Thursday, January 21, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

South Lamar zoning error may have fix on the way

A costly mistake by the city may soon be fixed for one South Lamar business owner, but if the most recent Planning Commission meeting is any indication, the rezoning might not go down without a fight.

Planning and Zoning Department senior planner Andy Moore explained that in 2014, WhichCraft Beer Store applied for a site plan exemption and change-of-use for 2110 South Lamar Blvd. to allow liquor sales. At the time, the lot was zoned for General Commercial Services (CS), but the GIS Zoning Map incorrectly identified it as Commercial-Liquor Sales (CS-1). The site plan exemption was approved, and WhichCraft has been operating there ever since.

Soon after the approval, neighborhood representatives noticed the mistake and let staff know about the error. As a result, city staff asked the Planning Commission to initiate a zoning change that would make the property CS-1, which is consistent with the use (and the incorrect zoning map).

Planning Commissioners voted unanimously to initiate the zoning case, with Chair Stephen Oliver and commissioners Jean Stevens and Patricia Seeger absent.

“I understand how frustrating it is when the city has made a mistake,” said Commissioner James Sheih. “When a lot of money has been invested and things have progressed based on erroneous information, yeah, it’s difficult.”

Drenner Group’s Dave Anderson spoke on behalf of the property owner, Charlie Thomas. He said that on June 12, 2006, the city wrote a zoning verification letter – which his client read before purchasing the property – that confirmed CS-1 zoning. That zoning impacted the price that he paid for it. Anderson also cited several nearby zoning cases in which his client’s property was identified as CS-1, in accordance with the city’s own map.

“People make mistakes. I think the city made a mistake,” said Anderson. “My client and his tenant are now bearing the brunt of that mistake, and this is an opportunity to rectify that.”

Despite his feeling that he was entitled to CS-1 zoning on the property, Thomas said he was sensitive to the neighborhood’s concerns about opening a bar. As a compromise, he said he was willing to give up CS-1 zoning “on about 90 percent of the property,” which would allow WhichCraft, which sells retail beer and is not a bar, to stay in business.

“Even if we had the entire CS-1 zoning on the property, we wouldn’t even have the parking to park a bar. This is more about keeping our tenants in business,” said Thomas.

The property also houses Aviary Lounge, a business whose threatened closure has garnered attention on Facebook recently. Thomas explained that that was a different case, not dependent on CS-1 zoning.

Lorraine Atherton, who is a member of the Zilker Neighborhood Association, said she was not there to argue the merits of the zoning case but said that before the commission initiated rezoning, it should be aware of the history. She said that her neighborhood had asked the city to check their GIS data to make sure it was accurate in 2010, but that was not done. She asked the commission to check, again, for the GIS data to be inspected for accuracy.

Atherton said that the property owner should initiate the request and bear its cost, not the city. She said that part of the current problem is that both WhichCraft and Aviary Lounge hoped to expand, but they don’t have enough parking to do so.

Before voting in favor of initiating the zoning case alongside her fellow commissioners, Commissioner Angela Pineyro De Hoyos made the point that “any concerns the neighborhood has will be addressed in a rezoning request.”

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

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.

Planning and Zoning Department: Planning, preservation and design services are under the purview of this department.

South Lamar: A major thoroughfare in South Austin, South Lamar is a primary route to and from downtown, as well as one of the city's main corridors.

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