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NACA wins fight over convenience store

Monday, October 10, 2005 by

Council denies zoning change in keeping with neighborhood plan

It had all the elements of a dime-store crime novel—drugs, prostitution, heroes and villains—all tied together with a dramatic plot line. But in the end, the Austin City Council last week denied a zoning change for a new convenience store in North Austin for the most mundane of reasons: to maintain the integrity of the neighborhood’s land use plan.

The case involved a request by Syed Shamise to amend the North Austin Civic Association (NACA) Neighborhood Plan to change the future land use designation for the property at 9117 Northgate Boulevard from multi-family to commercial. Shamise was also requesting a zoning change from MF-3-NP (multi family-medium density-neighborhood plan) to LR-NP (neighborhood commercial- neighborhood plan) for the vacant lot.

Shamise planned to build a 2,400 square foot convenience store on the site, but members of NACA adamantly opposed the request, saying there were already too many similar stores in the neighborhood, and another one would continue to attract the criminal element into the area.

With at least 100 people opposing the case in attendance, the chambers were packed. To accommodate both sides and not allow the public hearing to go on for hours, Mayor Will Wynn requested that both sides appoint five people to speak for three minutes each.

Linda Moore with NACA said the association worked too hard on developing the neighborhood plan to allow it to be changed.

“We put in two years of hard work putting this plan together,” she said. “The plan itself spells out that we will oppose any zoning change that will bring the sale of alcohol, operates between 6pm and 6am, or increases traffic in the area. This store does all three.”

Moore showed a map of the NACA boundaries with notations on the location of all convenience store, liquor stores and grocery stores. “There are 22 convenience stores in the neighborhood already. Combine that with the grocery and liquors stores, and there are 36 places where you can buy alcohol.”

She noted that another convenience store operates just 30 feet from the site of the one proposed. “We do not need one more,” she said.

Ron Mills, who lives in Cedar Park but manages apartments in the area, said another convenience store would just bring more of the same problems he sees near the current convenience stores – “drugs, prostitution, and trash.” NACA member Carol Dubois garnered a standing ovation from the crowd for suggesting an alternative use for the property. “I think they need to build a police substation on the site to help cut the crime rate in the area,” she said.

But the proponents of the new store seized on the crime issue as a reason to have it built. They pointed out that the empty lot at 9117 Northridge is already a haven for crime, and putting the store there would eliminate that.

“It will bring a presence into that area,” said Cheryl Shelly. “It will bring lights and people to make it an area where people don’t hang around.”

Howard Cortez a resident and Capital Metro bus driver said the current convenience store in the neighborhood had a bad reputation, but that Shamise – who operates a similar store in another part of the neighborhood–would bring a better quality of people to the area.

“He has his act together,” Cortez said. “He will bring the presence of lighting and police to the area, and make a difference in the crime problem.”

Jim Bennett, agent for Shamise, pointed out that the Zoning and Platting Commission had recommended the change under LR-CO-NP (neighborhood commercial-conditional overlay-neighborhood plan) zoning. He said the owner had agreed to limit the operating hours of the store, to not sell gasoline, and to install compatible lighting, among other conditions.

After the public hearing, Council Member Lee Leffingwell tried to focus on the core issue of the debate.

“This is not about the person who wants to build the store or whether the neighborhood needs another convenience store,” he said. “It’s about land use and maintaining the integrity of the neighborhood plan. There should be a compelling reason to make a change in a neighborhood plan, and I don’t see one here.”

Leffingwell moved to deny both the plan amendment and the zoning change. Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas provided the second. The Council voted 7-0 to deny both requests.

City OKs loans to revitalize small businesses

Cisco's Bakery, Austin Lumber and The Common Interest receive help

Three locally-owned businesses will receive loans from the City of Austin to rebuild or expand under a federal loan program designed to revitalize blighted commercial areas. The City Council on Thursday approved loans for the Common Interest Bar, Cisco’s Bakery, and Austin Lumber. Each business will receive a low-interest loan and will have to create new jobs in order to receive the city’s financial help.

Two of the businesses will use the money to rebuild after devastating fires. The Common Interest, a popular karaoke bar, burned down approximately five months ago. The owner will use a $100,000 loan from the city, a $150,000 loan from a commercial bank, and $249,000 of his own money to reconstruct and improve the building. The city portion of the loan will have a 3 percent interest rate and be repayable over a period of 10 years.

Austin Lumber on East Fifth Street was destroyed in a fire on New Year’s Day that investigators believe was caused by a stray bottle rocket. The business, which has been in operation since 1929, will receive a $250,000 loan from the city repayable at 3 percent interest over a period of 20 years. The business will be required to create 16 jobs, or the equivalent of 8 full-time employees, as part of the agreement. The owner has also secured a commercial loan of $160,000 for the reconstruction project.

Cisco’s Bakery, also in East Austin, will use a $60,000 loan from the city to remodel and expand. The company agreed to add the equivalent of two full-time employees and will repay the city loan at 3 percent interest over the next 15 years.

Austin Lumber owner Laura Culin attended Thursday’s meeting to offer her personal thanks to Council Members for the city’s financial help. “I can guarantee your money helping me,” she said. “This is a big step for me to ask for help. I appreciate what you’re doing. It’s not just a job. It’s not just a business. It’s our heritage.”

Because the city conducts a thorough review of each business before agreeing to offer the loan, the screening process can be lengthy. “It’s not an easy process to get through or a quick process, but we think we provide some support where other financial institutions may not,” said City Council Member Raul Alvarez. Council Member Jennifer Kim praised the loan program for its impact on the economy. “The jobs it creates are very beneficial,” she said, “also the sales revenue from the businesses, as well as the other small businesses they support. It’s something we should encourage.”

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Strange bedfellows. . . Former State Rep. Glen Maxey is leading the campaign against Constitutional Amendment No. 2, which would enshrine a ban on gay marriage and civil unions in the state constitution. (There is already a statute doing the same thing.) Maxey has been a political consultant since he retired from the Texas House in 2002. Among his clients is District Judge Gisela Triana, who won an ugly race against fellow Democrats Jan Soifer and John Hathaway a year-and-a-half ago. Nevertheless, Soifer offered to lead Jewish Communities of Faith opposing the amendment and Maxey took her up on the offer . . . Home sweet home in the floodplai n . . . The Council voted 6-1, with Council Member Lee Leffingwell opposed, to allow construction of an additional bedroom to a single-family home in the 100-year floodplain of Lake Austin last week. City staff had opposed the variance. The house is currently 1.2 inches below the legal requirement of 12 inches above the floodplain. Homeowner James Damman said building the addition at a different height would be hardship, particularly for his wife, who has arthritis . . . Changes in the Kinky campaign. . . What do Independent Texas Gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman and former Republican Vice President Dan Quayle have in common? No, it’s not potatoe pancakes—it’s political consultant Reid Nelson, who handled Quayle’s first congressional race in Indiana in 1976. The Friedman campaign has hired Nelson as Senior Campaign Aide in a restructuring move to focus on getting Friedman on ballot next year. State law requires that Friedman collect 45,540 signatures between March 8 and May 11 from people who do not cast a ballot in any party primary or runoff in order to be on the November ballot. A spokesman for Friedman said four campaign employees involved with fundraising were taken off the payroll . . . Twice as much work . . . Consultant Ron Thrower represented a property owner who gave up CS-1-CO zoning, which would have allowed a bar but no restaurant—because of the conditional overlay—for GR last week. The Council approved the item on consent on all three readings so Hutto Place, LP may sell the property to a buyer who wants to build a restaurant at US 183 north and Lakeline Mall Drive. Thrower told In Fact Daily he had just gotten the property zoned for commercial liquor sales a few months ago, but the purchase fell through. A new buyer did not want the property without the right to build a restaurant at the site . . . Meetings. . . The Council’s Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee meets at 3pm in Council Chambers. On the agenda are recommendations for the Toll Road Steering Committee and consideration of possible amendments to the city’s Design Standards . . . The Board of Adjustment/Sign Review Board meets at 5:30pm in room 1001 at City Hall. Several sign cases and adjustment requests are on the agenda . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission’s Spring Condo subcommittee meets at 5:30pm in room 500 at One Texas Center. . . The Transportation Policy Board of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization meets at 6pm at the Joe C. Thompson Conference Center on the UT Campus. The board will consider the postponed matter of appointments to the Capital Metro Board and a resolution to TxDOT regarding the Trans Texas Corridor. . . . Sheriff’s Awards Banquet . . . The Travis County Sheriff’s Office will hold its 25th Annual Awards Banquet Thursday at the Texas Disposal Exotic Game Ranch & Pavilion, 12200 Carl Road in Creedmoor. There will be a social hour and dinner from 5:30pm to 7pm with the Awards Ceremony scheduled from 7pm to 9pm. Tickets for the Bar-B-Que dinner are $10 per person. . . Columbus Day . . . It will be business as usual at the City of Austin and Travis County today, but most federal offices, including the Postal Service, will be closed.

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