerned about anyone coming in, tearing down that house, and constructing an apartment complex at the back end of his property." The back part of the tract, which is vacant, takes access from an alleyway between 6th and 7th Streets.

Now, Tuttle has a contract pending on the home facing 7th Street from a buyer interested in preserving its single-family use. However, that still leaves vacant the second lot, which totals more than 7,000 square feet. Instead of the MF-4 zoning that would lend itself to multi-family construction, Crocker said, Tuttle would prefer SF-5, which is single-family. "He did talk about the possibility of putting three town houses back there," she said. "It wouldn't really support anything more than that."

Nearby neighbors supported Tuttle’s request. A lower density level on the tract, said Laura Morrison, would help with the traffic problems in the area. The alleyway was already over-loaded with traffic, she said, and multi-family development would only contribute even more cars. The neighborhood had also requested that any development on the now-vacant lot have a maximum height of 30 feet in order to preserve the views of surrounding property owners; Tuttle agreed to that condition.

Commissioner Dave Sullivan pointed out that the downzoning went against the recent trend for central city neighborhoods. "If you watch us, you will hear us talk about the need for modest density increases," he said. "We are taking away density by going from MF-4 down to SF-5 and SF-3.You can't build MF-4 on a small lot like this," said Sullivan.

Sullivan, who is chair of the commission’s Codes and Ordinances subcommittee, said the panel had discussed the need for creating for a new zoning category called Urban Apartment Building, so that builders would not have to observe the 25-foot setback in the current code. “If you look at the code, SF-5 is the closest thing we currently have,” he said. “I think that this does get at a lot of the objectives we're trying to pursue."

No new historic ordinance yet . . . The City Council postponed hearing proposed changes to the historic preservation ordinance last week. Council Member Betty Dunkerley, who is sponsoring the changes, said the matter would be heard on October 28. The Historic Preservation Task Force will meet again tonight at 5:30pm in Room 240 of One Texas Center to review their previous recommendations. The city legal department shot down the most important of the changes—grandfathering of tax abatements for those buildings already designated as historic—so Dunkerley asked the group to see if they could come up with an alternate plan . . . RMA audit planned . . . The State Comptroller's Office will perform an audit of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn made that announcement on Friday after receiving a request for an audit from State Rep. Terry Keel and Austin City Council Member Brewster McCracken. The two men made the request after learning that the RMA intended to spend $750,000 on a contract for public relations services. The Texas Department of Transportation has already audited the CTRMA, and CTRMA Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein said the toll-road authority has also hired the accounting firm of Helin, Donovan, Trubee and Wilkinson to conduct an external audit. "We are committed as an organization to operate efficiently, and we are confident that any review of our activities will validate that," said Heiligenstein . . . RECA on rail . . . The Real Estate Council of Austin is supporting the commuter rail proposal on the November ballot. The resolution passed by the RECA Board of Directors of calls on Capital Metro to implement the starter line between Leander and the Austin Convention Center with no increase in taxes and without issuing any bonds. The group also expressed its desire for Capital Metro to work with Union Pacific to move the UP line out of the MoPac corridor . . . Weigh in on city processing . . . The Watershed Protection and Development Review Department is holding a meeting in the third floor conference room of One Texas Center today to provide an update on the status of the "One-Stop Shop" for the development process. The department will also offer a survey for stakeholders to provide input about the recent changes. The meeting starts at 11:30am and runs until 1pm . . . Revitalization zone planned . . . Council Members Danny Thomas and Raul Alvarez will announce their plans this morning for establishing a Community Preservation and Revitalization Zone in part of East Austin. The program is designed to promote business development and job creation. The Council members will make their announcement at the city's Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office at 1000 E. 11th St. at 11am.

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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