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Parks board postpones vote on alcohol sales in Republic Square Park

Thursday, May 26, 2022 by Willow Higgins

The Parks and Recreation Department asked the parks board this week for its support of a conditional use permit that would allow for the sale of alcohol in Republic Square Park. Since the park is public property, it needs to have its zoning changed in order to legally sell alcohol.

However, the board ultimately chose to delay its vote due to an unrelated shooting that occurred near the park early Monday morning. Two people were shot at the bus stop on the park’s edge after declining to buy bus tickets from an individual who was trying to sell them.

Salt & Time, the Republic Square Park vendor seeking the CUP, was recently taken over by Rosen’s Bagels, but remained the applicant at the parks board hearing. Both will get their verdict from the board at its next meeting in June.  In advance of that meeting, the Contracts and Concessions Committee will be researching guidelines for an eventual recommendation for City Council in regard to the sale of alcohol on city parkland. These recommendations will be useful for its decision on Salt & Time’s CUP as well as any other future applicants.

“My concern is that, although the shooting was unrelated to the vendor selling any alcohol or anything like that, I feel it’s a little disrespectful to be voting on this issue today in light of the shootings,” Board Chair Laura Cottam Sajbel said.

The board did weigh alternative perspectives before making the choice to postpone. Parks and Recreation Department Director Kimberly McNeeley said getting a conditional use permit is really the only option for these Austin vendors to sell alcohol on public property and that engaging the parks board – and then the Planning Commission – is part of the process.

“The (shooting) had nothing to do with the Republic Square operations (or) the park system,” McNeeley said. “And so I just want to make sure that … you’re not putting yourselves in a position where this is viewed as a way to circumvent code – if you don’t vote on it, then we don’t have to move forward with it. And I’m not saying that that is your intention at all.”

Voting to have the Contracts and Concessions Committee make a recommendation makes it clear that the board does not intend to have a no-vote on the conditional use permit, but instead indicates that they are researching the matter to have a more informed vote in the future.

Several other vendors and enterprises are requesting similar conditional use permits to allow the sale of alcohol on public property. The parks board is expecting to hear from the Austin Rowing Club’s boathouse and five area golf courses asking for individual considerations.

“We had this big discussion regarding Zilker Cafe last summer,” Cottam Sajbel said. “It’s obviously going to be coming up again quite a few times, and I’m thinking that maybe what we ought to consider is to take a beat and address the city’s risk factor with this and consider maybe the issue more thoughtfully and deliberately and holistically.”

Salt & Time received a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission permit in 2020 allowing for the sale of food and alcohol in Republic Square Park, but shortly after was alerted that it needed the additional permit to sell liquor on public property.  The conditional use permit needs to be issued in order to get things in compliance and align TABC’s permit with the city’s Land Development Code. The issuance process will proceed at the board’s next meeting.

Photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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