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ZAP postpones zoning on newly-annexed bar

Monday, September 25, 2006 by

Members of the Zoning and Platting Commission will get the chance to schedule their own individual field trips to the Shenanigans Night Club within the next few weeks after they voted to continue a zoning case on a shopping center at 13233 Pond Springs Road. The owner of Pond Springs Plaza is seeking zoning for the property, which was recently annexed into the city limits, and is asking for CS for the majority of the property and CS-1 for the slot within the center occupied by the bar.

The shopping center has included a bar for at least the past 20 years, with Shenanigans occupying the spot for the past five years. The alley behind the shopping center backs up to residences, and for the past 20 years a wooden fence has been enough of a barrier to keep both residents and business owner satisfied. But that all changed, residents said, in January when Shenanigans added a deck onto the back of the establishment. “We built the deck on the back prior to annexation in anticipation of having to comply with the smoking ordinance,” explained bar manager Bill Fisher.

But residents said those patrons on the patio, along with motorcycles parking in the alley, were creating an intolerable level of noise. “Between 10pm and 2am, motorcycles are driving up and down, people are parking there and going through the rear entrance,” said John Leary, who owns several four-plexes that back up to the bar. “Every time the door opens, the music just blasts out. It’s a nightclub. They’re out shooting pool, drinking, and people can’t sleep. We can’t rent them. I wouldn’t live there.”

Some of Leary’s tenants also attended the meeting to complain about the noise. “I have two little girls,” said Nicole Jensen. “I don’t need a bunch of people out there drunk late at night keeping my kids awake. If they want go out front and smoke that’s fine, but I don’t need it right in my backyard, people being drunk and loud and obnoxious.”

The bar’s manager told commissioners that he had taken steps to reduce the noise as soon as the problem was brought to his attention. “There is a brand new fence out back. I had a sign on the fence out back that said ‘no motorcycles – please park out front’. This has only happened in the last two weeks,” said club manager Bill Fisher. “I would have done it sooner if I known we had been creating such a stir. Had I had any idea that we were offending so many neighbors, I would have taken action much sooner. . . . I believe in being a good neighbor. I want to be a good neighbor.”

Since the bar was in operation prior to annexation, and the deck was also in place prior to annexation, the property owner will have the right to continue that use regardless of what decision the ZAP makes regarding zoning. Commission Chair Betty Baker suggested zoning the bar itself CS-1, while zoning the deck LO with provisions to prohibit outdoor consumption of alcohol or outdoor entertainment.

She urged the bar manager and neighbors to meet within the next two weeks, and for commissioners to inspect the site themselves. “I’d like to see the site. I’d like to see the proximity to the apartments. I’d like to see the fence,” Baker said. “I’d like to even go in the bar, but I promise not to drink anything and drive.” Following Baker’s recommendation, the commission voted to continue the case until its next meeting on Oct. 3.

Water agencies clash over pumping cap hike

The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority lodged its strong objections Friday to the Edwards Aquifer Authority’s proposal to raise the pumping caps on the aquifer at a hearing before a joint meeting of the Senate and House natural resources in San Antonio.

GBRA General Manager Bill West’s testimony was one of the few notes of caution raised by water authorities at the hearing. West noted that additional pumping out of the aquifer would have a tremendous impact on areas downstream from the aquifer. A bill to limit aquifer pumping failed to pass the House during one of the first special sessions of the 79th Legislature. The EAA used the figures in that bill as a starting point for discussion, but West said the numbers that had been proposed were simply “placeholders.”

The kind of pumping numbers being suggested by the aquifer can work, said West, but only with fairly good seasonal rains and with some alternative outside water resources. During an extended drought, however, it’s still questionable how much water can be pumped out of the aquifer and maintain adequate stream flows.

The EAA’s board of managers approved its pumping proposal on Sept. 12, which General Manager Robert Popp presented to the joint committee. Under the proposal, the pumping cap on the aquifer would be converted to the sum of all existing “junior” and “senior” right permits, for a total of 549,000 acre-feet. That’s far above the 450,000 acre-feet currently permitted for pumping. To balance concerns over stream flow during drought conditions, no more than 340,000 acre-feet of water can be pumped when all pools in the aquifer are at severe drought levels.

The EAA regulates groundwater in southern Hays and western Caldwell counties, as well as portions of Medina, Uvalde, Bexar, Comal, and Guadalupe counties. It regulates a different region than the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, which covers northern Hays and southern Travis counties.

The bump in pumping presents a tension among water basin users. Users in high- and moderate-growth urban areas need more water. But pumping that water close to the source could have real impacts on rural agricultural needs, a point that was highlighted repeatedly by Rep. Harvey Hilderbran (R-Kerrvillle), who said he has heard of too many wells going dry in Kerr County.

Hilderbran closely questioned calculations on drought conditions – such as using or not using the “drought of record” – and noted that rural areas often pay for urban needs. He noted that legislative victories for rural areas had often been “reinterpreted” by water authorities. Hilderbran said – before he could support any changes – issues would have to be worked out so that he could “trust the deals we make.”

The water supply has too many earmarks — and not enough outside water supplies — to survive a drought of record, West said. In good years, the resource should be utilized. In an extended drought, it's impossible to predict just what the spring flows would be in the water basin.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Starting the week off with a bang . . . The Historic Landmark Commission will be the first public forum for the growing debate over whether iconic buildings and businesses, such as Las Manitas Restaurant, should be protected by the city. Planning Commission Chair Dave Sullivan will be making a presentation on "iconic preservation" and city Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky will discuss historic research on the 200 block of Congress Avenue, home of Las Manitas, the daycare Escuelita del Alma, La Peña and Tesoros Trading Company. The commission will allow the first four citizens who sign up to address them on their concerns. Following Sadowsky's presentation, the commission could decide to initiate historic zoning on the block, which has been targeted for a new Marriott Hotel. Last week, Marriott's CEO J. Willard Marriott, asked the Statesman, "Why should you hold up a several hundred million dollar investment because of a small little restaurant?" Perhaps the HLC will weigh in on that question. The meeting begins at 7pm in City Council chambers . . . Beginning at 5:45pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall, the Design Commission will discuss, among other things, Robert's Rules of Order and the weightier of subject of height measurement under the Residential Compatibility Standards Ordinance . . . The Library Commission will meet at 7pm at the Austin History Center . . . The Capital Metro Board of Directors meets at 4pm at the agency headquarters, 2910 E. 5th Street . . . Back after the break . . . Last week was quiet at City Hall, far too quiet to satisfy the hungry news machine. But those Council Members who took a break after the budget should all be back in their offices today, as well as those who stayed in town . . . The preliminary agenda for Thursday's meeting was 19 pages long, with seven public hearings scheduled. Some of those should draw nothing more than a yawn from most observers, for example, a change to the City Code relating to pools and spas and adding to the definition of medical offices a provision allowing for a small pharmacy . . . Franken to speak . . . Author and Talk Show Host Al Franken will be the keynote speaker at the Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region's Eleventh Annual Public Affairs Dinner tonight. A reception is set for 6pm with dinner at 7pm at the Hilton Austin, 500 East 4th St. Franken is an Emmy Award-winning television writer and producer, New York Times bestselling author, Grammy-winning comedian, and the host of The Al Franken Show, the flagship program of Air America Radio. He was also part of the original writing staff that created Saturday Night Live, receiving four Emmys for writing and a fifth for producing. In addition, Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region will present the second Robbie and Tom Ausley Leadership Award to community leaders Janis and Joe Pinnelli, in honor of their commitment to reproductive freedom and social justice. This year marks the agency's eleventh annual Public Affairs Dinner and the largest to date, with over 700 supporters in attendance. For more information please visit . . . Hotel added to Seaholm project . . . A 163-room boutique hotel will be part of the redevelopment project surrounding the old Seaholm Power Plant downtown, officials announced Friday. Jeff Trigger, the former manager of the Driskill Hotel, and La Corsha Hospitality Group, will direct the building of The Seaholm Plaza Hotel. The hotel will occupy 6 floors in the 22-story residential tower being built adjacent to the former Seaholm power plant. The tower will also include 62 condominium units. The hotel, slated to open in 2009, will feature an Art Deco design to match the look of the historic power plant building and include meeting and exhibit space both outdoors and in the existing building. Kent Collins with Austin-based Centro Partners is developing the condo portion of the project. La Corsha Hospitality Group was also recently tapped to lead the $50 million restoration of two historic Texas hotels, The Stoneleigh Hotel in Dallas and the St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio . . . Cap Metro ribbon-cutting . . . Capital Metro Board Chair Lee Walker and Member John Trevino will join a ribbon cutting ceremony at the grand opening of Capital Metro's Child Care and Learning Center on 3pm today. The center serves families of Capital Metro employees, and had a soft opening on July 31, with a current enrollment of 18 children. Capital Metro partnered with Bright Horizons Family Solutions, and plan to eventually enroll up to 74 children, ranging in age from 6 weeks to 5 years. The center is located at 624 N. Pleasant Valley Rd. in the Capital Metro Annex .

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