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Westend Bistro gets the okay from City Council

Wednesday, March 17, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

The City Council considered a request to convert a single-family home on West Sixth Street to a restaurant at their meeting last Thursday, looking to strike a balance between the hopes of a new business venture and the needs of several longstanding business ventures situated right next door.


The restaurant in question, the Westend Bistro, would be located at 1315 West 6th Street, which was, until recently, the site of a chiropractor’s office. The applicant, the AGSA Group, L.L.C, was requesting Council approval to rezone the property from limited office-vertical mixed use neighborhood plan (LO-V-NP) combining district zoning and limited office-neighborhood plan (LO-NP) combining district zoning to community commercial-vertical mixed use-conditional overlay-neighborhood plan (GR-V-CO-NP) combining district zoning.


According to staff, the applicant had worked with the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association (OWANA) to enter into a private restrictive covenant that would place additional conditions on this property, including limitations on height and impervious cover.


The applicant’s agent, Jim Bennett, told Council that his client entered into that restrictive covenant in order to “fit in with the overall scheme of the neighborhood plan. We’re proposing to keep the old building,” he said, “(and) to keep those buildings and allow for the change of use.”


The rezoning had the approval of both staff and the Planning Commission. At Thursday’s meeting, however, Douglas Lyon, a business owner representing the occupants of an executive office situated directly to the west of the proposed Westend Bistro, spoke against the rezoning request. “We have some very serious privacy and security concerns,” he said. 


He told Council that the office building holds a lot of valuable equipment, such as computers, and that he and his fellow residents were concerned that the sheer volume of people coming to the restaurant, and the fact that some of the restaurant’s patrons would have a clear line of sight into the building, would put them in a precarious position, both in terms of privacy and safety.


Lyons also took issue with the applicant’s contention that the restaurant would be just a restaurant and expressed concern about how noise would affect himself and his building-mates, many of whom, he said, work as late as 10 or 11pm. 


“It’s called a quote-unquote ‘restaurant,’” he said. “We actually thought this would be kind of fun to have little bistro next door, and then we found out it’s actually a full-service bar that will be open until midnight. No one ever called us; OWANA  never called us. No one ever asked us to attend a meeting to voice our opinion. This has happened so rapidly that we really haven’t had any time to prepare. We believe it needs proper security and sound barrier systems in place. We don’t support the zoning change until our concerns are addressed.”


Lyon requested a postponement on the vote so that he and the other occupants of his building could continue to meet with the landowner and future tenant to get those issues addressed.


In rebuttal, Bennett told Council that as part of the applicant’s restrictive covenant with OWANA, the tenant agreed not to obtain or seek permits for late-night alcohol sales, amplified outdoor sound, or live outdoor music. “This is not a bar; it is a restaurant,” he said. “It will serve alcohol as is customary and secondary to the sale of food.”


He also addressed Lyon’s concern about outdoor customers being able to see into the office building. “We are proposing a deck on the eastside of the existing structure,” he said, “away from the speaker’s property with the building in between. All additions will be to the east of the building.”


Council Member Bill Spelman sympathized with Lyon and asked Bennett if there was anything the applicant could do to soundproof the building, at least on the west side, nearest the office. “You’re going to have a lot of people in the restaurant; they’re going to be making a lot of noise,” he said. “He’s got people trying to get some work done 10 feet away.”


Bennett responded that his client was willing to work with the neighbor to improve conditions but that, in the end analysis, with both parking for the restaurant and the proposed new deck situated on the opposite end of the restaurant from the office, any traffic and noise fears Lyon had were unfounded.


After Spelman moved to approve the rezoning on all three reads, Council Member Laura Morrison said, “I think it’s very desirable that this older home is going to be maintained because maintaining the character of the neighborhood along Sixth Street is a real challenge. A lot has been learned over the past few years in the neighborhood with the items that have been listed in the restrictive covenant, including outdoor amplified sound, limited seating that’s allowed outside, and also the limitations on going for a late-night alcoholic beverage permit. So all those things are very mitigating in terms of the impact (the restaurant is) going to have.


“To see that location being rejuvenated as a restaurant – it’s not a bar; there really are very distinct differences – I think is a positive thing.”


Council then voted unanimously in favor of the applicant’s request for rezoning.

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