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Council approves new South Lamar bar on first reading

Friday, October 29, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

City Council approved cocktail lounge zoning for a property on South Lamar yesterday over the objections of the Zilker Neighborhood Association. The neighborhood objected even though the lounge will be across Lamar on the Bouldin neighborhood side of the street.


Council Member Laura Morrison was the only one to agree with Zilker in its opposition to the conversion of a shuttered auto repair shop into a neighborhood bar. Lorraine Atherton, back after a failed opposition bid at the Planning Commission, said the Zilker neighborhood would prefer no more than one CS-1 zoned property every 1,000 feet.


Such a guideline would guarantee the type of mixed use, and vertical mixed use, preferred by neighborhoods along South Lamar, Atherton said. That argument resonated with Morrison, who saw issues with entertainment districts coalescing in only a handful of zoning cases.


“I think we have plenty of examples in the city where areas have very quickly turned into entertainment districts, and that’s not a mix of uses,” Morrison said. “There is a propensity in this town, because of an insatiable demand for that kind of area, so it seems to develop and be spawned quite quickly.”


The issue that resonated with other Council members, and the reason why the case was approved on first reading only, was an interest in creating a public restrictive covenant to limit noise levels at the establishment. As Kareem Hajjar of Hajjar Sutherland Washmon & Peters LLP told Council, the two significant differences between CS and CS-1 are the ability to waive the 50 percent food sales requirement and an 85-decibel sound level limitation.


Under CS-1 zoning, the noise level is limited to 65 decibels.


Hajjar assured Council that the developer of the property had no desire for an outdoor music permit and that music on the patio would be ambient. He pointed out that trains passing through the neighborhood have louder horns than the noise levels that would be produced at the bar.


Neighbors, however, were leery, given their experiences with other venues. Southeast crosswinds could carry music into the neighborhood, they argued.


In his presentation, Hajjar promised a sort of private-public restrictive covenant on the noise issue, giving anyone the right to pursue a case against the bar if it were to exceed the 65 decibel level.


That left too many loose ends, however, for Council. Mayor Lee Leffingwell asked about a conditional overlay that would limit the decibel level. Then, after some discussion involving Council Member Bill Spelman, it was decided a public restrictive covenant, where a noise-limitation pledge would be made to Council, would be preferable. That put the zoning approval on first reading only.


Morrison was skeptical of a noise agreement with Council, even if the noise limitation was carried with the land. Overturning such agreements would require a vote of only four Council members, Morrison said, and that has certainly happened in past cases, where owners had pushed for greater latitude.


The Zilker Neighborhood Association also offered additional suggestions for what Hajjar dubbed the “Big 5” – noise, lighting, parking, security, outdoor music – for the site plan phase.

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