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East Austin grocery’s future is sealed

Tuesday, September 24, 2019 by Elizabeth Pagano

Austin City Council was set to decide on the fate of a well-known east side grocery store at its most recent meeting, but instead endorsed a deal that had been struck before the meeting convened.

The Tuke-Lyon grocery, at 220 Comal St., has been in operation since the early 1920s, when it was built by Dutch immigrants. With an appraised value of $1,398,781, the store stands as a remnant of the past in a rapidly gentrifying area. A demolition permit from the owners, who said they were only hoping to restore the dilapidated structure, sent the case to the Historic Landmark Commission, which voted to preserve the building as a historic landmark, and then to the Planning Commission, which didn’t.

On Thursday, Council opted to deny a change to historic zoning in a vote of 8-3 with Council members Kathie Tovo, Ann Kitchen and Leslie Pool voting against the motion to deny historic zoning. That denial will allow the property owner to reconstruct the building with new materials.

“I want to tell you that this is exactly what the landmark commission would have done under the Secretary of the Interior standards,” said Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky. “There’s so little of this store that can be salvaged because of weather exposure and termite infestation and just deterioration over the years.”

Sadowsky explained that since the Historic Landmark Commission meeting, a contractor had evaluated the building and determined that about 10 percent of it could be salvaged. With that information, the owner and neighbors struck a deal to reconstruct the building with new materials. The plan now is to preserve that which is salvageable, including signage on the north side of the building, and replace everything else with like material.

The compromise includes withdrawing a staff recommendation to zone the property historic to endorse the agreement between the neighborhood and the property owner. That will allow the owner to move forward with the renovation. Though Council voted to endorse the new plan with very little discussion, it did give some members pause, being negotiated outside of City Hall between neighborhood residents and the owner.

“I have questions about reconstructing the grocery store,” said Council Member Jimmy Flannigan. “But agreements between private parties is what it is.”

The agreement, which can be found online, is between Barrio Unido Neighborhood Association, represented by Gavino Fernandez Jr., and the property owner, Comal Koalas Properties LLC, represented by Rosa Santis.

Bertha Delgado, president of the East Town Lake Citizens Neighborhood Association, said that once they read the report that only 10 percent of the building was salvageable, they made sure nearby residents were included in the agreement, which will preserve the store’s name and art on the building and provide affordable food options for the community.

“We are the residents from this area,” she added, referring to the East Cesar Chavez Contact Team, which helped push preservation of the store. “They are not here today for this case. We are … that’s what we are here to do, to work with our business owners, especially this minority business owner, and make sure she provides affordable services and community services and needs to this area that’s being rapidly developed.”

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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