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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Tuesday, April 13, 2021 by Jo Clifton
Neighbors nix liquor store at south-side mini mart
Last December, the Galindo Neighborhood Association told the city it had no objection to a zoning change that would allow for the development of a liquor store at the Sunrise Mini Mart at 913-915 W. Oltorf St.
By March, opinions had changed.
When City Council was set to hear the case last week, 40 percent of the little store’s neighbors had signed a petition opposing the Commercial-Liquor Sales (CS-1) zoning for a liquor store.
At the request of the owner’s representative, Jim Wittliff of Land Answers, Council voted to postpone consideration of new zoning for the property until May 6. Wittliff told Council that after discussion with his client, Abdul Patel, they had decided to forgo the liquor store, but continue their request for commercial services zoning.
Wittliff told the Austin Monitor on Monday that while a small part of the property is currently zoned for commercial services, the majority is LR, or Neighborhood Commercial zoning. If the entire property is zoned CS, it will allow the owner to remodel the store and develop a restaurant on the property. Under the proposed zoning, Wittliff said, the store can be 10 feet from South Fifth Street, while under the current zoning, it can be no closer than 15 feet from the street.
Under the proposed conditional overlay, the zoning would prohibit a number of things that neighborhoods particularly dislike, including pawnshops, adult-oriented businesses, cocktail lounges, and limited warehousing and distribution.
In addition to the Sunrise Mini Mart, the property includes the Sunrise Laundromat. Some neighbors wrote letters indicating that people in the area use the laundromat regularly. Several pointed to the fact that people regularly use the laundromat’s restroom, with some approving and others disapproving.
Christopher Szeto, the property manager of a nearby complex, wrote to the Housing and Planning Department, describing the reactions of tenants he had talked to about the idea of having a liquor store at that location. The most positive reaction was from someone who wrote, “We already have a number of bars and liquor stores in the residential area – what’s one more (particularly if the owners are going to make improvements)?”
Szeto said that the “advocate may not be aware that a mere 0.4 miles separates the Sunrise Mini Mart” from Warehouse Liquors on South First Street. He went on to describe his encounter with a man who was drinking “a 24-oz. can of Earthquake High Gravity Lager, which has an alcohol content of 10 percent.” Szeto had difficulty convincing the person to leave the private property where Szeto was working. Szeto concluded that “a liquor store on the corner would be a detriment to the community.”
All the letters were apparently written in response to the proposal for a liquor store and none objected to a restaurant or to other commercial uses.
Wittliff told Council his client was “willing to forgo the liquor store idea and he’s looking at other alternative uses for the property. He had a laundromat there, but nobody uses it anymore. It’s become sort of a hangout. He has to have video cameras in there and watch it because if there’s one or two customers in there, he’s worried about their safety because people are … using it as a hangout. So that’s not going to be able to continue. He wants to run a good business.”
Wittliff added that Patel was willing to put $2.5 million into project redevelopment.
Council Member Pio Renteria asked Wittliff if his client was willing to take the liquor store off the table. Wittliff said, “Oh, it is off the table, yes sir.” Renteria then moved for postponement and expressed optimism about working with the neighbors to agree on a rezoning plan.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.