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Council denies Polvos restaurant’s request for Zoning Change

Tuesday, August 21, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

Members of the Austin City Council rejected a bid from popular South Austin eatery Polvos to construct offsite parking. The Council members’ unanimous vote last Thursday came after Polvos’ representatives made the curious choice to not attend the hearing.


The vote to deny mirrored the recommendations of staff and a unanimous Planning Commission. The final tally was 6-0, with Council Member Bill Spelman off the dais.


“I just want to say that it’s really unfortunate that the applicant chose not to be here, but on the other hand, this is such an egregious encroachment that is in violation. … I think it’s safe to go forward today,” said Council Member Laura Morrison.


Polvos’ owners hoped to rezone a 723 square feet portion of the lot at 603 West Johanna Street to construct a private driveway that would provide access to a parking area behind the Mexican restaurant at 2004 South First Street. That action would require access through a single-family residential neighborhood, which is not permitted under code.


Phil Moncada of Moncada Consulting was the agent on the case. He told Planning and Development Review Director Greg Guernsey that he would be requesting a postponement two hours before the issue went in front of Council on Thursday. Moncada then left City Hall before anything was settled.


Opponents of the Polvos’ application objected strenuously to the postponement of the case, which had already been postponed at City Council twice before. They had also suffered the misfortune of bad timing when their case went before the Planning Commission in May and wasn’t heard until about 1am, after lengthy short-term rentals discussion.


Brad Patterson of the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association asked Council members to move forward, saying that he had been waiting two and a half hours after the case was scheduled before a postponement was even mentioned. “As far as I can tell there’s no changes. There’s nothing new. They just want more time,” Patterson said.


Mark Cathcart, who owns the property adjacent to 603 West Johanna Street, seemed frustrated by the delays. He had already racked up another five hours in attorney’s fees from the City Council meeting, and he said he saw no reason for the last-minute postponement.


“I couldn’t run my business like this,” Cathcart said.


Morrison agreed that the case should move forward. “I’m really, really concerned about what I perceive to be an applicant just presupposing that automatically they’re going to get a postponement in a situation like this,” Morrison said.


Though there was a motion to postpone, it failed in a vote of 4-2 with only Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Member Mike Martinez voting for a postponement.


Council members finally took up the case about three hours later. Moncada still had not returned. Guernsey told City Council that he had spoken with the applicant’s attorney Terry Irion.


“He indicated to me that both he and Mr. Phil Moncada would not be present this evening. I’d rather just stop at that point,” Guernsey said.    


That left no one to speak in favor of the variance.


Cathcart said that the case was not about parking, as the applicant claimed, but rather the “systematic extension of the restaurant.” Cathcart shared pictures of a lot that, he explained, had been transformed from a single-family house since Polvos owner Jose Linares purchased it in 2007.


Cathcart asked City Council to not only reject the request but to find a way to enforce the current violations that he claims to have seen, such as storage, parking and washing kitchen grills at the nearby lot.


“I’ve submitted endless 311 calls about this. I’m at a loss as to what to do next,” said Cathcart, who added he had spent over $12,000 in attorney’s fees on the problem so far.


Council did not address Cathcart’s additional concerns from the dais.

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