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Council denies zoning change for Bluff Springs convenience store

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

With negotiations in shambles, there will be no zoning change for construction of the Bluff Springs Food Mart in the near future.


The owner of the proposed convenience store was seeking the zoning change in order to remove a restriction that prohibits food sales and restaurant fast food drive-throughs on the property. That change would allow a convenience store to open on the site, located at 7101 Bluff Springs Road.


On third reading last week, City Council members denied the change in a vote of 4-2, with Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Member Chris Riley voting in opposition and Council Member Mike Martinez off the dais.


Agent Phil Moncada was representing the owner, Tariq Majeed, before the Council. He said that without the change, the store would fail. Moncada presented a restrictive covenant saying he understood they had reached consensus with the neighborhood on all but one issue and, while the neighborhood would like to see a total ban on alcohol sales, that would probably kill the project.


Neighborhood advocates told a much different story.


“This case came to Council back in August, and there has been all that time to negotiate,” said Austin Interfaith’s Kurt Cadena-Mitchell. “Unfortunately, it has not been handled well or professionally by the representatives chosen by this property owner. So I don’t think postponing would lead to a better outcome.”


“What we have seen as a pattern is that the neighborhood is ignored and not communicated with until the day before the meeting,” said Cadena-Mitchell. “The negotiations have been a waste of time for the people who had to take off work to do them.”


Neighbors had attempted to broker a deal that would have included the sale of fresh fruit and vegetables at the store, which is located in an area considered to be a “food desert.”


The owners did agree to several conditions which, though now moot, remain an interesting approach to increasing healthy food alternatives in areas of town that lack them. The restrictive covenant included provisions for 100 square feet of area for the sale of fresh fruit and vegetables and a ban on advertising sales of candy, soda and other unhealthy snacks.


They also proposed to ban alcohol sales for six months if they had three Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission violations in a calendar year.


That wasn’t good enough for those that opposed the change.


“Yesterday at 10:30, we got the email for the new restrictive covenant, which is nothing that we even agreed to,” said Robert Kibbie of the Indian Hills Neighborhood Watch “What we are asking for now is to just not even do the restrictive covenant, just to deny the zoning case.”


“At the very beginning, what we asked for was a ban on alcohol sales between 2 and 6pm. They didn’t agree to that,” said Kibbie. He said they then attempted to negotiate restrictions based on any alcohol sale violations.


“We met with (attorney) Kareem Hajjar, and he said we might as well give up this case, there was no way we were going to win it and that he donates money to City Council races,” said Kibbie “So we went out and got a valid petition and (negotiations about alcohol sales) came off the table, once all this intimidation was going on.”


“Just to be clear, I’d like to think all of us make all of our decisions based on who is right, and not who is giving us money,” said Council Member Laura Morrison.


“I knew he was just talking,” said Kibbie.


The neighborhood had a valid petition against the case that stood at 24.81 percent. Because of that petition, City Council would have had to approve the change with six votes, instead of a simple majority.


Kibbie explained that everyone who had signed the petition did so in opposition to alcohol sales at a location so close to a school. They were joined in their opposition by State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), AISD Superintendent Maria Carstarphen, AISD Board Member Jayme Mathias, Dove Springs Proud, Dove Springs NA, and the Indian Hills Neighborhood Watch.


Though the school is technically outside of the boundaries that limit alcohol sales due to proximity to schools, opponents argued there is a great deal of student traffic that made alcohol sales inappropriate.


Riley said that he respected the concerns of the neighborhood, but looking at the zoning on its own, it was an appropriate use for an area that lacked retail. He pushed for an approval on second reading, in the hope that a deal could be worked out by the third. Riley said he was “reluctant to deny it outright,” given the lack of retail in the area.


“In the conditions that you are laying out, it’s unlikely that anything is going to be put there,” said Leffingwell.

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