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Committee votes no on barbecue smoke ordinance

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 by Jo Clifton

After hearing from several opponents of the proposed ordinance to require scrubbers on the smokestacks of restaurants that smoke meat, the City Council Committee on Economic Development voted unanimously Monday against supporting the ordinance.

Council Member Ora Houston made the motion not to pursue an ordinance initially proposed by Council Member Pio Renteria. Houston moved that individual complaints be referred to Code Compliance or the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Houston initially wanted to put the matter to the Council agenda for no action, but Council Member Greg Casar pointed out that it would be preferable not to put a “no action” item on the agenda.

Renteria’s original proposal would have required barbecue restaurants to put expensive scrubbers on their stacks to prevent smoke from bothering neighborhood residents. Recently Renteria has said he would like stakeholders, including restaurateurs, to work on the problem of smoke making neighborhoods less habitable.

Skeeter Miller, owner of the County Line barbecue restaurant and president of the Greater Austin Restaurant Association, predicted extreme hardship for local restaurants if they were required to install scrubbers. He told the committee that he had contacted the manufacturer of such equipment and learned that it would cost $56,000 to install a scrubber and $100,000 per year to maintain it.

Miller suggested that in many instances it would be better to install a stack extension. However, he admitted that Terry Black’s Barbecue on Barton Springs Road could not benefit from such an extension. In addition to Black’s, Renteria was concerned about complaints from neighbors of La Barbecue in East Austin. Miller said La Barbecue has moved its trailer to try to deal with the problem.

After the vote, Miller said, “We’re very happy about the vote. We feel like in a situation like this you have to take it on a case-by-case basis. To punish everybody over what was just a couple of complaints — it was a financial issue over what it would cost everybody.

“I’m a little concerned about the stakeholder meetings because we haven’t been involved in those meetings, so I’m going to check into that,” Miller continued. “But we’re happy.”


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