You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

Austin music venues hope for city effort to streamline permitting


Denis O’Donnell can rattle off a litany of frustrations with Austin’s permitting requirements, including a fight over the patio of his East Austin honky-tonk, the White Horse. So he was surprised to hear that city officials are working on a plan to straighten out the permitting maze that music venues must negotiate every year.

“If they are,” O’Donnell said, emphasizing the “if,” “that would be really great.”

In response to the recent Austin Music Census, which found the city’s music industry is at an economic tipping point, the city’s staff is working on a proposal to bundle the numerous permits needed to operate a venue into one, quicker-to-attain package — the first step in what the city’s music office says will be a larger effort to bolster the industry.

The streamlining is intended to counter what the music census described as an “inefficient, cumbersome and confusing” permitting process that causes “substantial productivity loss” for venues already struggling to deal with the strain of rising rents.

The plan will ultimately require City Council approval. Ideally, it would mean that a venue owner has to deal with permitting only once every two years, instead of losing hours or occasionally days at a time each year securing each of the six or more permits that venues need, said Don Pitts, head of the city’s music office.

No one expects the proposed streamlining to be the step that saves Austin’s music industry. But it does offer a window into the social and political tensions through which the city is sorting as it moves from identifying the music industry’s difficulties to actually dealing with them.

“We looked at what the (music) census said about the city (permitting) process and said, ‘Maybe we can take this and help the venues out,’” Pitts said. “Maybe we can have it be a positive for them.”

Permitting angst isn’t new

Complaints about the city code and the permitting department aren’t unique to music venues. The broader complaints about a dysfunctional permitting system were echoed earlier this year in the Zucker Report, with the consultants hired by the city noting that people’s experience with Austin’s permitting process “are the worst we have seen in our national studies.”

O’Donnell points to the side patio of the White Horse as a product of rules he contends lead to “nonsensical” outcomes. He said a protracted dispute arose last year when inspectors told him the patio had been improperly permitted and needed to be removed. The negotiations resulted in a compromise: He could keep the fenced-in, dirt patio, but he had to remove a 250-square-foot chunk.

That regulatory environment has led venues to spend “way too much time” and money dealing with issues outside the day-to-day operation of the their business, said Jennifer Houlihan, executive director of Austin Music People, the industry’s lobbying organization.

“The venues are the heart of the industry,” Houlihan said. “Musicians want to play them, people want to see acts at them, a lot of musicians work at them.”

Reducing the regulatory burden is one of the few ways to ease the pressure on venues dealing with the side effects of Austin’s economic boom, Houlihan said. She said changes could be as simple as allowing Kenny Dorham’s Backyard, the East Austin venue for DiverseArts Culture Works, to hand-deliver the required annual notice to neighbors that it will host a handful of shows (mostly jazz). The small nonprofit now has to pay the city $377 to deliver the notices.

Advocates call for simpler rules

Last year, attempting to deal with ongoing noise complaints and concern about the size of Austin’s festivals, the previous City Council directed the staff to create a new live music permit, in addition to the other required permits. The goal was tighter regulation, among other steps intended to ultimately improve the safety and convenience of coming downtown. The resolution suggests additional penalties for violating the rules, including the revocation of tax breaks for historic buildings.

The city staff’s response sent in July — a half-year after most of those council members left office — strikes a notably different tone. It called for a “streamlined permitting process” and “clear and concise communication of the regulations.” That could even include doing all of the required city inspections on the same day, Pitts said.

He said the proposal will probably be ready for the new City Council by the end of the year. But that will only happen after the fire, police, code enforcement and other departments involved in the various venue permits have weighed in. They might have concerns, including whether they can wait two years between inspections.

“We would not be changing the regulations,” Pitts said. “But we would be, hopefully, streamline the process and help these guys out.”

A recent blog post by Council Member Ann Kitchen’s appointee to the Austin Music Commission, Marshall Escamilla, predicts a potential conflict. Escamilla writes that he will push for dramatically simplifying permitting rules to help the music industry, predicting that position will be at odds with “a significant number” of “older voters (who) have essentially decided that their governing philosophy is ‘Hey, kids, get off my lawn!’”

Mayor Steve Adler is the only council member who made the music industry a campaign issue and pledged to “minimize the red tape.”

“When a passing car can be louder than a musician is allowed to play,” Adler said during the campaign, “something is wrong with the system.”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Barton Creek bike bridge built, but few coming so far
Barton Creek bike bridge built, but few coming so far

I tweeted out just after sunrise Friday that I was hanging out at the new Barton Creek bike bridge in Southwest Austin to see how many cyclists and others might be using the $14.5 million edifice. I noted that in the half-hour or so I was there, I had seen one commuting cyclist cross the 1,045-foot span over the creek gorge. Not surprisingly, the qualifiers...
Traffic report for June 26, 2017

Interstate 35 (Travis County): The outside lane on the southbound access road will be closed between Parmer Lane and Rundberg Lane from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday and Tuesday nights; locations will change nightly, and Exits 245 through 241 will be closed as needed. Multiple southbound lane closures between Colonial Park Boulevard and Boggy Creek from...
Emails chart how ‘Mad Men’ archive landed at UT’s Ransom Center
Emails chart how ‘Mad Men’ archive landed at UT’s Ransom Center

An archive of props, clothing, scripts and abandoned story lines from a TV series might not seem at first blush to embody the literary, cultural or artistic significance of the Gutenberg Bible, Frida Kahlo’s “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” or any number of other holdings at the University of Texas’ Harry...
PolitiFact: Paxton uses old line about Obama that’s no longer true
PolitiFact: Paxton uses old line about Obama that’s no longer true

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, pleased at the revocation of a federal effort to shield some older immigrants from deportation, says that then-President Barack Obama repeatedly acknowledged that his administration’s 2014 immigration order wasn’t legal. In a recent press release, Paxton applauded the Homeland Security Department&rsquo...
Challengers of ‘sanctuary cities’ ban to get their day in federal court
Challengers of ‘sanctuary cities’ ban to get their day in federal court

Challengers of Senate Bill 4, the “sanctuary cities” ban, will have their first day in federal court Monday before a presiding judge who has recently ruled that federal immigration detention requests central to the controversial state law are unconstitutional. Monday’s hearing in San Antonio before U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia...
More Stories