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Planning Commission denies liquor zoning for East Austin deli

Friday, January 30, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

The Planning Commission has voted 8-1 to recommend that a popular East Austin spot, Buckets Deli, not be granted a CS-1 zoning change. Such a change, from CS-MU-CO-NP, would allow for the deli to derive the majority of its income from alcohol sales rather than food.


Currently Buckets is under investigation for alcohol sales that exceed 51 percent.  A restaurant that serves alcoholic beverages must derive at least 51 percent of its gross income from food sales.


Testimony for and against the establishment continued for more than an hour and was delivered by senior citizens, mothers, neighborhood organization leaders, bar patrons, TABC lawyers and hip-looking younger citizens.


The site at 2020 East Cesar Chavez, is a one-story brick building surrounded by residences, but along a commercial corridor. Joi Harden with the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Depatment, said numerous violations had been reported, including work without a permit, work without an approved site plan and paving the entire parking lot without the required permits. These violations were cleared in the fall of 2008.


Harden said, “It was determined that the current zoning is appropriate due to the proximity of residential areas.” An increase in zoning would be incompatible to the neighborhood and the Holly Neighborhood Plan specifically addresses prohibiting additional CS1 zoning in the neighborhood.


Kareem Hajjar represented the owners and supporters of Buckets. His initial presentation seemed depict a strong showing of local support for the sports bar/deli. He produced some 800 signatures in favor of the zoning change and painted a rosy picture of an establishment started by lifelong East Austin residents John and Gloria Hernandez. He and several supporters distinguished Buckets from other Cantinas saying that unsavory elements such as those associated with Tejano clubs were not present. “There are no drugs, no gangs, no prostitutes,” he said.


Hajjar acknowledged that the previous violations had been cleared and said that Buckets did not pull in an excessive crowd outside the neighborhood like Juan in a Million or other popular East Side venues. Hajjar said the owners were willing to make, or had already had made concessions to the neighborhood such as closing at midnight on the weekends and 11pm on the weekdays. He said no alcohol would be served from 2:45 to 3:30pm when the nearby school was letting out, that they would not sell liquor, that Buckets would not be a pool or game hall.


Hajjar complained that he was having a very difficult time contacting any neighborhood group or other residents telling the commission, “there’s nobody to talk to when you want a zoning change.” He said 38 people within 200 feet of Buckets supported the zoning change.


Cynthia Valadez, Vice President of the East River City Citizens Neighborhood Association and activist Diana Castañeda both spoke in opposition to the zoning conversion.


Commissioners seemed concerned that the two groups could not reach an agreement with Commissioner Dave Anderson repeatedly urging such conciliation. Commissioner Chris Ewen spoke highly of the positive aspects of neighborhood gathering spots like local pubs, especially those within walking distance of homes. In the end, only Anderson voted against the motion that denied the deli/sports bar its zoning request. The Buckets decision will go in front of Council on Feb. 26.

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