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Lack of permit allowing alcohol may doom Little Woodrow’s

Thursday, December 12, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

After the Planning Commission failed to grant its bid for a conditional use permit that would have allowed the establishment to serve alcoholic beverages, the Burnet Road Little Woodrow’s may never come to pass.


The bar has faced staunch neighborhood opposition that has not eased since City Council granted a zoning change in March. Though the neighborhood won significant compromise at that time, and even more concessions were on the table during the conditional use permit process, those opposed to the project maintained the site was inappropriate for a bar.


And Tuesday night, a Planning Commission skeleton crew wasn’t enough to grant the conditional use permit.


Commissioners Jean Stevens, Alfonso Hernandez, Richard Hatfield and Brian Roark were absent. Consequently, all five members that were present at the meeting would have had to support the permit. Instead, a Conditional Use Permit that would have allowed Little Woodrow’s to operate until 1am on weekends failed in a vote of 3-2, with Chair David Anderson and Board Members James Nortey and Stephen Oliver voting in favor and Commissioners Danette Chimenti and Myron Smith voting in opposition.


Neighbors, once again, expressed concerns about noise and parking. They told the commission that the proposed weekend closing time of 2am was too late for the location. They also expressed concern with plans for head-in parking along Burnet Road and raised doubts that two office spaces on the lot would remain empty as promised, which could lead to a parking shortage.


Ex-officio Member Jeff Jack calculated that leaving those spaces vacant for 20 years could mean a loss of $5 million for the owners. Several neighbors claimed the buildings were currently for lease. (The owner of those buildings is not the owner of Little Woodrow’s.)


“I’m very concerned about the noise, and the parking is an issue,” said Smith. “With this bar being so close to a neighborhood – I mean right across the street – I think the folks that are that close would be miserable.”


Other commissioners saw things differently.


“I’m very conflicted about this whole case. I think there are a whole lot of people in this room who like bars, and who don’t like bars, and there are people who only like bars when they are in them and not nearby them. We’re all over the place depending on what day of the week it is,” said Oliver.


Oliver spoke to the need for a district parking plan to address increases in popularity of corridors and neighborhoods.


“When you look at how those dominoes fall over time, we have interim problems, but we don’t know how interim (they are.) That scares a lot of people. It would scare me. I have no problem with a bar at this site, personally… But I see that head-in parking off of Burnet and it scares the heck out of me,” said Oliver. “I don’t want to be a part of the next death on Burnet.”


Oliver said he didn’t have a problem with the use, or how the owner had engaged with the neighborhood, but the case did raise larger safety issues.


Little Woodrow’s owner Rick Engel said he was surprised to still find neighborhood opposition.


“I had assumed we had agreed on just about all of these items coming into this conversation tonight,” said Engel.


Engel said that the hours of operation had remained a sticking point, but he had offered to limit weekend hours to 1:30am.


“I’ve been trying to reduce or negotiate the best I can without limiting or hurting the business that I’m trying to put at this location. I feel like I’ve been extremely reasonable and accommodating,” said Engel.


The conditional use permit that would allow the business to operate could still be granted if two commissioners put it back on the Planning Commission agenda.


“There is a growing demographic that wants to see this type of change in neighborhoods, but it has to be done carefully and responsibly… It’s a shame that we couldn’t get the sides to work together, but I do think that this is the direction that the future demographic of Austin wants to see,” said Nortey. “The question is how to make it consistent with neighborhoods. We’re not there yet, but this is a step in the right direction.”

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