Garden Café

The City Council approved an 18-month special-use permit for longtime neighborhood establishment Garden Cafe to sell beer and wine. The restaurant plans to reopen in late March or early April after completing the licensing process with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

“We tried this before in 2011, and it didn’t work out,” Garden Cafe owner Mark Wootton said. “We’ve been hoping for this for over a decade.”

District 14 Councilman David Blewett moved to approve the permit at Wednesday’s meeting, and the Council passed it unanimously.

“There were a lot of competing interests, and you try to listen to as many voices as you can, and you try to get it right,” Blewett said. “The operators have proved themselves over the past 20 years, and they deserve an opportunity for the next 18 months.”

The eatery at 5310 Junius St. applied for a rezoning permit to sell beer and wine in June. Wootton, a Junius Heights neighbor, said at the time that the special-use permit would help the restaurant stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

Before temporarily closing, the restaurant allowed customers to bring their own beer and wine. It also organized some events.

The City Plan Commission approved the special-use permit, but city attorneys stripped a series of deed restrictions. The deed restrictions, intended to protect neighbors, included limiting events to 100 people and requiring a parking attendant for events with more than 60 people and limiting additional lighting.

Wootton and property owner, Dale Wootton, forwarded the restrictions to the Junius Heights Historic District Board and invited it to enter a private agreement based on those terms. At its Tuesday meeting, board members said they needed more time to assess the restrictions. Dale Wootton said he intends to enforce those restrictions while the board deliberates.

If the property is sold, the special-use permit would not be forwarded to the new owners, the Woottons said.

The rezone was contentious among some neighbors who feared potential noise and parking violations.

“I’ve enjoyed having Garden Cafe there, but now with the changes, I fear major changes in our neighborhood,” said neighbor Donna Highland, who spoke at the Council meeting. “There’s inadequate parking. I’ve had [Garden Cafe patrons] park in front of my driveway. Please keep our street nice and easy and not have all the traffic.”

A Nextdoor poll with more than 400 responses showed that about 90 percent of respondents were in favor of the permit. In another survey created by the Junius Heights Historic District Board, 89 percent of neighbors, out of 101 responses, supported the Garden Cafe’s special-use permit.

“I’ve been a resident for nine years, and the Woottons have always supported the neighborhood,” Shelley Vatzlavick said at the Council meeting. “I believe that the SUP would be a good addition to the neighborhood — its walkability and the enjoyment of the younger demographic.”

At its Tuesday meeting, the board declined to take a position on the proposal. It said on the Junius Heights Facebook page that “the board strongly reaffirms its commitment to support all of its neighbors and their rights under city code and law, and we ended [the meeting] by again reminding ourselves of the truly unique nature of this request and the challenge it presents in balancing the property rights of all our neighbors.”

Several City Council members also voiced their support.

“I like their coffee, but maybe I need to start doing mimosas,” District 9 Councilwoman Paula Blackmon said. “I’m glad everyone came together and found a solution.”

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