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Council taps into zoning relief for South Austin beer store

Friday, May 13, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

A South Austin boutique beer shop looking to sell growlers to go got a boost from City Council on Thursday, but it’s not out of the woods yet.

Council approved on first reading a measure to change WhichCraft Beer Store’s zoning to allow it to continue to operate at 2110 South Lamar Blvd.

The vote is the first step in straightening out a staff error that triggered a convoluted drama of sorts starring the shop owner, the property owner, the Zilker Neighborhood Association and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

Property owner Charlie Tames told Council that when he originally bought the property last decade, the available GIS zoning map indicated it was zoned Commercial-Liquor Sales (CS-1). However, it was not until 2015, a full year after WhichCraft had moved into one of the building’s several suites, that a member of the neighborhood association pointed out that the building was actually zoned General Commercial Services (CS), a category that doesn’t allow beer sales.

“When I bought (the) property, I paid a premium because I thought the whole thing was CS-1,” Tames told Council members. He explained that he was willing to look past the error for the most part, but asked that WhichCraft’s 1,100-square-foot sliver of his 14,000-square-foot building be granted the adjusted zoning.

Complicating the deal, however, is the beer store’s desire to begin selling growlers, or sealable jugs of draft beer, that patrons can fill up on-site and then take somewhere else to drink.

City of Austin Planning and Zoning Department Manager Jerry Rusthoven told Council that the city considers growlers to be in the same category as any other container of alcohol intended for off-site consumption. However, he explained, the TABC has its own regulations, which added a new layer of controversy.

Rusthoven said that the TABC permits likely to be sought by WhichCraft would also require “adequate seating” inside the store. This requirement could in theory force the beer store to operate as a cocktail lounge, a permitted use under the CS-1 zoning and also an object of objection with the neighborhood association.

WhichCraft’s owner, Jody Reyes, strenuously denied any interest in turning his store into a bar, and Tames echoed the sentiment. Tames pointed out that even if he wanted to, the building does not have enough parking spaces required by city law to serve patrons who choose to drive to a drinking establishment.

Council Member Ann Kitchen, in whose District 5 the property is, noted that the neighborhood association wanted to be confident that by granting the rezoning, the store would not pull a fast one and transform into a bar.

“What tools do we have to provide that kind of assurance for the neighborhood?” she asked Rusthoven.

“The assurance would be a conditional overlay prohibiting the cocktail lounge use,” replied Rusthoven.

Noting the complicated nature of the case, Kitchen moved to approve the item on first reading only, with the promise to bring it back at next week’s meeting.

After Council Member Don Zimmerman seconded the motion, Council voted unanimously for the rezoning.

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