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Zoning change OK’d for South Lamar lounge; parking questions remain

Friday, September 17, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

The Planning Commission approved zoning for a potential cocktail lounge on property on South Lamar Boulevard Tuesday night, a case the commission remanded back to the owner with a request for additional information regarding on-site parking.


Seasoned restaurant attorney Kareem Hajjar, representing the property owner in the case, said the desire to re-zone from CS to CS-1 was specifically to create a neighborhood cocktail lounge, one that would have no kitchen but would likely open a food tab with neighboring Austin’s Pizza to serve customers.


“We have put in an extensive amount of time and effort to create that 1,400-square-foot site plan with 19 parking spaces,” Hajjar said. “We’re only required to have 12, so that’s greater than 50 percent over the city’s requirements.”


The tenant also was willing to negotiate after-hours access to the parking spaces that belong to Austin’s Pizza, which would be an additional two-dozen parking spaces between the hours of 10pm and 2am, Hajjar said.


Hajjar also addressed what he labeled as the neighborhood’s Big 5 concerns: parking, noise, security, lighting and outdoor music. The prohibition on outdoor music was a preference of the Planning Commission, but it may end up being addressed when the conditional overlay for the cocktail lounge use returns.


Hajjar noted that both CS and CS-1 allowed outdoor music – which his client did not intend to offer – but Commissioner Danette Chimenti was quick to point out that the decibel level for the CS-1 category was higher.


The Zilker Neighborhood Association appeared to be caught flat-footed on the zoning case. Lorraine Atherton, standing in for Zilker, put up a map of the VMU opt-in properties that surrounded the proposed cocktail lounge. She said Hajjar’s Big 5 didn’t come close to meeting the neighborhood’s expectations.


“They have used our list of points to present to you tonight, but his proposal doesn’t get there,” Atherton said, noting the recently negotiated private restrictive covenant with another business. “We would have to go through a lot of negotiations to get this site where the Gibson Street Bar is. I just don’t see it. They don’t have the available parking or other facilities to do it.”


At the end of Atherton’s testimony, Chimenti asked whether she had reviewed the bar’s tentative site plan and newly proposed parking. That site plan outlined 19 proposed spaces for the property.


“Can’t imagine,” Atherton said. “Can’t imagine getting that many spaces on that site.”


City staff, however, did verify that the plan appeared to provide that many spaces. Chair Dave Sullivan noted that the site plan, with the conditional overlay for the cocktail bar, would have to come through the commission a second time.


Atherton had mentioned the high number of restaurant uses in the area. Hajjar went out of his way to point out cocktail lounges were not restaurants, and that the restaurant traffic in the area would complement the proposed business.


In his rebuttal, Hajjar said he could think of few businesses other than a cocktail lounge that would be willing to take on the significant cost of renovating the existing building on the site. He noted that parking restrictions in the Zilker neighborhood off Lamar Boulevard are such that the threat of problems with street parking would appear to be minimal. And he added that if the parking was not sufficient, then the owner would eventually vacate and some other tenant would be free to attempt to make the site work for some other use.


Commissioner Kathryne Tovo did suggest restrictions on a liquor package store under the CS-1 category, but Commissioner Jay Reddy noted that the neighborhood had expressed no significant opposition to such use and had said they preferred a package store to a cocktail lounge.


The zoning change recommendation, from CS to CS-1, passed on a vote of 9-0. Council is scheduled to consider the recommendation at next week’s meeting.

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