Zoning vote brings charge of council bias
By LPR Staff
Sometimes, even when you win, you lose.
Such was the case on Tuesday evening the majority of the Lockhart City Council approved a zoning change that would change the zoning of 109 W. Walnut St. from Commercial – Medium Business to Commercial – Central Business. While the change would have been
in line with the City’s current 2020 Land Use Plan, and was recommended by City Planner Dan Gibson, certain concerns have stood in the way of the change for more than a year.
At the center of the swirling controversy stands Lilly’s Bar and Grill, a restaurant owned and operated by the family of the late Lilly Serna. In its former incarnation at its flagship location on North Main Street, Lilly’s Bar attracted a late-night, and sometimes rough crowd, a fact which has caused concern for neighbors, who believe the new establishment might bring with it some old baggage.
“Lilly’s reports to be a restaurant,” said Todd Blomerth, a member of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, who has been leading the charge against the location of a bar caddy-corner from the historic church. “… despite having one old grill and using roasters. She neither has nor intends to have a legitimate restaurant, in my opinion.”
Blomerth noted no other restaurant in the community has patrons still present at 11:30 p.m. or midnight; he said her signage indicates that she does not intend to run a restaurant at all.
Serna disagrees, however, suggesting the signs are merely a nod to her mother’s former establishment.
“My intention from the get-go was to add more menu items, and become more family oriented,” she said. “I serve a variety of customers, that like to have a cold beer with their burger. I would like to have the same right that other restaurants have.”
Additionally, Serna claims, the zoning change would offer protections for the property owner, James Quezada. Under current zoning standards, the building is not compliant because of the lack of off-street parking, as well as the lack of setbacks from the property line. Therefore, if a disaster were to strike and the building destroyed, a new building must be built to conform with those standards.
Such is the case with most of the buildings in the area.
Even had the zoning change been granted, Serna would have to apply with the City for a Specific Use Permit allowing her to open a “bar.” As a restaurant, however, she could legally sell alcoholic beverages to her patrons, under the TABC stipulations that 51 percent of her income be made from the sale of food.
Currently, Serna allows customers to bring their own beverages, and charges an “icing fee” of $3. However, those stipulations could change and come under stricter management from TABC with the zoning change.
“There’s already alcohol in the establishment, through BYOB,” said Anthony Bowen, who owns a wine lounge around the corner. “Do you want TABC to be able to control that?”
Bowen also made note of several pending applications for alcohol licensing around the Square. Some, he said, are closer to churches than the current location of Lilly’s.
“[All those] applications and you’re singling out this one? Wow.”
Opponents of the application were unfazed, however, by the reasons brought forth from supporters.
Cathy Roland, for example, the owner of Dance Center Unlimited, the dance school across the street from Lilly’s, said her clientele had heard from clients about drivers creating dangerous situations leaving the establishment. She also nodded to parking problems, noting that in 18 years in business, she had never experienced problems with parking, until Lilly’s opened last year.
Still, her North Main Street school is flanked by several new businesses, several of which already serve alcoholic beverages, supporters reminded the council.
Ultimately, because more than 20 percent of the property owners in the area opposed the zoning change, the vote would require a super-majority of council (six “pro” votes) for the change to take effect.
Several of those properties are owned by the same family, the Black’s, whose neighboring Black’s Barbecue would be negatively impacted by the change in zoning. Black’s Barbecue, notably, is a restaurant which is allowed alcoholic beverages to their patrons – the same right Serna was asking for, she noted after the meeting.
Each member of the Council took the time, after hearing from 17 speakers both for and against the proposition, to express their thoughts and ideas about the proposal.
“I’ve always believed in consistency,” said Councilmember Brad Westmoreland said. “My biggest concern is that we do for one, and we’re not doing for another – that’s the problem. It’s the level of consistency.”
Mayor Lew White noted that on the first vote, he had obstained because he is a member of Emmanuel Episcopal Church.
“This has, sadly, divided our church,” he said. “I hear about it when I walk in. I hear about it when I leave. I support you as a business, I support you as a restaurant, I support you for the other activities that you do, but I don’t support the zoning change at this time.”
Councilmembers Benny Hilburn and Angie Gonzales-Sanchez stood with the Mayor in opposition to the change, while the other four members of the Council voted in favor of the change.
However, because of the required super-majority, the zoning change was not granted.
In other business, the Council underwent extensive review of planned street closures and traffic changes for the Hot Rods and Hatters Car Show, slated in February.
The show, which promises to draw hundreds of cars and thousands of spectators, has requested extensive street closures throughout downtown Lockhart from Feb. 6 – 8, 2017. The greatest concern, and need for the street closures, according to event producer Joel Gammage, lies in the need for ensuring the safety of spectators walking through the show, and protecting the vehicles on display.
Gammage said his current plans include working with the business owners to ensure that patrons are still able to get to their locations, and working with City officials to make the event safe and pleasant for all involved.
Gammage said final plans are still in the works, and announcements about street closures and traffic patterns should be made in October.
The Council was set to consider the location of a recreation building within Lockhart City Park, but opted to table the discussion pending an updated Parks Master Plan, due to be revised pending prioritization of projects by the council.
The Lockhart City Council routinely meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Third Floor Council Chambers of the Masonic Annex of the Dr. Eugene Clark Library Complex. Meetings are open to the public, televised on Time Warner Digital Cable Channel 10, and webcast and stored online at www.lockhart-tx.org.