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East Seventh bar plan goes south at BoA

Wednesday, July 20, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

It appears that the dream of another east side bar may be over, after Board of Adjustment members definitively shot down a request at their last meeting for reduced parking.

Currently, the building at 1309 E. Seventh St. has room for only four parking spaces, which is less than the nine required once parking reductions for being in a transit-oriented development and the urban core are calculated. The owner, Gino Troy, was seeking a parking variance that would allow him to move forward with plans to open a cocktail lounge as a first step, but board members ruled that the four spaces just weren’t enough.

The Board of Adjustment voted 9-2 to deny the variance, with board members Eric Goff and Michael Von Ohlen voting in opposition.

“It really bothers me that we encourage people to drive to bars and drive away from bars,” said Goff.

“Not only that,” said Board Member Rahm McDaniel, “we require less parking for an office than we do for a place where people drink. … Unless they are drinking at work.”

Fayez Kazi represented Troy in requesting the variance. Kazi explained that heritage trees on the property made it impossible to locate the required spaces on site. He said that there had been off-site parking but the arrangement fell through; they had scoured the neighborhood for other parking but struck out, as all the nearby parking was spoken for.

Kazi pointed out that the lack of parking would be in line with the goals of transit-oriented development and that foot traffic will likely increase when the Plaza Saltillo project is completed.

Mark Rogers of the Guadalupe Association for an Improved Neighborhood explained that the organization opposes the variance. He presented information showing that there are 314 spaces available in the area and, when the Plaza Saltillo project is complete, there will be close to 2,000 shared parking spaces available. “Don’t make our situation any worse than it already is,” he asked.

“They’ve already got a 40 percent reduction in parking. They only need five (more) spaces,” Rogers continued. “If they can’t find five more spaces in that area, we have a really serious problem. The neighborhood felt like they could find those spaces.”

Rogers also brought up the fact that in the neighborhood, the highest crime rate comes from people breaking into cars. He attributed this, at least in part, to people parking in the neighborhood to visit bars. Kazi assured the board that the patrons of the new establishment “would not be contributors to this kind of activity” and that, instead, the bar would be an upscale establishment.

For some board members, including Brooke Bailey, the timing seemed off.

“That area is a bit insane right now,” said Bailey. “When the TOD is actually up and working and people can actually use mass transit to get there, that would be another consideration. So when that happens, you might want to come back. But until that happens, I can’t support this.”

Board Member Melissa Hawthorne agreed that the situation might be different after Plaza Saltillo is fully developed. In the meantime, she said, four spaces would allow the lot to be used in lots of other ways, like a hair salon or takeout spot.

Interestingly, McDaniel said that he used to work in the building back when it was the “first co-working space in Austin.” Back then, he said, 200-odd people “were constantly going in and out, parking illegally all over, at every business along the street.”

In addition, McDaniel said that there were “routinely” nine or so cars parked in the back on the critical root zone of the heritage trees. In light of that, he said that he didn’t see how the building would ever be able to host more than four (legal) parking spaces.

“We could not get any more,” agreed Kazi. “Considering the nine spaces (required) and the hardship, I feel like it’s not an unreasonable ask.”

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