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Rezoning OK’d for new Little Woodrow’s on Burnet Road

Tuesday, December 18, 2012 by Kimberly Reeves

In its last zoning vote of the year, a split Austin City Council approved rezoning a property on Burnet Road in North Austin to accommodate a possible new Little Woodrow’s bar and restaurant.


The vote on first reading was 4-2, with Council Members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo opposed. Council Member Mike Martinez was absent during the vote.


The property already carries CS, or commercial, zoning. The zoning change would be to upzone to CS-1, or commercial with liquor sales. The final zoning designation would actually be CS-1-MU-V-CO-NP.


Liquor sales were a definite problem for some in the Brentwood neighborhood, which now has six properties on a short stretch of Burnet Road that are zoned for alcohol sales. Four are dormant and two are used, including Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon across the street, well known for its chicken-chip bingo contests.


Morrison said she could not vote for the change. “Fabric frays from the edges,” Morrison said. “We have to be concerned about the degradation of our central neighborhoods from the outside in.”


Rick Engle, the developer of Austin’s Little Woodrow’s, is leasing the property from property owner Jimmy Nassour. Agent Alice Glasco noted that three buildings exist on the site, and the building that fronts Burnet Road would be rezoned.


Engle, who developed the Little Woodrow’s concept as well as other eateries including Austin Java, said he had looked for an ideal property in the area for at least five years.


Morrison said neighbors would have welcomed an Austin Java café that specializes in coffee drinks and casual food, but they were less enchanted with a Little Woodrow’s, which currently has four locations in Austin and five in Houston.


Some, like real estate broker Steve Portnoy, viewed Little Woodrow’s as a good neighbor to an existing residential development, one that would serve the new 200-unit multi-family properties on either side well.


“There are many neighbors that are in favor of this,” said Portnoy, who also read a statement from property owner Nassour.


On the other side was Gail McDonald, a member of the Brentwood neighborhood contact team. She said Little Woodrow’s was a full-scale bar, open until 2am that drew patrons with promises of extreme midget wresting matches.


Glasco noted in her presentation to Council the transformation of the one-time real estate office for Nelson Puett into a restaurant-and-lounge will be a two-step process. The first step, the zoning change, will be followed by a negotiated conditional overlay.


In addition to Little Woodrow’s and Austin Java, Engle also developed Uncle Billy’s and Ski Shores restaurants. In every case, Engle said he had worked with the neighborhoods to negotiate harmonious co-existence, whether it was Zilker, Tarrytown, Clarksville or Spanish Oaks.


“It’s most important that businesses like this are able to communicate with their neighborhoods and listen to the concerns that their neighbors have,” Engle said. “All of the concerns can and will be addressed in a conditional-use permit process.”


The zoning change passed Austin’s Planning Commission on a 9-0 vote, with the idea that the conditional-use permit would be the place to vote the final Little Woodrow’s concept up or down.


Tovo raised the issue of how parking would be calculated, noting that the city requires that the portion of the existing 4,000-square-foot building used for a restaurant would have to be calculated as bar space if it connected directly to the 1,000 square feet set aside for the bar.


Planner George Zapalac agreed with the assessment. And Tovo underlined the fact that parking could require a variance, especially if a 200-foot buffer between bar and homes could not be maintained.


Both the bar and the restaurant, being sublet by Engle to a food vendor, would likely be connected to a new 1,000-square-foot deck on front of the building. The large portion of the drinking, Engle conceded, would be on the deck.


Glasco said the size of the deck could be adjusted to reduce the number of necessary parking spaces, and that Little Woodrow’s was negotiating a lease agreement for an additional 45 spaces next door at the neighborhood thrift shop.


Neighbor Joe Reynolds argued the Next-to-New thrift shop, an outreach of St. David’s Episcopal Church, was a religious use that was within 300 feet of the proposed bar, requiring a variance. Glasco disagreed, noting the zoning on the property was retail, not religious.


Council Member Bill Spelman moved the zoning change forward on first reading, noting “the devil’s in the details.” Colleague Chris Riley, who also voted in favor of the zoning change, agreed that “a lot of work has yet to be done” under the conditional-use permit, including parking, vegetation and the entry/exit onto the property.

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