The Austin Chronicle

Council Preview: A Bar on Burnet?!?

By Michael King, January 11, 2013, News

City Hall is not quite up to 2013 speed just yet, but the next regular City Council meeting is Thursday, Jan. 17 (work session Jan. 15). Much of the preliminary agenda (finalized Jan. 11) is taken up with zoning matters – quite a few carried over from last year – notably the complex East Riverside Corridor Regulating Plan, hotly debated in November but now anticipated for adoption; as they say in all caps, THE PUBLIC HEARING IS CLOSED.

More likely to raise sand will be the hearing over the proposed Austin Hotel (Eighth and Congress), with dueling recommendations for a CBD-H-CURE zoning change, endorsed by city staff but rejected by the Planning Commission, and opposed as well by the Downtown Austin Alliance. (We'll have more on that case next week.)

Zoning, of course, is where citywide macropolicy collides with neighborhood micropolitics – with sparks often flying. In that vein, also returning, in theory for second and third readings, will be the Little Woodrow's bar and restaurant proposed for 5425 Burnet Rd., in a retro-Fifties building that is the former site of Nelson Puett Real Estate. (The sign's still there, but the business has long since moved up to Anderson Lane.) The case – whether to grant "CS-1" zoning, thus enabling a bar – occasioned two hours of heated discussion at last year's final meeting, Dec. 13. Both staff and the Planning Commission recommended approval (the latter by a daunting 9-0), although with the understanding that various operating matters (parking requirements, street design, etc.) would return for conditional use permits.

Council wasn't so sure – on first reading, the zoning passed only 4-2, Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo dissenting – concurring with nearby neighborhood associations (Brent­wood, Allandale) that objected primarily that the venue will be a late-night bar thinly disguised as a restaurant. Leaseholder Rick Engel (in addition to four Little Woodrow's, Engel owns Austin Java, Uncle Billy's, and Ski Shores) insisted that he's a good neighbor and that this venue would be an unobjectionable restaurant-cum-public-house in keeping with the Burnet commercial corridor. The neighbors say it walks, talks, and quacks like a bar, and would bring traffic, noise, congestion, and crime to nearby residential streets.

The NAs hadn't quite accumulated enough signatures to constitute a valid opposing petition in December – whether the intervening weeks have altered that math remains to be seen. Other than Tovo and Morrison, Council members mostly wondered about sufficient off-street parking. That's a question partly to be determined in the CU permit process, and as Bill Spelman summed up resignedly, "I can tell we're going to see it again anyway."

He was speaking of the coming CU process – which almost certainly recircles via the Planning Commission to Council, on appeal by either side – but he might have been talking about Jan. 17: the return of Little Woodrow's.

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