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Neighbors argue over East 11th and 12th street plan

Friday, June 10, 2022 by Jo Clifton

After months of delay, City Council took the second of three steps needed to update the Urban Renewal Plan for the East 11th and 12th Street Neighborhood Conservation Combining District. The vote Thursday was unanimous, but Council members Kathie Tovo and Leslie Pool both expressed their disagreement with the part of the plan that would allow additional cocktail lounges on East 12th Street.

Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison added the amendment allowing cocktail lounges as part of the plan at Council’s April 21 meeting.

At that meeting, and again on Thursday, some area neighbors told Council they were opposed to the idea of adding more liquor sales to the area. If finally approved, the plan would allow bars, but only in cases where the city had issued a conditional use permit as authorized by the Planning Commission.

Neighbors who oppose the plan have sent Council enough signatures to create a valid petition, protesting a variety of changes proposed by the update. So on third reading, nine Council members must vote for the plan in order for it to pass. Neighborhood members said in their petition that they objected to increases in maximum allowable heights by right, or by a density bonus beyond what is currently allowed.

They also expressly rejected allowing any additional cocktail or liquor sale uses within the plan area. Petitions opposing the plan also asked Council not to prohibit single-family use or diminish or restrict condominium or townhouse uses.

The Austin Revitalization Authority, a long-standing contributor to efforts to improve the future of East Austin, sent a letter to Council this week supporting the majority of recommendations for changes to the area. However, ARA wrote that the organization “was surprised and concerned by the additional proposed allowable uses such as cocktail lounges, business trade schools, transportation terminal, and others that were explicitly excluded from the Central East Austin Master Plan. These uses, conditional or by-right, do not support neighborhood oriented sustainable development on East 11th or East 12th Street.”

A variety of neighbors told Council that they have already been disturbed by area cocktail lounges and certainly don’t want any more.

In response to a question from Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, Tovo said, “As a Council member who represents several entertainment districts, I also share the concern that some of the nearby neighbors have expressed” about allowing more cocktail lounges. Originally, she said, the NCCD did not include cocktail lounges. “There is a strong interest that the area not turn into an entertainment district,” she said.

Mayor Steve Adler responded that some of the older residents of the area remembered the smaller clubs that used to operate in the area. “They were asking that the neighborhood be allowed to return to what it traditionally had been. So, we have different generations of residents, speaking of saving different neighborhood characteristics,” he said.

Pool noted that she had not been on the dais for the first reading of the NCCD, but that she agreed with Tovo. She said a large property owner owns most of the properties that might become bars, so she didn’t know how those properties would become mom-and-pop businesses. She said she was joining Tovo in objecting to the cocktail lounge portion of the plan.

Harper-Madison told her colleagues that she had discouraged people in favor of cocktail lounges from speaking at Thursday’s meeting, but urged them to speak next week at the third reading of the item. During the first Council vote on the plan, many neighbors spoke in support of bars and entertainment venues in the district.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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