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Liquor store proposed for University neighborhood

Friday, November 13, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

Think about the vast acreage that is the University Neighborhood Overlay – and its thousands of student housing units – and guess what developers have decided they simply cannot live without within its boundaries.


Yes, that’s right. Developers want to put in a liquor store, which observers will probably think is either a terrific or a terrible idea in a neighborhood already heavy with underage drinking.


The argument from agent Ron Thrower, on behalf of the applicant who owns the apartment tower where the liquor store would be located, is that it would be better for University of Texas students to walk to get their liquor rather than drive.


The liquor store, if approved by Council, would be located on the ground floor of – dare we say the name with unintended irony? — The Quarters, next to the West Campus Market, which already sells beer and wine. Thrower, in his presentation to the Planning Commission, said the 1100-square-foot liquor store would finish out additional retail space. The proposed CS 1 zoning would be limited to liquor sales and would exclude the much-dreaded intrusion of a cocktail lounge.


“This will allow residents, of a legal age, to walk to the liquor store rather than drive to the liquor store,” Thrower told the commissioners.


It was hard for commissioners to oppose the idea when Mike McHone of University Area Partners (UAP) told them that a variety of local stakeholders, including local churches, representatives of UT student government, local co-ops, and even area property owners had agreed that a package store was a good idea. The mention of churches and students drew some grins from commissioners.


“It is a very eclectic neighborhood with all kinds of folks,” McHone told the dais, saying the UAP had voted in favor of the store. “We look to it as going forward with our goal here, to have an urban pedestrian environment and to keep them from driving after they’ve been drinking.”


The one voice in opposition was Steve Moore, who said his daughter lived a block from the property and had already been bothered by a growing number of vagrants. Asked specifically what would make a package store any different from the store selling beer and wine next door, Moore listed vodka, Maker’s Mark, and schnapps.


“The place for this kind of business is the Drag,” Moore said. “This location just gives them a convenient location to sell liquor with cheaper rent.”


Moore’s argument did not win a lot of converts. In his rebuttal, Thrower said the developers of The Quarters owned six or seven properties with up to 1800 units in the neighborhood, an investment of $100 million into UNO.


“It’s not in their interest at all to bring in something that’s a detriment to the neighborhood,” Thrower said. “This is the building that they’re leasing, and it’s a very acceptable project in the neighborhood.”


Asked by Danette Chimenti whether local neighborhood associations had been contacted, developer Gary Metford noted that a number of people at the UAP meeting had local neighborhood ties and that no one had shown up to oppose the issue.


Commissioner Jay Reddy asked Metford directly about the vagrant issue. Metford said that vagrants were a downtown problem, one that tended to shift from area to area and was not tied to any potential zoning change.


Reddy had no problem making the motion to support the bracketed CS 1 zoning, noting it could reduce drunk driving in the area. The final motion passed on a 7-0 vote, with Commissioner David Anderson gone from the dais. Anderson left the meeting early due to illness.

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