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City seeks to resolve restaurant’s code violations, compliance issues

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

It seems that Casa de Luz’s trouble with the city is not just about parking.


Recently, the parking troubles of the longtime Austin establishment have garnered quite a bit of attention in the local media. The macrobiotic restaurant and yoga studio has been a fixture in the Zilker Park area for about 20 years.  (See In Fact Daily, March 2, June 3, 2011),


When the parking situation that Casa has faced throughout its history came to a head early this year, it became a touchstone for ongoing discussion about development in the area, dependence on private cars, and (as always) what Austin is becoming.


Unfortunately, parking is not the only dialogue that is taking place between Casa owner Eduardo Longoria and the city.


Last week, a Casa representative showed up at Municipal Court to pay $2,500 in fines for misdemeanor charges stemming from development without a site plan, certificate of occupancy, and building permit.


Additionally, the building remains in violation of the fire code. An inspection report from the Austin Fire Department from November 2010 notes that the property must have either closer emergency access or a sprinkler system, and has neither.


In an email to In Fact Daily, Assistant City Attorney Kathleen Buchanan explained that both the city’s site plan review process and the building inspection process typically require fire inspections. Casa de Luz has not initiated the process for anything other than the Montessori School.


“The use is not in compliance now, so technically the only thing that’s authorized to be at the location is the Montessori school,” said Buchanan. “The city is not authorizing uses, but we are going to provide a little bit of time before we re-file new charges based on the lack of compliance at the location. Hopefully we will see the property owner working diligently to move toward compliance.


“I don’t know that there are any immediate plans to re-file in municipal court against this business, although it is generally the case that if a property continues in a non-compliant manner and adequate progress is not being made, then we will re-file,” said Buchanan.


Buchanan spoke with In Fact Daily after the municipal court hearing. She explained that, no matter how much the city may love a particular business, there are obviously issues of fairness at play. Safety issues, such as compliance with the fire code simply do not allow for flexibility.


“Other people have tried to get this resolved; I think there is a 20-year history here. I’m really optimistic that with all the creative and supportive people working on this in the community and the city that we’re going to be able to come up with some kind of solution that is one that will address the compliance issues in a realistic way, but also facilitate some benefits for the community,” said Buchanan. “It might take us 20 years to get there, but we’ll get there.”


Attorney Russell J. Chalk, who represents Longoria, said he too was optimistic at the prospect of a creative solution.


“The city hasn’t been bad,” said Chalk. “Once you start dealing with code compliance at all, it’s a pain …for everybody; it’s just the nature of the beast. But, it’s not like they are trying to run us out or anything. They’ve been pretty fair, given what their concerns are.


“Its history, its location is very unique, and that is part of the problem. It doesn’t easily fit into typical land use, code compliance sorts of concerns. It’s a little bit different. So I think that whatever the solution is will be a little bit different, too,” said Chalk.

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