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Lamar coffee shop still waiting for parking variance from BOA

Wednesday, December 10, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

Emerald City Press on Lamar Boulevard almost won its off-site parking variance from the Board of Adjustment this week, but was one vote short and will have to return to the BOA next month.

In the meantime, the owners made some changes to their ambitious plan to expand its business.

on Lamar Boulevard finally got its off-site parking variance from the Board of Adjustment this week, but not without some changes to its ambitious plan to expand its business.

It is a tough economic time for those who have bought pricey real estate in Austin, especially if you are located near Sixth Street and Lamar Boulevard in a trendy green-friendly coffee and flower shop. Originally, the owner, represented by Gardner Shanklin at Monday night’s meeting, wanted to convert upstairs space to a sit-down restaurant with beer and wine service. The problem was a lack of parking.

The site, at 915 North Lamar, was a former drive-through photo lab. Shanklin insisted the ability to convert it to any other use – other than a walk-up business such as Emerald City Press – would be almost impossible.

“This building sat empty for 18 months at the height of the market,” Shanklin noted.

The point of the BOA hearing, however, was to give the business off-site parking because it had hardships due to the constraints of the site. And those hardships couldn’t include the fact the business simply couldn’t afford to lease parking spaces from other parking lots in the area.

Almost every business within the West End Austin AllianceWhole Foods, Shoal Creek Saloon, and Nokonah – has to rent parking in the neighborhood. And few had tolerance for the thought that Emerald City Press would deserve to have up to two-dozen parking spaces waived in order to expand its business.

The owner intended to lease the space at Cheapo’s Records, a plan she said West End Austin Alliance President Perry Lorenz quashed. Lorenz denied that charge and offered this week to lease spaces in his own parking lot to Emerald City Press at his rate.  Lorenz owns a number of blocks in the area, which are leased to various businesses.

By the time Emerald City got to the BOA this week, the plan for a full-service restaurant was scaled back to simply a patio area with table and chairs. The full-service commercial kitchen was gone. In addition, Shanklin promised that liquor sales would be carryout only and would not involve drinking on premises.

This is the third time that Emerald City has been to BOA. Last time, the board sent Shank away to find any possible lease spaces within a one-block radius.

“At this moment in time, these all suffer from a problem they all are month-to-month or they are too expensive for this young small business to afford at this point in time,” said Shanklin, adding that a $35,000 lift also needed to be added to allow disabled consumers access to a bathroom on site.

The lift would be required if the business intended to add outdoor tables and chairs. That wasn’t a commitment the business wanted to make, Shanklin said, without some commitment to parking that was longer than a six-month lease.

The inability to pay for leased parking space – financial hardship – is not usually viewed as a hardship sufficient to melt the hearts of BOA members. However, since Shanklin insisted nothing appropriate was available – and the business was loath to sublease from Lorenz, even if it was a good deal – the BOA appeared to be willing to offer the business some forgiveness.

Emerald City finally proposed reducing the dining space to less than 1,000-square feet of outdoor seating area. That would decrease the number of off-street parking spaces from 19 down to a more manageable 7. They also agreed to close their doors at 9 p.m. Commissioners also appeared more amenable to the proposal since it would not include a commercial kitchen.

When it was time to vote, five commissioners voted in favor of the variance—one less than needed. That means the case is continued to next month.

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