Council deals blow to local family’s business

By Kathi Bliss

Editor/POST-REGISTER

 

Shadows of a business that shuttered more than two years ago loomed large over the Lockhart City Council on Tuesday evening, as the Council once again pondered the businesses deemed “appropriate” for the Downtown Business District.

Despite the burgeoning entertainment hub growing in and around the Central Business District (loosely defined as the Caldwell County Courthouse Square and the surrounding blocks), some members of the Council appear to be at odds about exactly how that District should look – those ideas, it seems, are not in line with either the appointed Planning and Zoning Commission, the City’s projected land-use map, or the opinions of more than 100 local residents, including a number of business owners in the immediate area.

At the center of the swirling controversy sits Lilly’s Bar and Grill, a newly-minted restaurant located near the corner of Walnut and North Main Streets, opened as homage to longtime barkeep and community servant Lilly Serna, who passed away in February 2014. Though Serna left her business, the local staple “Lilly’s Bar” to her daughter Lydia, the younger Serna opted to change not only locations, but the name and atmosphere of the establishment.

Rebranded as “Lilly’s Bar and Grill,” Serna and her husband, Clemente Medellin, chose to move their business from North Main to Walnut Street, and focus on a family-oriented restaurant, rather than the dark, gritty beer joint that the elder Serna ruled with a firm hand and a quick wit.

The City’s zoning rules, however, have locked the younger Serna in a two-year battle with the City, as she’s maneuvered to maintain her restaurant atmosphere, while still being allowed to sell beer, a benefit that nearly every restaurant in the City of Lockhart enjoys.

The property’s current zoning, Commercial Medium Business, does allow bars, but holds a restriction involving available parking, which the establishment currently cannot meet. However, a zoning change to Commercial Central Business would allow the establishment to operate as a restaurant that sells beer, provided it meets the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s requirements that more than 51 percent of sales receipts come from the sale of food. It’s a challenge, Serna said, she’s more than happy to meet.

“I should have the right to build the business that I want to build here,” Serna said. “I named my restaurant to honor my mother, but it’s a very different business. I don’t want to run a bar. I’ve never wanted to run a bar.”

While Serna racked up more than 115 letters of support, along with the unanimous support of the Council-appointed Planning and Zoning Commission, who deemed that the zoning change was appropriate, the ghost of her mother’s “beer joint” loomed over the Council, who failed to garner the supermajority vote needed to implement the zoning change.

Only two in the community stood against the change – Kent Black, who owns most of the property surrounding the current establishment, and Cathy Roland, whose dance studio has been located on the corner of Walnut and Main for nearly 20 years. Both, who were kept from the meeting for personal reasons, expressed via electronic communication that they stood against the rezoning, citing concerns they had expressed in the past for their opposition.

Those prior concerns include reports of violence and public drunkenness attached to the reputation of the former establishment, Lilly’s Bar. Those concerns, Serna said, do not exist at Lilly’s Bar and Grill.

“I pulled the police records, and there have only been two incidents,” she said. “And both times, it was me that called the police.”

Emmanuel Episcopal Church, and its membership, who have previously stood steadfast against the zoning change which would allow Serna to apply for a TABC license, were notably absent.

While Mayor Lew White praised Serna for “establishing a record,” he stood against the measure, along with Mayor Pro Tem Angie Gonzales Sanchez and Councilmember Benny Hilburn. All said that if the circumstances in the downtown district changed materially, they might be willing to change their vote.

Presently, there are two restaurants which sell beer, one bar, and one retail and in-house wine vendor within striking distance of Lilly’s Bar and Grill, with one more on the way.

“We’re not talking about whether or not they can sell beer,” Councilmember Jeffry Michelson said. “We’re only talking about the zoning. Right now, they allow BYOB, and there are no regulations. I’d much rather have TABC in a position where they can have some regulation over it.”

Councilmember Brad Westmoreland agreed, accusing Michelson of “stealing [his] thunder.” Both own businesses in the downtown business district.

Ultimately, the Council voted 4-3 to approve the zoning change. However, Black’s opposition triggered the need for a supermajority vote, requiring a 6-1 vote of the Council.

In other business, the Council heard a second zoning change from Residential Low Density to Agricultural-Open, for five acres on Silent Valley Road, upon which an “animal outreach and rehabilitation center” is expected to be built.

The center, whose spokesperson Erik Corredor was on hand, intends to be a rehabilitation center and refuge for “raptor” birds, with intentions to later implement educational programs and possibly a zoo-like atmosphere. Asked how Corredor would offset the noise pollution created by a bird refuge, Corredor noted he would examine tree- and shrub-lined property lines, along with fencing and other means to offset any noise that might be generated, to limit inconvenience to the residential areas that border the property on both sides.

He also noted his organization is seeking 501(c)3 standing, which will allow them to offset property and sales taxes.

The Council approved the measure, 6-1, with Councilmember John Castillo standing against.

In brief news, the Council approved the employment of Jerry Doyle as Interim Fire Chief, effective June 7, 2017.

They agreed to consider amendments to the City Charter, as recommended by the Charter Review Commission.

The panel agreed to appoint Raymond Sanders to the Civil Service Commission to fill an unexpired term.

The Lockhart City Council meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Third Floor Conference Center of the Dr. Eugene Clark Library Complex. The meetings are available for viewing online at www.lockhart-tx.org.

kathibliss@post-register.com

 

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