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Council members postpone first test of new music venue ordinance

Monday, August 24, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

The ATX Sports Bar is a modest establishment on East Sixth Street – a bar that holds no more than 100 and is run by a retired couple – but it has become the test case for the city’s new outdoor music venue ordinance.

In a prior life ATX had a music venue permit, one that did not require the approval of local neighbors. But because of the new outdoor music venue guidelines, a neighbor who lives one block up and four properties over chose to protest the renewal of the club’s permit, which would provide ATX Sports Bar with the opportunity to host around eight outdoor fund-raiser events each summer.

Council members considered but postponed the renewal at last week’s meeting.

This is a block with a hotel and a number of bars. This establishment has existed as a cocktail lounge, in one form or another, since the 1960s. But, as Council Member Laura Morrison pointed out, this new turn of events – using the 1,100-square-foot cocktail lounge as an occasional outdoor music venue – is a new twist to its zoning.

In fact, this club site has been around for so long – whether it served as a club site or something else like a campaign headquarters – that the existence of a cocktail lounge at 1504 East Sixth St. didn’t even require a conditional permit to sell alcohol.

As Planning Director Greg Guernsey explained to Council last week during the permit hearing, this property carried a “CS 2” designation back in the 1960s. That meant it could be an establishment selling alcohol without a conditional use permit.

The outdoor music venue aspect of the location was approved by the city in December 2006, although the ATX Sports Bar does not appear to have been in continuous operation since then. Hours for the current club are from 10am to 10:30pm on Monday through Wednesday and 10am to 11pm on Thursday through Sunday.

Owner Rebecca Ledesma testified that her operation had no complaints during its operation. The venue would like to offer a limited number of outdoor events on the patio at a respectable decibel level. In fact, Ledesma had carried a sound meter around her neighborhood, measuring the decibel levels for outside events.

At about 100 feet from the club, the sound was at the allowable 85 decibels. The sound, measured from the property where the person who had protested the permit, was at a decibel level of 64.

The decision, early on, seemed easy. Ledesma had a handful of events each year. It seemed easy enough to issue a temporary permit for the events, although the fund-raisers at the club were closer together than the month the permit allowed. Those permits are known as “sound amplification permits.” A permit fee and paperwork process would apply to each event.

However, as Ledesma noted, this is an area that is seeing development pressure. The smoking ordinance, which applied most stringently to downtown business, was pushing development down East Sixth Street. Right now, in the vicinity of ATX Sports Club, four new clubs are open; another two are under construction; and a seventh club is in the making.

A variety of local neighbors, including the owner of a nearby law office, protested the extension of the permit, although Lori Renterria’s comments from the audience would indicate a temporary sound permit could be acceptable to the neighborhood. Renterria serves on the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood contact team.

Council pulled back a bit, given the long-standing implications of the decision on the area. Some seemed ready to limit the permits to 12 events per year. Council Member Mike Martinez wanted to pull permits if the club venue was a “bad actor,” which may or may not be allowed under the current ordinance.

With the quagmire deepening and the questions lingering, the Council voted unanimously to delay the vote. The goal is to consider the options and come back with a reasonable recommendation at the next Council meeting.

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