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Monday, March 31, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano
Council denies East Cesar Chavez restaurant a late-hours permit
East Austin’s Weather Up Restaurant will have to weather at least another year without late night hours, after an unsuccessful trip to City Council last week.
In February, the Planning Commission rejected the request for the conditional use permit for Weather Up in an even split. The owners took the case to Council as an appeal of that decision, but they instead found a more definitive rejection.
Council members voted 6-1 to deny the conditional use permit, with Council Member Bill Spelman casting the lone vote in opposition. Weather Up, located at 1808 Cesar Chavez, was seeking a late-hours permit that would allow them to remain open until 2 a.m., and a parking variance that would allow parking within 200 feet of a single-family residence.
Those in favor of the later hours stressed their upscale clientele and quiet fit with the neighborhood so far.
“We have not received a single noise or parking complaint. We have been featured in publications ranging from GQ to Texas Monthly to The Austin Chronicle,” owner Kathryn Weatherup said. “In the three years my family and I have lived in East Austin, we have seen incredible change. I do understand the fear that the influx of businesses and people will alter the unique character of East Austin. I also understand the need to preserve what has made the neighborhood special for longtime residents. That is why it has been heartening to count so many neighbors among our regulars.”
“We could have easily opened on East Sixth and had a much smoother existence, but we didn’t. We wanted to be where we are,” said Weatherup. “We want to continue to be part of this special neighborhood. We want the chance to be a landmark in our community.”
Marcos DeLeon, who is a neighbor and a former Travis County Commissioner, pointed to the transformation of East Sixth Street and Rainey Street as nearby illustrations of what the neighborhood feared could happen on Cesar Chavez.
PODER Vice-President Angelica Noyola said that she had counted 14 bars in the 17 blocks between Pleasant Valley and IH-35. She warned that granting a late-hours permit to Weather Up would set a precedent that would allow those bars to be open past midnight.
“It’s not about how nice the owners are, or how wonderful the food is. Our concern is safety and tranquility and the preservation of quality-of-life for individuals that have been living in the neighborhood,” said Noyola.
“Weather Up has heard these concerns by the neighborhood. They don’t share them, because they don’t exist,” said attorney Kareem Hajjar of Hajjar, Sutherland, Peters & Washmon, LLP.
“Weather Up doesn’t price their cocktails to be drunk in mass quantities, because they are 12 dollars a piece. If you want a two-dollar beer, go somewhere else. We don’t want you,” said Hajjar.
Neighbors were unconvinced by Hajjar’s offer to create a restrictive covenant with himself that would limit the late-hours permit to Weather Up and provide “many, many parking spaces.”
“A restrictive covenant can even be unilateral. We don’t need another party to enforce it. This is something that an owner can do to his own property and it would be enforceable by any neighbor that would be affected by it,” said Hajjar.
East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Contact Team Treasurer Susan Benz told Council that the neighborhood had no interest in this form of a restrictive covenant.
“You make us the police officer in doing that, and it’s not comfortable,” said Benz. “Why don’t they go ahead and put all these things in place first, and then come talk to us about late hours? Solve the parking problem now… They talk about all these things they could do. I’m suggesting they go do those things and then come to us.”
Many of those opposed to the late-hours permit called into question whether the establishment was operating a bar or a restaurant. So did Council Member Laura Morrison, who pointed out that sales from this year showed food comprised 23 percent of all sales in January and 28 percent in February. Of the three months tracked, it was only in March of this year that Weather Up pushed past the required 51 percent of food sales that defines it as a restaurant under code. Greg Guernsey, director of Planning and Development Review, told City Council that as of the meeting on March 27, food had made up 51.08 percent of sales.
Morrison said that the mandatory year’s delay before Weather Up could submit their late-hours request again would allow the city to compile more data about whether the business was operating as a restaurant, legally.
Council Member Mike Martinez agreed, and added that the year’s wait could also allow time for tensions between the two sides to cool off.
“I do agree with neighbors that have said that this is really in close proximity to single-family residences,” said Tovo. “I do wish every success to Weather Up. It seems like a very nice, very well-run establishment. But I cannot support the extension of the hours.”
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.
City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.
neighborhood planning contact team: A neighborhood plan contact team is a group of individuals designated to be the stewards or advocates of their adopted neighborhood plan. They work with city staff towards the implementation of the plan recommendations, review and initiate plan amendments, serve as community points of contact, and work on behalf of other neighborhood stakeholders.
PODER: People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources. A citizen group focused on environmental, economic and social justice issues.