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ZAP divided on rezoning for neighborhood bar on Menchaca

Friday, April 8, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

The Zoning and Platting Commission disagreed Tuesday on a request to zone a South Austin property to allow liquor sales and commercial use amid concern from neighbors over noise and traffic.

The rezoning concerns a 5-acre tract at 11530 Menchaca Road, near the city limits. The applicant, represented by Jim Wittliff, wants Commercial-Liquor Sales (CS-1) on a small portion of the site and General Commercial Services (CS) zoning on the rest of the site. The property is currently zoned Interim-Rural Residence (I-RR). Wittliff said the hope is to open “a neighborhood bar and restaurant” in a recently constructed building. Plans for the rest of the site are unclear. 

To appeal to neighbors’ concerns, the applicant agreed to a conditional overlay prohibiting incompatible uses on the site, such as adult-oriented businesses and bail bond services. Also at the request of neighbors, only indoor music – and quiet music at that – will be allowed.

“It’s not going to be a dance hall,” Wittliff said. “There’s not going to be live music in there, or if there is, it’ll be some little acoustic group or something.”

Even with these concessions from the applicant, neighbor Joan Esquivel spoke in opposition to the rezoning. “We do not need another bar or cocktail lounge along Menchaca Road,” Esquivel said, pointing to alcohol-serving establishments nearby. Several other neighbors also wrote in opposition.

Esquivel said the increased traffic from the cocktail bar would make Menchaca less safe. “I urge you not to make Menchaca a high-crash roadway,” she said, fearing drivers would make dangerous left turns out of the property’s driveway. She also worried bargoers would park on neighborhood streets. Wittliff said there are more than enough on-site parking spaces for customers.

Some ZAP commissioners looked askance at the zoning request. “CS-1 is for situations that are real bars, that have more receipts from alcohol than from food, which to me isn’t really the neighborhood bar type thing,” Commissioner Betsy Greenberg said. Greenberg also thought the CS zoning on the rest of the tract would be too dense. 

City staffers recommend the rezoning. They argue that CS-1 and CS are appropriate in part because the property is along a major roadway.

“I am inclined not to support the staff recommendation,” Commissioner Jolene Kiolbassa said, “because I can think of several bars – or places we think of as bars – that are actually not zoned CS-1.” 

ZAP voted 5-4 in favor of staff recommendation – just short of the six votes needed for a motion to pass. Commissioners Ann Denkler and David King joined Greenberg and Kiolbassa in opposition. 

Even if City Council approves the rezoning, the applicant will make another trip to ZAP for a conditional use permit – the last hurdle before a bar or restaurant on the site can legally make more money from alcohol than from food.

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