City Cuts Scofflaw Cafe No slack

South Congress Cafe appeals unsuccessfully for code variances for illegal deck and patio

South Congress Cafe's illegal back deck
South Congress Cafe's illegal back deck (Photo By John Anderson)

The South Congress Cafe, an upscale spin-off of the local Trudy's Tex-Mex chain, appealed unsuccessfully Tuesday evening to the city's Board of Adjustment for two code variances needed for its scofflaw rear deck and patio, cited last year with a possible record string of three stop-work orders for unpermitted construction and later closed down by a city lawsuit. Trudy's was seeking exemption from a city rule requiring a minimum of 20 parking spaces to accommodate its deck's added seating and a code provision that limits privacy fences to 6 feet, since the restaurant's fence stands at 8 feet.

The board enthusiastically rejected the variance applications as well as claims by Trudy's attorney, omnipresent zoning lawyer Richard Suttle, that his clients are "good at running restaurants, but bad at fishing through city code," and that an incompetent contractor misled management into the illegal construction of the deck last year. At one point during the meeting, an observer remarked, "I'd hire Suttle if I screwed up." But it's hard to explain away disregarding three different stop-work orders, and making the cowboy-casual-clad lawyer's job even harder, an astounding new, fourth code violation and stop-work order was issued to the cafe Saturday, Feb. 4, ordering additional unpermitted construction out back to halt. The recent illegal work involved masonry repairs after a walk-in cooler and bar, installed in a leased shed adjoining the deck – construction that was also unpermitted and red-tagged by the city – had to be removed when the shed's owner, New Bohemia Retro Resale, filed a lawsuit claiming the changes violated Trudy's lease, according to Assistant City Attorney Nancy Matchus.

Trudy's has until June 2 to bring the cafe into full code compliance, including filing approved building permits and site plans, Matchus said. Otherwise, the restaurant could be forced to fully remove the deck and fence. Restaurant managers are now seeking a city license agreement that would allow them to keep the fence, which sits atop a city right-of-way and across the sidewalk on Monroe Avenue, just West of Congress. Suttle said management is working on securing off-site parking and has submitted a site plan to the city. He argued that without the patio, the area behind the restaurant is simply "useless, empty, dangerous dirt where people can get into trouble."

Fed up with the trouble that's been taking place there already, representatives from each of the surrounding communities including the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association, the South River City Citizens, and the South Central Coalition of Neighborhoods were on hand to speak against the variances. An attorney for adjacent Allen's Boots as well as resident Frank Maverick, who said he's the owner occupant nearest and most impacted by the restaurant, also spoke in opposition. They complained that delivery trucks, with nowhere to unload, block Monroe and neighboring parking areas throughout the day. Board of Adjustment member Herman Thun, referring to the deck construction, said, "I find the way this was done to be offensive to the city of Austin and neighbors." BCNA President Kathie Tovo said she was pleased about the board's decision, but that neighbors will continue to oppose a licensing agreement that would allow the fence and deck to remain in the right-of-way.

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More South Congress Cafe
More City, SoCo Cafe Fracas
More City, SoCo Cafe Fracas
After busting South Congress Cafe back in February 2005 for unpermitted construction of a decked rear patio and privacy fence that covered city sidewalk and right-of-way, city still at odds with eatery

Daniel Mottola, March 30, 2007

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South Congress Cafe, Trudy's, Board of Adjustments, code variances, Richard Suttle, New Bohemia Retro Resale, Nancy Matchuspatio, Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association, South River City Citizens, South Central Coalition of Neighborhoods, Allen's Boots, Frank Maverick, Herman Thun, Kathie Tovo

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