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Commission votes to deny rezoning for Northwest bar

Tuesday, March 20, 2018 by Joseph Caterine

The Zoning and Platting Commission voted to side with members of a Northwest Austin neighborhood against a request that would permit a bar to open in their neighborhood. It is not the first time this neighborhood has opposed similar requests, and the bad memories of past cases, rightly or wrongly, weighed on the outcome of the night’s hearing.

The properties at 12219, 12219½ and 12221 Waters Park Road currently host a couple of single-family homes and a makeshift landfill, according to photographic evidence supplied at the meeting. Staff has recommended the applicant Bar Czar LLC’s request to rezone those properties from Rural Residence (RR), Limited Office (LO) and General Office (GO) zoning to Commercial-Liquor Sales (CS-1) for one part and Community Commercial (GR) for the rest.

Applicant Matias Segura III said what he originally had in mind for the land was something comparable to Moontower Saloon in South Austin, with several volleyball courts and a small bar. While restaurants in zoning categories lower than commercial may serve alcohol, this project intends to make over half of its sales with alcohol, meaning it would have to go under the “cocktail lounge” use. However, resistance from the neighborhood, Segura said, has convinced him that the volleyball courts may not be a possibility.

As for the trash on-site, agent Glen Coleman said at the meeting that the applicant intended to start cleaning it up prior to site plan submittal. If the zoning request is not approved, the city may pursue legal action for code violations.

Several members of the Walnut Crossing Neighborhood Association testified to the negative experiences with bars attempting to operate in their area. They told commissioners that the Iron Horse, Hideout Pub and Weirdos have brought either traffic, noise or a combination of both. In fact, association President Kernan Hornburg said that the owner and manager of Weirdos (now closed), Jesse Fortney, was involved in the proposed bar that would be made possible by this zoning change.

In his rebuttal, Coleman said that neighborhood representatives had repeatedly made allegations of this affiliation, but he said that the owner had gone to great lengths to dispel them. Segura admitted that he had originally sought Fortney’s support as a business owner in the area, but he has since distanced himself and has shared contractual documents with the neighborhood in an effort to be transparent.

Coleman told the Austin Monitor that he felt that the night’s discussion focused too much on the details of the conceptual site plan rather than the merits of the zoning request. Commissioner Bruce Evans said at the meeting that he also thought the commission should not get lost in the weeds with a project that may or may not happen.

Along those lines, Commissioner Betsy Greenberg said that she felt that commercial zoning was entirely inappropriate for this residential neighborhood, and she made a motion to recommend denial.

In the staff’s recommendation, the zoning change was said to be consistent with Imagine Austin’s growth map, but Commissioner Ann Denkler said that this characterization was a stretch, considering that Waters Park is more of a country road than a major arterial.

The motion passed 8-1 with Commissioner Abigail Tatkow dissenting, and Commissioner Dustin Breithaupt and Chair Jolene Kiolbassa absent.

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