Archive for the ‘Real Estate’ Category

Outdoor Patio for dinner?

Picture Some rights reserved by gak on

Except, and perhaps even in the sweltering 100f+ days in Austin, eating outdoors can be a really pleasant experience and a real money maker for restaurants. You only need to go out and see what has happened at the Oasis over the last 3-years to see how true that is. Admittedly the Oasis has a unique position but the number of restaurants offering outdoor seating is exploding, that comes at a price, or should and not just for the customers and the city,

Vivo’s on Manor Rd is apparently, according to their Facebook campaign to write-in to Councillors and the mayor, in court today for non-compliance with the City’s restaurant parking requirements. Vivo’s campaign is the first I’m aware of that is actively using social media to “lobby”, a.k.a bully, coerce, or shame Councillors and the mayor into doing something so that the restaurant can “stay in East Austin”. According to Vivo’s, if the city forces them to close their outdoor patios because they don’t have the appropriate number of parking spaces, they’ll close. Since the case was already on the court docket, I’m at a loss to see what the point of writing to elected officials is at this point though, apart from to create and unfair, biased view of the process. It’s not clear why else they’d be asking people to email now.

It’s a common tale, a restaurant buys a lot, as part of their opening they have to get an approved site plan from the city which makes sure that they are in compliance with the rules. Everything from electrical, drainage, access, parking are checked. It’s one way the city makes it fair for businesses, they all get to adhere to the same set of rules; it’s also how the city attempts to make restaurants safe for the customers, both from a hygiene, access and fire perspective. At least in the urban parts of the city, regulations are also there to try to limit the impact on direct neighbors.

Yet all the time, we hear the of the “battles” between the restaurants and the city over parking. The neighborhoods and residents hit back with the only tool they have, first complaining to 311, then eventually given no respite, Residential Parking Permits[RPP]. But mostly, it isn’t about the parking, except in one or two specific cases.

What often happens is this, after the restaurant opens, and we’ve all been there, in it’s first few months it is the “hot” place to go. This either persists or not. When it persists, the owner looks for ways to capitalize on the success, since building a bigger building or extension to the existing building would both incur cost and impact their compliance, they start by putting a few extra seats outside. Wahoo’s on South Congress is a prime example of this. Personally their additional seating out on the sidewalk has made the place look a mess, if they continue to get away with it, in compliance or not, other restaurants will want to follow and over time the wide sidewalk that has made SoCo a fun place to “parade” will become littered with obstacles and difficult for pedestrians to pass.

By Vivo’s own admission, they were told by the city they couldn’t use part of their land for parking, hey so why not use it for extra seating then? Causing a non-compliance problem to get worse. The same scene is also playing out at Polvos on South 1st right now, they have half their outdoor seating not in use while they try to get special treatment from the city for the unpermitted, unzoned changes they’ve already made. Back in the 2002 Bouldin Creek Neighborhood plan the junction of S 1st and W Johanna was called out as a problem, but apparently according to the restaurants attorney at a meeting at City Hall last week, they were in non-compliance with the outdoor seating when they bought the restaurant years before that.

Lets be clear, there are a set of rules, the City Councillors approve the rules, created by City staff, with a LOT of input/lobbying from the commercial sector and variable input from the citizens; when city staff, usually years after the fact, become aware that a business is potentially breaking the rules, usually because of citizens complaint(s) they investigate; the City gives the business ample opportunity to come into compliance(often years) and when they don’t, staff reluctantly take zoning, fire and safety violations to municipal court.

What often then happens is the businesses get fined such small amounts that it doesn’t cover the cost of the citys code compliance and legal work. Austin and by association its tax payers, depend of businesses to keep in compliance voluntarily, when they don’t it’s often because the business has decided it can make more money by not being in compliance, which in the end hurts everyone, not just the restaurant.

Contrary to the popular portrayal of the City code enforcement, there are not legions of inspectors combing neighborhoods and visiting business looking for the slightest problem. Most businesses who operate within reasonable limits and don’t unduly impact their commercial and residential neighbors are unlikely to ever see code compliance inspector. It’s only when they expand beyond that, AND someone or organization complains, that code compliance will be sent out.

The city doesn’t single out a restaurant, they don’t change the rules(well rarely), the restaurant is often just taking commercial advantage of Austins voluntary compliance and slack enforcement to do business on the cheap, expanding a lot beyond what is reasonable, and legal, and impacting neighbors. When the city does get involved it is costing each and everyone of us money that could get better used elsewhere.

Just because a restaurant you visit has outdoor seating doesn’t mean it is legal and permitted; just because you can park on city[public] streets to go to the restaurant, doesn’t make it OK. As few as 20 extra seats can bring-in $250,000 per year on a modest tab per diner, that shouldn’t allow the restaurant to become a burden on neighbors, and the tax payer and give them the right to complain about rules that were in existence, when they opened up.

[Update: According to Vivo’s facebook campaign page, they’ve been given 6-months to come into compliance and get an approved site plan.]

2nd Street uptick

Picture (C) ALL Righs Reserved, used by permission - Gregg Cestaro of

Last week saw the opening party of Teddies for Bettys. Teddies has moved down to 2nd St from it’s former home on S 1st Street, where I first came across them. “Teddies” is a self described “upscale intimate apparel boutique where luxury is an everyday experience, not just a special occasion”.

The store has actually been open for a couple of months, and apart from an excuse to move amongst some exquisite underwear, I wanted a chance to catch-up with owner Ashely Kelsh and see how business was going. Ashley reports that trade has been good and made an interesting observation that I hadn’t considered. Many of us “in-towners” regularly visit the 2nd Street district in the evening, when traffic and parking are easier, but I rarely make it down from the distant confines of Round Rock, during the day.

I’m inclined to agree with Mike Dahmus aka M1EK when it comes to the workers in downtown, the “fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree”. Meaning, that because of the heat, travel and time, office workers don’t much venture out of their direct building vicinity. This is one reason Mike asserts that the redline doesn’t work, is that the station and the line terminate too far from the bulk of the offices people work out of and the buses don’t make up for it. So, like most, I’d assumed that overtime the 2nd Street business district would fail for the same reason, it’s just not close enough to the centre of the action.

Anyway, Ashley from Teddies for Bettys says that business has been brisk and that they get a lot of customers from the W hotel. Thinking about it. the W could indeed be the blessing in disguise for day time traffic for the 2nd street district. First it’s right there; second, when visiting a new town people generally will wander around the local streets; and third, when visiting a new city for business or pleasure, you are inclined to shop in stores that you might not normally visit. Add to that the new ACL live studios and maybe together these will drive enough new foot traffic for the 2nd Street district to thrive.

Crop circles, Aliens and Bouldin Neighborhood

crop-circle in the UK

crop-circle in the UK

Despite overwhelming evidence that crop circles are man made, there is still a firm belief in many circles(pun intended) that they are created by, or messages to aliens. Either way, people are fascinated about where they come from.

The corollary to this story is over in Bouldin neighborhood, they know where their circles come from, and are grouping up to try to get rid of them. The them in their case are traffic circles. The City of Austin has and continues to use them as traffic management measures, especially on roads where the cross traffic is much heavier in one direction than the other. It negates the need to stop the cross traffic, say from South 5th to South 1st on West Mary or West Annie, while allowing residents to move north south without stopping. You can read the Cities view of what they are and how they work on the City website.

Bouldin Traffic circle

Bouldin Traffic circle

The residents view is that traffic especially passing east to west, doesn’t really slow down, doesn’t realize they are 4-way yields, and treats the traffic circles aka “roundabouts” as a motorized bobsled slalom course. While this might sound like fun, it isn’t.

According to residents, there are regular accidents, including a seemingly serious one this week at the traffic circle on W. Mary and S. 2nd. between two motor vehicles, the real concern though is pedestrians, cyclists who are even more vulnerable. Since these traffic circles are in use in many places through out Austin, what’s your view/experience?

The thing I find confusing with the Austin traffic circles is that there is no actual right of way. Keyword being “right”. In most of the USA there is an established rule that traffic on the right has priority. Wikipedia has a great illustration of how a traffic circle should work and how the traffic on the roundabout should have priority, irrespective of which is the bigger road. So, if you are driving on W Mary, a big trans-neighborhood road, and as you approach the traffic circle on your left, travelling from north to south is a car slightly ahead of you and will reach the traffic circle just before you, I’m guessing you’d presume you have the right of way, after all you are on the right. Wrong. And there’s the rub.

My main concern, how will the Aliens know where weird starts if they take out the circles?

Trail’a Confusion

Closed, Open or shut forever?

Closed, Open or shut forever?

[Yes, it’s a pun]Austin’s food/shops-in-a-trailer community continues to grow, it’s amusing now to think back to the City Council meeting about 801 Barton Springs road when the developers proposed a massively oversized building, when it looked like they were going to be turned down, one of their team threatened to fill the space with more food trailers. Really, thats bad ??

Still, I’m guessing that one of the attractions of running your business out of a trailer is that it’s “unconventional”, well sort of. You can move it around, you can keep your own hours, and of course the costs and regulations are significantly less than running out of a traditional building. They have their own blog, the Trailer Food Diaries. [Complete with annoying music playing widget].

What’s clear though is there is a huge turnover of these businesses, some are little little more than “fly-by-nights” they arrive, they last a couple of weeks and are gone. Part of their problem is one of their strengths, not only do they come and go, you really can’t predict when they will be open.

There’s a trailer park just up the street from me on South 1st, not the South Austin Trailer Park Eatery where Torchies is, but on the South West Corner of Live Oak. It was 98f and I decided to walk up and get a sno cone. Closed. Now, I can’t be sure if thats closed, or out of business. Cafe Racer was there a month or so ago, now it’s gone.

Although not strictly a trailer, the same was true for the Mary’s Cubana Coffee that I wrote about back in September, originally open only 7-11am, then it seemed to be 8-10am, then it was gone. Another uncertainty was the Austin Daily Press, it was there, then it wasn’t. A trailer currently it sits on South 2nd during the day all closed up. Who knows if it heads somewhere under cover of darkness or is just abandoned on a residential street. [According to this Austin360 entry from last week, it looks like it might indeed move overnight to Club De Ville].

What’s clear from my perspective is that opening a trailer doesn’t appear to be an “easy job”. The successful ones I visit keep regular and mostly long hours. They don’t appear to be part-time jobs.

Another place to keep up with Food trailers or carts as some are called is the Austin Food Carts Blog, they even have a map of locations.

Property values, guns and oil

Guns and Oil (1998) by Sokari Douglas Camp

Guns and Oil (1998) by Sokari Douglas Camp

Mike Mandel the Chief Economist at Business Week has an interesting post on his personal blog about house price values in major metro areas. In way that the web only can, there are also interesting comments and cross links to a separate blog that summarizes data on salaries.

If you feeling the squeeze here in Austin, maybe this is the reason for it. Salaries are increasing only a little more than 1% per year before inflation, and one of the lowest; house prices which many see as the bellweather of the Austin economy and many would argue the reason for so much [unwanted?] change, are also significantly lagging.

The areas with most growth? Those around significant development areas for guns and oil, Austin-Round Rock-San Macros, Killeen-Temple-Fort-Hood and Odessa, Texas are all discussed. Read through to the comments on both blog entries, I learned something… A Wonk isn’t just a cuddly creature from The Adventures of Wonk by Muriel Levy

As seen on tv… This old house

Well almost. The web site though for this old house currently features the “World’s Wildest Houses IV“. Two of the houses featured this time around are from Austin and both in the same, 78704 zip code.

Actually I didn’t go back through the first three sets of this Old house collections, but it’s hard to say that these represent the worlds wildest designs, but they are certainly some of the most extravagent. First up is the Bouldin Castle, which I blogged about back in September and then again in December when it went on sale.

The Casa on West Milton

The Casa on West Milton

The second Austin home featured is Casa Neverlandia on W Milton St. I’ve been past it a few times, it’s another 78704 gem. However, it wasn’t until I read the “This Old House” website, that I was intrigued to go out more about it. There is a great write-up here and at least according to that website, you can visit Neverlandia monthly by reservation only, usually on the second Sunday of the month. Call (512) 442-7613.

To get a better idea of what Casa Neverlandia is all about, and if it’s worth a visit, see this great picture set on Googles Picasa website.

It’s a buyers market

Thanks to @darenkrause over on twitter comes this report from the Housing Predictor that puts Austin number-2 on it’s places to buy list, with Huntsville, AL #1.

The reasons cited for this are a strong local economies(I guess they didn’t check with city hall on tax revenues) and good prospects for job growth; also that we are a college town. Described as a “smaller market” it says we tend to thrive during recessions as more people enroll at universities.

What they’re saying about us

  • Newcomers to Austin relocating from Virginia bought their new house without ever having seen it. They used Google Street View and other on-line real-estate tools. This is reported in the January issue of Smart Money (“What’s Your House Really Worth”?). Their names are given and their house is pictured. I recognize it as being in Hyde Park. What do Trulia and Zillow have to say about your habitation? How do their approaches compare with TCAD‘s valuation?
  • The NYT covers Etsy as a way to make a living beyond its hobby aspects (“That Hobby Looks Like a Lot of Work,” byline Alex Williams). The focus is in part on Austinite Caroline Colom Vasquez and her business, Paloma’s Nest. This piece has been blogged by the Huffington Post.
  • The NYT also reports that Austin’s own Four Hands, importer and manufacturer of furniture and other items for the home, will be rolling out a line of furniture called Bina, which will mix North American black walnut and white oak with reclaimed exotic hardwoods (“Exotic Woods Out of the Urban Wild,” byline Tim McKeough). Bina already encompasses over 80 pieces and will be available in January.
  • The WSJ has managed to elicit quite a bit from UT athletic director DeLoss Dodds in what’s nearly a full page devoted to how the Longhorns raise more support from more people than any other team in the US (“Texas Football Boosters Think Big,” byline Hannah Karp). More living alums and a high percentage who still reside in the Lone Star State, plus an economy that’s better off than most, are thought to be the answer. I think it’s just competitive showing off, but others no doubt think otherwise. Did I need to say “football”?

A Castle of your own ?

Back in September I wrote about the castle that had morphed out of the old church on West Mary St. I hear via the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood mailing list that the castle is now up for sale, and you can own it yourself for a cool $1.6 million.

I don’t think I can raise the money on my own, but the thought of having my very own lap pool in the Austin downtown area, just over from South Congress is pretty appealing.

South 1st Watch and Something for the w/e

Formerly known as Los Manicas

Just what South Austin needs, more unregulated food trailers

Yep, it’s the return of two popular series, well I enjoyed writing them…

It’s interesting that in the time I’ve been writing for Austin Metblogs there have been two major neighborhood and city planning efforts, both requiring significant time from any serious contributor. The last was the Vertical Mixed Use initiative, under then Mayor Will Wynn, the next is the Austin Comprehensive Planning process under new Mayor Leffingwell.

And so it was with some interest that I cruised South 1st from Barton Springs to Oltorf to make a note of the changes. One thing that hasn’t happened, is at least on the “downtown” section of South 1st, there isn’t a single VMU building going up, and to the best of my knowledge, not even one has been submitted for review. So former Councillor McCrackens dream hasn’t even started to get off the ground(pun intended). Interestingly, his fingerprints are all over the Comprehensive Plan, which starts with “Remember how it felt to dream about your future when you were a kid?”, his website says he’s been “thinking about the future since he was 14” – so thats alright then. More on this in a later post.

Meanwhile back on South 1st. ibuyAustin have pulled together the First Saturday Stroll from 12pm to 7pm along with the merchants who are offering sales, discounts and even a new opening. You just walk south on South 1st, follow the green balloons.

So, what’s changed on South 1st? Heading south from Barton Springs, first up(another pun).

1000 S 1st Stitch lab – which does all kinds and types sewing, seamstress work and classes on the fine arts.
1100 Teddies for Bettys – Lingerie, Loinge Wear, well being and some fab. pictures on their facebook page.
1104 The MARYE Company, Real Estate
1106 LOVELY Austin, consignment fashion, Jewelry, Decor

Meanwhile there’s been more change of on the east side of South 1st at the Trailer Park Eatery, and it(and I) are captured in the Austin Big Austin Events calendar, now available online and from stores. Holy Cacao has moved into the trailer park from it’s former home just down the street. My friend Sarah commented that make it possible to “follow your Dirty Sanchez with balls on a stick.

That leaves Izzoz Tacos alone on the lot that was formerly Torchies Tacos, which is now at the heart of the South Austin Trailer Park and Eatery just up the street. Are you keeping up ?

On the corner of W Mary and South 1st two new business have opened. Envy Clothing store new male and female clothes including lines from Civil Society.

Almost next door, and definitely a fun part of South 1st Saturday stroll, is Under Pressure a hands on screen printing shop… design and print your own t-shirts.

2003 sees the arrival of Longhorn Fire and Safety.

2008 Rivers and Reefs pet shop is in the process of moving over to the old Sinsations building from South Congress

The property at 603 Live Oak, The web site details what gthye’d hoped to build, formally known for Los manitas, is still vacant. While the somewhat retro design building is posted on the even stranger named They are advertising food trailer rental pitches on the propoerty. Which can’t be a good sign(another pun), see above.

2210 DJ Dojo has closed – moving to a warehouse, with the ever optimistic, be open soon in the window!

2214 Mana culture is the stand out change for this update. Some fantastic jewelry and accessories from Thailand, India, Istanbul Turkey Nepal and other places. I was assured they the goods were sourced fair trade and eco trade and hand made unique. There was certainly no sign of the usual “tourist” style mass produced good that

Meanwhile over behind End of an Ear at 2213 South 1st Audiotech services and AMP repairs will have it’s official opening and music as part of the First Saturday walk.

And that’s a wrap for this update. And no wrap wasn’t a pun, maybe I’ll see some of you following the green balloons on Saturday!

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.