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Council OKs alcohol for South Congress shop

Tuesday, October 27, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

City Council has approved a waiver that will allow a new business on South Congress to serve alcohol, despite its close proximity to the Texas School for the Deaf.

Two Hands Brew LLC sought an alcoholic beverage waiver last week for its business Two Hands Coffee, which will be located at 1007 South Congress Ave. The location is within 300 feet of the Texas School for the Deaf, so alcohol sales would be otherwise prohibited. The school did not oppose the waiver, though some Council members had their doubts.

Council voted 7-4 to approve the waiver at its Oct. 15 meeting, with Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council Members Delia Garza, Ora Houston and Pio Renteria voting in opposition.

Garza said that she was aware that Doc’s Bar and Grill is just down the street but that she wouldn’t have voted for that waiver, either. Garza pointed out that concerns that the street could turn into a bar corridor weren’t hysterical, saying, “Obviously, it might. We have one waiver tonight, and we have another waiver coming up. We set precedent that way, if we keep granting waivers like that.

“I guarantee in 10 years, if it’s a row of bars, we are going to have neighbors in here saying, ‘Why did you allow this? There’s a school there,’” Garza continued. “I can’t support this.”

South River City Citizens Vice President Gretchen Otto spoke in opposition to the waiver. Although the SRCC had not held a vote on the case due to time constraints, it has historically opposed similar waivers.

“The environment that is created around an establishment that serves alcohol is not a safe environment for children. There is a significant correlation between the sale of alcohol and the incidents of crimes such as assault, criminal mischief, trespassing, DWIs, drug possession and public intoxication,” said Otto. “South Congress and the neighbors of South Congress want it to stay a family-friendly place.”

Representing the business owners, Jim Bennett noted that the school was separated by “five lanes of traffic and two lanes of parking” on Congress Avenue, and a wall and fence around the school itself.

Two Hands Brew owner Aamil Sarfani clarified for Council that his business was primarily a coffee shop and “the beer and wine is really to create a community space” during evening events.

“I’d love to have trivia there, live music. … I’d love to be a part of that to add on to the cool South Congress vibe that’s already kind of created there,” said Sarfani.

Mayor Steve Adler and Tovo both seemed to want more from different sides. Citing a minimal amount of objection to the waiver, Adler explained his vote by saying, “My sense of this is that the objection to the use is not related to the school, but the school is providing a tool to be able to stop the use that the neighborhood doesn’t otherwise want to have. … The school is saying they don’t object.”

Tovo said that, in her opinion, when someone is requesting a waiver from city code, there should be a good reason, and she had heard none.

“We have a responsibility to make good decisions for the residents of Austin,” said Tovo. “Creating a party atmosphere near the school is not something we necessarily need to do.”

For Council Member Sheri Gallo, the case brought up larger issues.

“I’m just really uncomfortable that we keep being put in the position of granting waivers for this,” said Gallo. “I think we keep being put in awkward positions when it should really be schools that take the lead.”

Sarfani told Council that he plans to open his business on Congress sometime in the spring, following the opening of his first location at the Domain.

Photo by WhisperToMe (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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