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Council nixes neighborhood contact team’s effort to stop strip club

Monday, June 22, 2009 by Austin Monitor

In a blow to the city’s neighborhood planning process, Council last week refused to allow the Highlands/Skyview Terrace Neighborhood Contact Team the standing to formally challenge a conditional use permit granted to the male strip club La Bare.

Neighborhood representatives argued at the Council meeting Thursday that contact teams, as much as neighborhood associations, consider and scrutinize city planning decisions. Members of contact teams have spent tens, if not hundreds, of hours reviewing the city’s input on zoning categories and planning process. Some neighbors felt the team should be given the same status as any local opponent.

But Council said the city ordinance does not allow planning teams to offer any kind of protest when it came to such permits.

In the end, the vote at Council was 4-3 to give associations no standing. Council Member Laura Morrison, former president of Austin Neighborhoods Council, led the rebuttal on the issue at the last Council meeting.

“The unanswered question is, what kind of implications will this decision have for neighborhoods with contact teams?” Morrison asked. “This leaves neighborhoods with fully operational contact teams, like OCEAN, or the Organization for Central East Austin Neighborhoods, with no voice…. I think this is taking us down a very, very serious road to say this organization doesn’t have standing.”

The problem is neighborhood contact teams are in a no man’s land, caught somewhere between neighborhood associations and city commissions. The statute does not address standing in zoning cases. The argument made by one speaker, however, was that some neighborhood associations have disbanded, leaving the neighborhood contact team to represent their interests.

In the case of La Bare, the Highlands/Skyview Terrace neighborhood has argued that enough is enough. The neighborhood can boast of not one, but two, female strip clubs. In fact, it actually has its stripper supply store within the neighborhood boundaries, a place where strippers can buy costumes.

So when talk arises over a La Bare location – a place where males strip for female clientele – the talk is both of a neighborhood overburdened by sexually-oriented businesses and the types of issues that would arise when La Bare eventually leaves its lease.

Mayor Pro Tem Brewster McCracken, also a lawyer, called the definition of standing under the current ordinance a grey area. For all intents and purposes, the current language created a “jump ball” on which groups have standing.

“There’s a lot of grey area,” Wynn admitted. “There’s no question that the neighborhood planning contact team is an interested party. My belief is that citizens should have the right to come to their government and argue cases, but that does not necessarily give them standing.”

The final vote was 4-3, with Morrison, McCracken and Shade voting in favor of standing.

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