Posts Tagged ‘bcna’

Restaurants, parking and neighbors

The subject of Residents Parking Permits has come up multiple times in recent discussions about businesses on South Congress and, especially Polvos on South 1st street. Local residents on small streets have to suffer from the increased traffic, noise and pollution often caused by illegal and unpermitted restaurant expansion, which means essentially the restaurants are profiting while causing problems for their neighbors, often in a 6-block area.

This excellent summary of the issues was recently written by long time Bouldin Creek resident and active member of the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association Cory Walton. It is posted here with his

The offshoot of the RPP discussion to home sizes and what defines a McMansion is a separate discussion to which I’d like to add for now only a focus on a word that was touched on by several: “Context.” One of the houses named in this discussion, though twice the size of Bouldin’s original 1930s era bungalows, is completely in context with those smaller originals. The Johanna Street “Castles” are not. Somewhere in between is the other home, which, while three stories high (pre-
McMansion) incorporates many elements and scale that is within the context of the original neighborhood.

I bring these points up because they are key considerations in defining Local Historic Districts (LHDs). In the same way that RPP is the only tool residents have to preserve the character and quality of their streets, LHDs is the only tool residents have to preserve and protect the character of the residential structures in our neighborhood. More on this later.

Now, back to the original RPP topic, to expand on the observations and to add an element of context: Most of the businesses on both South Congress and South First were originally built as daytime operations mostly serving the nearby community–hence the small lots and building sizes. When they were built, there were no parking requirements in the city code, but that wasn’t a problem because most were in-and-out retail or service businesses and many of their customers walked there from their homes.

With South Austin’s growing popularity, many of the business locations became restaurant/entertainment venues, expanding the buildings and operating hours, and by the very nature of the business expanding by 6x the length of customer turnover time. Their customer base comes from all over Austin and beyond, and because, as some note, our public transit system sucks, people have to drive there, and most of the businesses have sub-standard parking –which was grandfathered to that location.

So because there’s little space to build additional parking, and no economic incentive to build it anyway, there’s no place for customers to park except on residential streets. Our streets become de-facto commercial parking lots, making it imperative that city code be enforced to ensure no illegal restaurant expansion to exacerbate an already bad situation.

The physical limitations on the neighborhood’s commercial properties and their close proximity to residential properties and streets simply cannot accommodate large (or for that matter, loud) restaurants. If a restaurant wants to grow, it should invest in a second location elsewhere on a commercial property that IS able to legally accommodate the restaurant’s numbers. This is the responsible way for a successful business to grow as countless local examples have demonstrated.

By shirking this responsibility, every time a restaurant expands in the neighborhood–legally or illegally– they are in effect, pouring a few more gallons into an already overflowing bucket, and the neighbors bear the brunt while the business increases its profits.

Realizing and responding to this reality, a couple of years ago our neighbors across South Congress, SRCC neighborhood, proposed an overlay to South Congress Avenue which would limit the number of restaurants to one per block.

This would serve two purposes 1). It would limit the amount of new gallons that could be poured into the overflowing bucket (i.e. overflow parking and traffic on our residential streets until a multi-modal transport light at the end of the tunnel is reached:); but also, 2). because the ordinance defines a limit on the type of businesses on these commercial streets, it would place a limit on commercial property values and prices, so some of our signature small, locally-owned businesses might be able to stay around and operate profitably for a few more years.

Since the proposed overlay was decried by the business community and never got any sponsorship from our city council, and because city code enforcement is complaint-driven, which means the damage has usually already been done by the time residents complain, and forcing a business to remove an illegal structure has never been accomplished in the entire history of Austin, RPP seems like the only tool residents have at their disposal to retain the residential quality of their streets and perhaps encourage businesses to act more respectfully and responsibly.

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