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Zilker Neighborhood and local café reach accord on outdoor music

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

Negotiations between the Zilker Neighborhood Association and the South Austin café Opa! have resulted in an agreement modifying the Outdoor Music Venue permit the city granted the café on March 9. The agreement came just days before City Council was slated to hear the neighborhood association’s appeal of the permit.


Under the terms of the original Outdoor Music Venue permit, Opa!, a Greek wine and coffee bar located at 2050 S. Lamar, was allowed to provide live music as long as the stage was oriented away from the nearby residential properties, the music was over by 10pm seven nights a week, and the decibel level was kept to 70db or below. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 2, 2010.)


However, the Zilker Neighborhood Association filed an appeal of that permit on March 17, arguing that the venue’s proximity to a residential-family-zoned neighborhood was incompatible with pre-existing use. Since issuing the permit, the city has received no fewer than five disorderly conduct complaints from owners and tenants of neighboring properties claiming the music coming from the venue was too loud. None of these complaints have led to citations.


Leading up the Sept 30 City Council hearing on ZNA’s appeal of the permit, city officials — including Don Pitts, the music program director of the city’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Officer, and Greg Guernsey, the director of the Development and Planning Review Department – arranged a meeting between the ZNA and the owners of Opa! to try and negotiate a compromise.


Pitts also brought in city mediator Larry Schooler to help resolve the impasse.


William Neale, Lorraine Atherton, and Eleanor McKinney represented the neighborhood, while café Co-Owner Jackie Karamalegos, Jim Leverett, and real estate lawyer Terry Irion spoke for Opa! at the September 28 meeting.


Schooler told In Fact Daily that the early skepticism he observed among the participants seem to dissipate as the three-hour negotiations went on.


“I think they walked in with a lot of concern about the way the matter was going to be settled,” he said. “In the early going, they were tense and anxious, but as time went on it felt to me like the parties started to understand each other a little bit better and realized it wasn’t going to take too much blood, sweat, and tears to bring them to a successful outcome.”


The terms of the agreement are as follows:


1)    Opa! will continue maintaining a sound level of 70 db or less.

2)    Opa! will turn off any recorded music outside after closing time while staff cleans the restaurant.

3)    Live outdoor music will continue to be allowed until 10pm on Friday and Saturday but will end no later than 9pm Sunday through Thursday.

4)    Opa! will purchase and install sound mitigation equipment recommended by the city, including a “sound curtain” between the stage and the adjacent neighborhood.

5)    Opa! will purchase and install a decibel-level reader.

6)    City staff will test that equipment and take regular sound readings during live performances on the property.

7)    Opa! will provide the neighborhood association with contact information for four staff members who can be contacted in the event of noise concerns. The ZNA will encourage its members to contact Opa! first with its complaints, rather than calling the city.

8)    Contact between neighbors and Opa! will be logged by all parties.

9)    If a neighbor contacts Opa! three times without a timely response, that neighbor may contact the Austin Police Department to complain.


ZNA Executive Committee Member William Neale, who is the group’s “point person on sound issues,” told In Fact Daily that he and his fellow association members are satisfied with the agreement. “I’m very happy because what we agreed to is mitigation in a way that will limit the noise for the immediate neighbors on Kinney Avenue and allow Opa! to stay in business as an outdoor music venue,” he said. “It was a win-win.”


The new agreement went into effect last Friday, October 8, and will expire Thursday, March 10, 2011, the same day the café’s Outdoor Music Venue permit does.

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