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Council changes rules to legalize East Austin Studio Tour art sales

Monday, September 26, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

With the East Austin Studio Tour on the horizon, City Council has adopted an amendment legalizing sales from private residences.


The ordinance has been in the works since May, when City Council passed a resolution in order to address the inadvertent illegality of art tours in the city. Specifically, the East Austin Studio Tour (E.A.S.T.) caused a rash of code violation reports in 2009, which, in turn, caused a headache for the city.


November will mark the 10th East Austin Studio Tour, which has grown each year. Estimates put attendance at about 14,000 people, city-wide, across two weekends. Pressure to pass the new ordinance before the tour overcame violent opposition from one neighbor.


City Council voted 7-0 to in favor of the ordinance, passing it on all three readings.


The Planning Commission originally discussed the resolution in July, and sent it to the Arts Commission for additional input. Their recommendation was to allow 12 days of art sales from residences per year, as well as permitting guest artists and advertising of art tours. Council agreed. Both commissions also requested that art sales be made more distinct from garage sales, giving each category its own paragraph in the code, something that Council upheld.


Jerry Rusthoven, of the city’s Planning and Development Review Department, explained it to Council. “There was some discussion, it was a little amusing, about the two. That art is not second-hand items and so-forth,” said Rusthoven.


“It just seems completely counter to our city’s culture to lump garage sales and artists’ tours in the same ordinance language,” said Commissioner Donna Tiemann. “They are a completely different class of people-to-people type sales.” 


Staff said it was a simple mistake.


“Quite frankly they are just lumped together in the ordinance because the Council resolution addressed both items,” said Rusthoven. He explained that it would be very simple to separate the two within the code.


“The two shall not be spoken of in the same breath,” said Rusthoven.


Chair Dave Sullivan said, “We’re not looking at artists, or people that are selling their junk. We are looking at how much traffic there is. We’re not looking at sales; we’re looking at the effects.”


It was those effects that provoked Daniel Llanes, from the Govalle/ Johnson Terrace Neighborhood Planning Team to speak out against the ordinance.


Llanes stated that neighborhoods had been “cut out” of the process, and that the ordinance was subtly deceptive and incomplete in its failure to address things like parking.


“My suggestion is that you postpone this, and not use the blackmail of saying that it is already on the city agenda,” said Llanes.


The Planning Commission may discuss the amendment again at the January meeting of the Neighborhood Planning Subcommittee.


For their part, representatives of the arts community seemed pleased with the resolution, and eager to explore issues such as parking and transportation in the future.


“Just for the record, I love garage sales, and I have furniture in the house, all over the house, that came from garage sales,” said Council Member Mike Martinez.  “But I don’t like my neighbors that have them every single weekend.”

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