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Opposition lining up against alcohol sales at Oltorf Speedy Stop

Monday, July 30, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

A number of community organizations have rallied to try to put a quick end to a South Austin convenience store’s request for a waiver from zoning rules that prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages within 300 feet of a school.

 

Though a waiver was denied in 1999 at the same location at 1320 East Oltorf Street, a change in ownership of the store has allowed the new owners, Speedy Stop, to re-apply for a waiver to sell alcohol. After several postponements, City Council is set to hear the case at Thursday’s meeting.

 

The city’s zoning rules prevent the sale of alcohol within 300 feet of a public school, church or public hospital. Speedy Shop Food Store #407 at Oltorf Street and Interstate 35 is across the street from Travis High School and next door to Faith Presbyterian’s Church and Child Development Center. Both oppose the waiver.

 

The variance has also attracted the interest of Austin Interfaith, which has organized against the request, mobilizing its churches and institutions to oppose the variance. Kurt Cadena-Mitchell, who is a leader with Austin Interfaith and a member of the Wildflower Unitarian Church, spoke with In Fact Daily about their concerns. The Wildflower congregation meets at the Faith Presbyterian building. 

 

“There is a history in our neighborhoods of these variances being granted, and the negative effects of them,” said Cadena-Mitchell. “What we’ve really come to see is that there needs to be an accountability to the constituents, to our families and our institutions, to ensure that we understand the interests of safety and welfare for our families and our neighborhoods.

 

Cadena-Mitchell said that Austin Interfaith had received commitments to vote against the variance from Council Members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo, and they have scheduled more meetings with Council members.

 

“I think there needs to be a really compelling public interest in approving alcohol use within close proximity of a school,” said Tovo. “For me the fact that it requires a variance, the fact that it is very close to Travis High School and very close to Faith Presbyterian’s community childcare development center makes it a very inappropriate place to sell alcohol.”

 

“We’ve adopted these provisions for good reason, and I think we need to stick to them,” said Tovo.

 

In a letter that urges City Council to deny the variance, the attorney for Faith Presbyterian and its CDC, Kevin Lungwitz, wrote that while the church opposed the variance based on proximity to Travis High alone, the Speedy Stop is also within 300 feet of the church’s Childhood Development Center.

 

While staff seems to disagree on the distance the Speedy Stop is from the church and childhood development center, they have recommended denial of the waiver based on a letter of opposition from Austin Independent School District Assistant Director of Planning Beth Wilson.

 

Richard Suttle of Ambrust and Brown, who represents the new owner of several Speedy Stops, told In Fact Daily, “We thought it was a reasonable request because there are other beer sales in the area. We’re in the process of talking to neighbors and we’ll just see how it turns out.”

 

The South River City Citizens Neighborhood Association urged its members to voice their opposition at the Aug. 2 City Council meeting. They will be joined by members of Austin Interfaith, who will show up to oppose this case as well a separate Speedy Shop case on Cameron Road that has been postponed until Aug. 16. The South River City association voted in June to unanimously to oppose the waiver.

 

“This is a neighborhood where we want to see strong families and families that are able to raise their children with dignity and with safety,” said Austin Interfaith’s Cadena-Mitchell, who said that his congregation sees many children head to the gas station for snacks after school. “We know that it is very easy for them to then obtain alcohol. And whether or not it is children of our families that are obtaining the alcohol, we know that there is added burden and pressure on our families, and we respond to that pressure.”

 

“Our concern is to make sure our children are safe and that parents are not worried about what their children are doing after school,” Cadena-Mitchell said.

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