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Yard Bar evades muzzle on live music

Tuesday, April 30, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

Customers at Yard Bar, a Burnet Road restaurant, will continue enjoying outdoor live music with their dinner and drinks for years to come, thanks to City Council’s rejection of an appeal of the restaurant’s relatively strict outdoor music venue permit that was granted by the Development Services Department in December.

Following approval of the music permit, the city received four appeals from individuals who live within 600 feet of the site, citing incompatibility of land use as well as health, safety, and traffic concerns for their objections. Before ruling on the issue, Council invited those individuals to voice their opinions in a public hearing held Thursday.

Yard Bar, which founder and owner Kristin Heaney describes as “Austin’s first dog park with a restaurant and bar,” is located on a large parcel of land between Burnet Road to the east and Daugherty Street, an otherwise residential street on the edge of the Allandale neighborhood, to the west.

To mitigate any negative impacts of the additional sound on the neighborhood, Amber Mitchell, senior planner with the Development Services Department, told Council that Heaney has worked with the city and concerned neighbors to find middle ground.

Prior to December, Yard Bar had been offering outdoor music under temporary permits, with which, according to District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool, the restaurant has complied, and it has demonstrated itself as a “good actor.”

Pool said the low-intensity sound limits of the permit agreement (65 dBA/75 dBC) and the three-hour live music time window both “fit the general family-friendly atmosphere” that Heaney is “hoping to promote.”

Elaine Robbins, one of the homeowners who submitted an appeal, disagreed.

“I’ve seen how the bar and restaurant scene in East Austin has besieged nearby homeowners with noise and cars, and that just doesn’t seem to be a compatible use for a quiet family neighborhood,” Robbins said.

Far from wanting to become an outdoor performance-oriented concert venue as some may fear, Heaney clarified that the live music will be complementary in nature, intended for weekend customers having dinner and those attending special events.

“As a member of the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood association, I’m very clear what the impact of outdoor music is in our neighborhoods,” Heaney said. “The real reason that Yard Bar was interested in pursuing this is because we have a lot of events at our facility where we can adopt dogs, do fundraising things, keep up with Austin’s no-kill (shelter) agenda, those kinds of things.”

The outdoor patio where the live music takes place is just over 100 feet from the nearest residence, situated on the other side of an 8-foot plywood barrier installed to keep sound from carrying west into the neighborhood. The sound equipment is also set up to minimize disruption to Allandale, featuring 10-inch main speakers without subwoofers oriented to the east.

Last summer, the Music Office conducted three sound tests measuring noise levels with and without live music in different parts of the neighborhood, concluding that the restrictions agreed upon in the sound impact plan would not present a significant disruption to neighbors.

Indeed, during Thursday’s public hearing the music permit itself was not the top concern of the Allandale residents responsible for the appeal.

Brandon Faught, who owns a home adjacent to the restaurant, said the sound levels themselves are perfectly fine. Instead, his issue was with the overall effect of bringing more people to the restaurant, which has both its parking and its exit on the western side of the lot.

“We’re overlooking the bigger picture: We’ve turned our residential street into a parking lot for a business on Burnet Road,” Faught said. “You can access it from Burnet Road … but the parking, and the traffic, the dump trucks that come in and out, the delivery trucks that come in and out, (access it) from the residential street.”

Faught cited a number of anecdotal issues that have arisen from having a commercial site with a one-way exit that feeds into the neighborhood, a situation Heaney said Yard Bar inherited from a previous land use decision.

According to Faught, the neighborhood is trying to work with the city to implement a residential parking permit system on the street to make the streets safer and ensure residents can get out of their driveways or to their destinations easily, noting that his children walk up and down Daugherty Street to get to school.

Local housing and transit activist Kaz Wojtewicz said the streets could be made safer by adding sidewalks, which Pool stressed as something the city needs to address. Removing parking from the street, Wojtewicz said, won’t make people drive any slower and could have the opposite effect on safety.

In addition to the safety concerns, however, Robbins added that the live music should be sent elsewhere. She said that in her research and writing about desirable places to live, she has discovered that “contrary to the idea that live music is what makes Austin a great place to live, what actually makes it great are such qualities as historic neighborhoods, walkable streets and thoughtful governance.”

Before motioning to deny the appeal, Pool thanked everyone for their cooperation and concerns.

“I understand that every neighbor will not be pleased with the permit being granted or even with the conditions included,” Pool said. “But I believe that an appropriate compromise has been struck.”

Photo via Yard Bar.

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