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Photo by Jo Clifton

Owner withdraws mini mart rezoning case

Monday, May 24, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Although City Council gave preliminary approval for rezoning of the Sunrise Mini Mart at 913 and 915 W. Oltorf St., the road ahead looked bleak to property owner Abdul Patel and his agent, Jim Wittliff of Land Answers. With a valid petition opposing the zoning change, the property owner needed nine votes to win approval. On Thursday, there were only eight votes in favor of the project, and on Friday, Wittliff withdrew the request on behalf of his client.

The convenience store and laundromat currently on the property will apparently continue operations as before. The site is zoned Neighborhood Commercial (LR) and General Commercial Services (CS). Initially, Patel was seeking zoning that would have allowed for a liquor store as well as a small restaurant. Wittliff said his client also planned to enlarge and improve the convenience store.

The Galindo Neighborhood Association told city staffers they had no objections to the planned rezoning, upgrade of the convenience store and addition of a restaurant on the site.

However, the owner of a nearby apartment complex, Christopher Szeto of Aubergine Holdings, did have objections. Szeto, joined by approximately 47 percent of neighborhood residents, filed a valid petition objecting to liquor sales on the site. Patel agreed to eliminate the proposed liquor store, making that petition invalid, but neighbors filed another petition objecting to any zoning change on the site.

Szeto and his neighbors were seeking a private restrictive covenant to prevent alcohol sales on the property. As Szeto explained to the Austin Monitor, “Ultimately it came down to a single issue, where we wanted to have the restrictive covenant essentially prohibit the liquor use and for this to run with the land … and we couldn’t come to an agreement on the issue.”

The restrictive covenant would have prevented Patel, as well as any future owners, from putting a liquor store on the property. Attorney Karen Kennard, representing Aubergine Holdings, told Council she and her clients believe that the current zoning would allow Patel to do what he wanted on the property.

In a letter to city staffers, the Galindo Neighborhood Association said the group would not be involved in any restrictive covenant related to the zoning case.

Wittliff told the Monitor that neighbors objecting to the zoning change wanted not only his client, but the owners of the laundromat equipment – which is not considered real property – to sign the restrictive covenant.

Council Member Ann Kitchen pointed out that everything the neighbors wanted could be put into a conditional overlay as part of the zoning case. She explained that the conditional overlay would be stronger than a private restrictive covenant since the city would not be a party to the covenant. However, Kennard insisted that her client wanted the restrictive covenant and wanted it filed before third reading of the case.

On Thursday, Council added a conditional overlay that would have prevented not only the liquor store, but a pawn shop, cocktail lounge, auto repair or car wash, campground, convenience storage, drop-off recycling collection facility or service station. While there is currently a gas station on the site, the owner had planned to remove the gas pumps after the property was redeveloped.

Council Member Pio Renteria made the motion to approve the zoning after he was assured that the height of the building would be no greater than 30 feet. Joining him in approving the zoning change were Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, and Council members Kitchen, Greg Casar, Paige Ellis, Mackenzie Kelly and Vanessa Fuentes. Council members Alison Alter and Kathie Tovo voted no and Council Member Leslie Pool abstained.

Wittliff said Czeto had also requested site plan drawings, which would cost Patel another $40,000-$60,000. “Where we’re at right now is the property owner is fed up. He’s to the point he’s wasted many thousands of dollars, we’ve wasted six months of time and this has been nothing but a frustration,” Wittliff said.

Patel, who owns 12 convenience stores in Austin, according to Wittliff, has now decided to improve a different store rather than deal with the mini mart on Oltorf.

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