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ZAP recommends County Line rezoning

Monday, August 24, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Last week, the city’s Zoning and Platting Commission unanimously approved a compromise that will allow County Line on the Lake to operate its patio legally, though it will prohibit outdoor amplified sound.

Commissioners voted to recommend requesting a zoning change for County Line Barbeque at 5204 FM 2222. The change, which would impact a 1,812-square-f00t tented event space on the restaurant’s property, would switch zoning from General Office (GO) to Community Commercial (GR) with a conditional overlay. That conditional overlay will prohibit a long list of land uses and outdoor amplified sound.

Chair Gabriel Rojas said that he did understand this particular compromise and supported the restrictions, though he was pained to further limit live music venues in the city.

Michael Castanon spoke on behalf of the Courtyard Homeowners Association and against the rezoning request. He said that he didn’t believe the restaurant would confine its operations to the tent area if the zoning change was approved, and that it has continued to hold events throughout the process.

“We have tried to complain about the music,” said Castanon. “All those years that they had live music, we complained. We called the police. We got people there — but the police department thought they had a permit. …

“There’s no teeth in anything if you can’t enforce any of this,” he continued. “It’s a lot of noise. It’s an issue. We’ve had people leave the neighborhood because of that.”

Castanon said that he supported rezoning the tent but asked the commission to approve the rezoning only on the condition that the “enticing stuff” on the property, such as the gazebo and cobblestones, be removed in order to prevent customers from wandering.

Pointing out that the restaurant has been there longer than the subdivision, Commissioner Susan Harris said that even if County Line were to go away, something else could be built on the property that could generate noise equivalent to or greater than people walking around the property.

“I don’t think that within GO there is a preclusion for people to gather and speak, laugh, make noise. That is the nature of human interaction,” said Harris. “With all due respect, it seems a little unreasonable for you to expect no activity to occur on the adjacent site. I’m puzzled by your request.”

Michele Rogerson Lynch with Metcalfe, Wolff, Stuart & Williams, LLP pointed out that eliminating outdoor amplified sound was “a pretty large concession” in an outdoor entertainment area.

Lynch said that in 1996, a site-plan correction allowed a covered patio, and at the time no one at the city noticed it was within the GO-zoned portion of the property, where it was not technically allowed. When the restaurant erected a tent over the patio area in 2006, it was under the assumption that it was permitted. Lynch noted that tent permits were not required by the city at that time. In May 2014, County Line was red-tagged for erecting the tent.

Last year, when the restaurant applied for an outdoor music venue permit, the code violations were revealed. The application for the permit was subsequently dropped, and Lynch said that the restaurant was now trying to bring the tent into compliance and resolve issues with nearby neighbors.

That claim was backed by Skeeter Miller, who has owned County Line for 40 years. He said that it has had music on the back patio for the past 14 years or so without incident. When his business moved forward in pursuing a music permit to be prepared for the various events it hosts on the patio, neighbors objected, and Miller dropped the application.

“We were trying to work with neighbors, but obviously it wasn’t going to work out, so I pulled the permit,” said Miller. “I don’t even want to make a noise.

“We do almost a million dollars in sales in that tent,” Miller continued. “And if that goes away, people will lose their jobs. … It’s really a serious situation for us. We have conceded. We have a lot more property out there we would like to use, but I don’t want a problem, so I’m asking for this small piece.”

Miller said that he was originally going to allow people to set up on the lawn area but dropped that plan as well after neighbors objected. Complaints about guests walking around the property persist, however. Miller described a recent situation that invoked neighborhood ire.

“We had a situation this weekend where the neighbors took a picture of a group that had come in,” said Miller. “It was a Christian group that … for five years has done their last camp counselors dinner up on the deck that is zoned GR. When it was over, they paid their bill, they walked down to the picnic tables, they exchanged gifts, they said a prayer, and they left.

“We got an email that said that we aren’t to be trusted,” said Miller. “I can’t help it that guests want to walk down and enjoy the property.”

Photo by Luis Tomayo made available through a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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