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Zilker Neighborhood continues appeal of café’s outdoor music permit

Thursday, September 2, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

Lost in the shuffle of last week’s long and testy Council meeting was the postponement of an appeal regarding an Outdoor Music Venue permit for South Austin café Opa! But the postponement does not signal successful negotiations between the Zilker Neighborhood Association and a new café on South Lamar.


Up for dispute is the Outdoor Music Venue permit the city’s Planning and Development Review Department approved for Opa! on March 9. The Greek wine and coffee bar, located at 2050 S. Lamar, abuts a residential-family-zoned neighborhood in the rear. Under the terms of the permit, the venue is allowed to provide live music as long as the stage is oriented away from the nearby residential properties and faces Lamar, the music is done by 10pm seven nights a week, and the decibel level is kept to 70db or below.


The venue has adhered to all these guidelines, according to city staff.


However, on March 17, the Zilker Neighborhood Association filed an appeal with the city, claiming that the venue’s proximity to residential property is incompatible with pre-existing use, and the business did not negotiate with the neighborhood.


The boundary Opa! shares with single-family homes on Kinney Avenue, the application reads, “makes 70 decibels incompatible with the quite enjoyment of property that was possible” before the approval of the permit. Eleanor McKinney, whose home is one of those adjacent to the venue, told In Fact Daily that she can hear the music in her bedroom every night of the week. “Most 70 decibel venues aren’t adjacent to single family,” she said. “They may be across the street but not adjacent. We’re worried about our neighborhood becoming an entertainment district.”


According to the appeal application, “there was no meaningful negotiation” between the applicant and the neighborhood, only a brief meeting over the December holidays with the owner’s representative. Bobby Rigney, vice president of the Zilker Neighborhood Association, said Opa! representatives “showed up with nothing at the meeting, no times, no plans for sound mitigation. We can’t negotiate with a blank piece of paper.” Opa! co-owner Alex Karamalegos, meanwhile, said that his family did negotiate, with both the city and the neighborhood, and that the three guidelines their business currently adhere to – concerning stage-placement, times, and decibel levels – are a direct result of those negotiations.


Backing up this claim, staff’s cites those restrictions, and the fact that the “applicant met with the neighbors prior to issuance” to discuss them, as the reason for its recommendation to Council to deny the appeal.


The appellants, however, aren’t satisfied and have requested several postponements of the public hearing on the appeal to continue to make their case to city staff. McKinney said that she and the ZNA are in “delicate negotiations with the city” over the music permit.


However, Jerry Rusthoven of the Planning and Development Review Department said that there were no such negotiations and that the discussions going on between the appellants, the owners, and the city don’t concern the Outdoor Music Venue permit at all. Instead they have to do with possible discrepancies on the city’s zoning map that make it unclear whether certain portions of the venue’s property are in an area zoned for general commercial services (CS), as the owner states, or family residence (SF3), as the neighborhood association claims.


The outcome of those discussions will determine the parameter’s of Opa!’s parking lot.


The new hearing on the appeal is September 30.

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