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Planning Commission OKs permit for controversial South Lamar bar

Thursday, August 11, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Crossroads Bar is coming to South Austin after finally winning a conditional use permit.


The property, site of the old Willie’s Service Center, is located at 1901 South Lamar at Mary Street. The neighborhood has been extremely vocal in its opposition to a bar going in at the location.


Crossroads has been going through the site plan process since January, and strain was apparent on all sides.


“It’s not 2003. Willie’s doesn’t exist. This is what we’re dealing with. This is it,” said attorney Kareem Hajjar, with Hajjar, Sutherland, Peters & Washmon, showing a picture of the current site, which sits vacant and boarded up. “We can either leave this, or we can have someone sign a lease for $32 per square foot plus triple nets and invest over half a million dollars into this place. There is no coffee shop; there is not enough coffee in the world that could make that work.” The reference to triple nets means the tenant will pay various expenses, including property taxes and insurance costs and take care of the maintenance.


“Ultimately there are solutions, and all I heard in the rebuttal was ‘no, no, no,’ and all we’ve done is give, give, and give,” said Hajjar.


Neighbors expressed three main concerns with the site plan: the placement of the dumpster, issues with left turns so close to an intersection, and a wish for a closing time of 11pm on weeknights and midnight on weekends.


Owners addressed the two concerns through site plan revisions and a restrictive covenant, which also limits decibel levels of the bar to 70 decibels and prohibits amplified live music. They did not alter the proposed business hours, and plans for the bar to remain open after midnight.


Additional neighbor testimony at the Planning Commission touched on worries about overflow parking, late-night assaults by bar patrons, parking spots that were difficult to maneuver out of, vomit clean-up, and a wish that there was a barrier between the lot and the sidewalk to prevent patrons from parking on it or running into pedestrians.


“It’s like you want more parking, and you want the parking to be there, and they need to have a certain traffic flow on the properties. And you also want them to sacrifice that space to create some other kind of design that mirrors some other things that are going on. So, I guess my question is, is there anything that could be done at this site that would satisfy the neighborhood?” asked Commissioner Saundra Kirk.


“I know you’ve given us three specific things, but if they say ‘Yeah, we’re going to do those things,’ would it then be something else? Because we’ve been working this case a long, long time,” said Kirk.


Ultimately, after assurances that the dumpster and left-turn issues had been addressed, and a friendly amendment that called for a barrier between the parking lot and sidewalk on Lamar, the Planning Commission voted 6-1 to grant the conditional use permit.


Commissioner Danette Chimenti was the lone holdout. Her suggested amendment to the motion, which would have limited operating hours to 11pm on weeknights and midnight on weekends had no support.


“It’s a tough site, it’s a tough geometry,” said Commissioner Alfonso Hernandez. “I think the use is in line with a lot of things that are going on South Lamar. I don’t think anything you put in here is going to be perfect, but I think that the applicant has gone a long way in trying to address a majority of the issues the site itself presents, as well as what the neighborhood presents.”

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