Naked City

Casa de Luz, Sin Coches

If people in Austin just stopped using their cars, the Casa de Luz Center for Integral Studies wouldn't be facing its current dilemma: how to accommodate diners and students who drive to the South Austin facility for macrobiotic meals, seminars on positive attitudinal change, and other progressive services. For 13 years, Casa clients have used the city-owned parking lots for the Butler and Wright fields across Toomey Road -- spaces also shared by AISD, South Austin Little League, park patrons, Capital Metro (as a temporary 'Dillo park and ride), and the Zachary Scott Theatre Center. Meanwhile, Casa de Luz has gone without parking of its own -- a violation of city code that went unnoticed by city staff until last year, during the public flap over the proposed reopening of the beloved Cedar Door just down the road. (The Cedar Door has, of course, ended up at Second and Brazos streets.) The Parkside Community School, a Montessori program that shares the Casa de Luz campus, objected to the location of a bar nearby -- leading to countercharges by Cedar Door backers that Casa's own house was not in order.

A few weeks ago, the city Parks Board requested that signs be posted at the Butler and Wright lots warning unauthorized users -- including Casa clients -- that their cars will be towed. A July 22 memo to City Council by PARD Director Jesus Olivares and Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Director Alice Glasco explains that Casa never obtained the required permits or certificate of occupancy when it opened its cafeteria, formerly used exclusively by students, to the public as a restaurant. In February 2003, the city issued a formal notice of violation to Casa de Luz, giving it time to achieve compliance. But Casa hasn't reached that goal, renewing complaints among business owners along Toomey and Barton Springs Road who have played by the rules. The city is now taking Casa de Luz operators Eduardo and Any Longoria to municipal court.

Overall, the city has been "very helpful" in seeking compromise, says Any Longoria, adding that she wasn't surprised by the Glasco/Olivares memo. Casa has requested an arrangement similar to that enjoyed by Zach Scott, which has a lease enabling its patrons to park at the fields. But the theatre's lease dates back to the Seventies, before the surrounding land became parkland, Glasco's memo points out -- and it's highly doubtful the city will lease parking to a business on a one-on-one basis. (As well, Zach Scott's building is itself owned by PARD.)

The need to resolve the Toomey Road parking crunch, says Parks Board member Jeb Boyt, goes beyond Casa de Luz, which he notes is exactly the kind of enterprise the city wants to succeed -- environmentally sensitive infill development that is locally owned and provides a service valued by the community. So how can the city better accommodate such establishments? One solution would be a parking garage. "However," he asks, "where would the city get the money?"

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