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Bar owners win parking variance for South Congress pub

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

Although the Planning Commission often sides with complaining neighbors, they sided with owners of a bar named The Crow Bar last night, granting it a parking variance on South Congress despite concerns of a residential neighbor.


The Crow Bar, which will be leased and managed by a former manager of La Zona Rosa, is intended to serve as a neighborhood bar that fronts on South Congress and backs up to the Dawson neighborhood. Neglected and abandoned, the bar had become an eyesore and a home to vagrants, admitted agent Kareem Hajjas.


The restoration of the building was not intended to create a bar on the scale of nearby Opal Divine’s. Instead, the bar’s owner and managers wanted to preserve much of the original structure to provide a place where locals could play a game of pool and relax. The operators would not be seeking a live music permit, Hajjas said.


Manager Stephen Gee said the Crow Bar, which will be across the street from St. Edward’s University, is not intended to be a loud or flashy place.


“We’re not going to have any live music,” Gee said. “It’s quite small inside. We started this over the summer, and the owner of the property has worked hand in hand with the Dawson neighborhood trying to satisfy all of their needs. Actually, the last couple of weeks, I’ve gone door to door, knocking on the doors and talking to people.”

The lot, as Hajjas noted, already had CS 1 zoning, which is intended for liquor sales. The only change would be a variance to allow some of the 15 parking spaces for the bar to go next door in the parking lot of a local florist.


The Dawson Neighborhood Association voted 14-2 in favor of the parking variance, as long as a fence was built along the property line to muffle noise.


But homeowner Jeff Rust, who lives less than 200 feet from the Crow Bar’s property line, argued he did not move into the neighborhood to live next to a bar. If he had wanted to live near a bar, he said, he would have moved down near Sixth Street. Bars, he said, bring traffic, drunks, and crime to neighborhoods.


“This is not in the best interest of a quiet and quaint well-established Austin neighborhood,” Rust said. “It brings a host of problems.”


But those arguments did not get a lot of traction with the Planning Commission. South Congress has been a major commercial corridor for a number of years. Rust moved in last May, after CS 1 zoning had been granted on the property. And CS 1 zoning, Commissioner Clint Small noted, is explicitly granted to those properties that intend to sell liquor. Rust had to admit he was not aware of the commercial zoning when he moved into the neighborhood.


Commissioners, however, were sympathetic to Lorraine Atherton’s comments that sound limits apply not just to live music but also amplified music. The final compromise, proposed by Commissioners Danette Chimenti and Mandy Dealey, stated that sound will be limited to no more than 70 decibels at the residential property line (to prevent the bar’s seeking a live music permit some time in the future) and that any music piped outdoors to the deck will be shut off at 10pm on weeknights and 11pm on weekends. The bar’s deck will face South Congress Avenue.


Chimenti told Rust that her home sits about as close to The Continental Club as his sits to the Crow Bar and that his concern was understandable. But with a cooperative owner, she said, the impact of a venue could be diminished.


Commissioner Saundra Kirk did empathize with Rust’s situation enough to ask Gee to make an effort to keep an eye on how parking encroached on the local neighborhood. No one wants to hear foot traffic and car doors slamming at 2am, Kirk said.


Michael Martinez, who has operated the Ben White Floral Shop since 1996, said he could not speak to nighttime traffic but that efforts to fix up the property had already made a significant positive impact on the neighborhood. The building, once zoned a church, had been a magnet for everything from homeless derelicts to drug deals to prostitution.


“You name it, it happened there, and it happened during the day,” Martinez said. “They’ve gone above and beyond with this building. I applaud the fact they did not come in to demolish it and change the character of the neighborhood. It probably would have been a more feasible use to demolish it and start over.”


The final vote on the variance was 7-0-2, with Commissioners Dave Anderson and Jay Reddy absent. Anderson was in attendance at the Comprehensive Plan meeting. Last night was Commissioner Ben DeLeon’s first meeting.

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