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Planning Commission mulls zoning category for ‘outdoor entertainment’

Tuesday, September 7, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

A downtown law firm using its site as an outdoor wedding venue has spurred the Planning Commission to consider a possible “outdoor entertainment” venue use, a situation that could put similar sites across the city in limbo, if approved.


The Allan House, at 1104 San Antonio St., has a website devoted to its location as a wedding destination, calling itself a “best-kept secret” and a “hidden oasis,” as well as “historic grounds for special events.” The historic grounds part includes use of its lawn as an outdoor venue for such events, be it weddings or corporate shindigs.


Those uses, it appears, get noisy to residential neighbors.


According to the discussion at the Planning Commission’s Codes and Ordinances subcommittee last month, owners of 1104 San Antonio keep pulling temporary outdoor entertainment venue permits for what have become ongoing events. The question has arisen whether such uses are temporary or actually permanent.


That action by one property owner begged the question whether a permanent use category ought to be built into a zoning category.


Staff acknowledges that the current definitions in city code are ill-fitting. The discussion amongst the commissioners, still unresolved, has been whether a new use should be created under the “CS,” or commercial services, zoning category.


The code provides for an “outdoor entertainment” use, which appears to be best suited for spectator sporting events, such as a sports arena, racing facility, or an amusement park. None of those seem close to the description of a wedding venue, which has led to the discussion of a potential new use category.


This would be a new category of uses – possibly deemed “outdoor entertainment limited” — that could be applied to venues such as Caswell House, Mercury Hall, Green Acres and the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs Mansion. It could even apply to places such as the Four Seasons.


Creation of such a new category would require significant work on the part of the city, according to Jerry Rusthoven with the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department.


Unsaid is the fact that no one in city government relishes the thought of shutting down weddings because they occur in improperly sanctioned venues. As in, no one in city government wants to be reason a bride did not get her dream wedding on the lawn of a particular Austin estate because of the lack of zoning or a permit.


The Planning Commission subcommittee did consider, briefly, other options. Applying a use, based on the noise levels at the event, did appear to be a possible, if clumsy, option to address the issue.


Further discussion appears likely on the category, with the possibility of the Austin Neighborhoods Council weighing in on a final recommendation.

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