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Night Owl gets late-night permit

Monday, August 29, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

After a visit to the Planning Commission, Burnet Road’s Night Owl will indeed be open to night owls.

Commissioners voted 9-2 last week to grant a Conditional Use Permit to the Night Owl bar at 8315 Burnet Road. The permit will allow the establishment to keep its cocktail lounge open until 2 a.m., on the conditions that the business owner prohibits outdoor amplified sound and indoor amplified live music and builds a masonry wall to mitigate sound. Commissioners Patricia Seeger and James Schissler voted against the CUP, and commissioners Michael Wilson and Fayez Kazi were absent for the vote.

Joe Mangaro of LJA Engineering said that there was previously a restrictive covenant that prevented a bar on the property. That covenant was recently lifted by City Council in a unanimous vote. He explained that the noise created by the late hours would not be an issue, as the owner has no plans to operate an outdoor venue.

“I can’t think of a better bar to have,” said Mangaro. “The bar doesn’t have outside music; it doesn’t have outside speakers; it doesn’t have any outside lighting. It’s all contained to the inside, and the front door is facing Burnet. It doesn’t even have any interaction with the single-family (homes) to the east.”

Mangaro further explained that the bar has support from the Wooten Neighborhood Association and that the first time the owner had heard about opposition to the CUP was a few days prior to the meeting.

Though two neighbors spoke in opposition to the CUP, they stressed that their objection was not to the bar per se but to the noise it might create. They advocated for sound mitigation, such as a fence and double doors. Commissioners debated that fence for the bulk of the discussion – and a proposal to require a fence was narrowly defeated. A subsequent motion to require a masonry wall ultimately won out.

Commissioner Karen McGraw pointed out that the problem, from what she was hearing, was that “at 2 a.m., people come out of here – happy and laughing and talking – and look for their cars.” McGraw expressed concern that a wooden fence would have no sound control, and if it fell down, neighbors would have a hard time persuading someone to put it back up.

Chair Steve Oliver spoke to his colleagues as “someone who lives immediately behind a retail center.”

“There is no protection from sound. … I chose to live against a corridor, and there are noises there. My house was cheaper, but I got to be close to activity,” said Oliver. “I think when we have people who buy homes on corridors and want complete privacy three blocks away, … I think (those are) unreal expectations, especially when the bar is open until midnight anyways.”

Danny Parrott, who is the owner of the Night Owl, echoed this idea when he spoke to the commission. He pointed out that while some people may not want to live near a bar, the opposite could also be true: Some people enjoy living near amenities.

“We do want to be a good neighbor,” said Parrott, but he wasn’t sure whether he could financially commit to a masonry wall. The price of the wall (as opposed to a fence) was noted by some commissioners as well.

“I’m concerned that we are just throwing this additional expense, and I’m not sure what the goal or the purpose of the fence (or wall) is supposed to serve,” said Commissioner Chito Vela. “I don’t think a fence (or wall) like that is going to be a significant barrier to sound, especially considering we are talking about Burnet, which is a major street.”

But others, like Commissioner Trinity White, stressed just how close this particular bar was to residences to the immediate east.

“In all honesty, I think that a bar closing at midnight, when it’s up against SF-3 (Family Residence zoning), is totally appropriate and not too much of a burden to ask of a bar (there),” said White. “If you are going to stay open until 2, the least you can do is put up a wall.”

There was also some debate over whether to prohibit live music inside the bar altogether. Commissioner Nuria Zaragoza initially said that because the building was grandfathered and “shockingly near” single-family homes, allowing live music did not feel appropriate in this case.

But Commissioner James Shieh argued that point.

“Being Austin, and live music being important to all of us, I have an issue with that,” said Shieh, who proposed that “unamplified live music” be allowed as an alternative to a blanket ban on live music. “I think it would be great to support the arts in that sense,” he said.

“Okay, I’ve been won over,” said Zaragoza.

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