by BRAD ROLLINS and SEAN BATURA
Owners of Crystal River Inn, a fixture of San Marcos tourism for more than a quarter century, say they are struggling to keep the bed and breakfast in business after a trendy open-air bar started up next door.
Since it began operations in May in a renovated service station on Hopkins Street, Zelick’s Icehouse has been a wildly popular addition to the city’s nightlife, drawing an eclectic crowd of bikers, river rats, college students and young professionals to its pea-gravel courtyard and Adirondack chairs. But Cathy and Mike Dillon say the roar of the party is scaring off guests in droves from their formerly quaint inn, consisting of 12 suites spread between three buildings including the main 1883 house.
“We can no longer offer our guests a peaceful nights’ sleep, in spite of our efforts to muffle the sound coming into our buildings,” Cathy Dillon told city official last month. “We have tried talking to Zelick’s management and they aren’t sympathetic, indicating that they have a right to make money … and we should simply soundproof our building. That is like putting a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage.”
The Dilllons supported brothers Chase and Seth Katzs’ bid for a conditional use permit from the city in June 2010 to open the bar in what used to be a U-Haul rental yard. After the bar finally opened in May 2011, the innkeepers quickly soured on their new neighbor. They say the bass from music played at the bar rattles windows and that bar-goers urinate in their shrubbery and garden, steal their Christmas decorations and, in one case, kicked over and broke a lawn statue while an inn manager looked on. In the months since, they’ve kept a log of run-ins with Zelick’s staff and patrons and collected more than a dozen written complaints from guests, some of whom swear they will never return.
When the Katzs’ conditional use permit came before the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission last month for renewal, the Dillons had a parade of angry neighbors and guests lined up to make their case. They asked the commission to impose conditions on the renewal that include requiring the bar to close at midnight, instead of 2 a.m., on weekdays and eliminating horseshoes and other noise-making outdoor games after certain hours.
The Katzs’ fielded their own team of supporters at the P&Z meeting and pointed out that under the city’s point system for evaluating conditional use permits, Zelicks had accumulated exactly zero demerits. They said Crystal River Inn or other neighbors have called the police with noise complaints 14 times since the bar’s opening and that on none of those occasions did the responding officer find the noise level on adjoining property more than the 63 decibel limit established in city codes.
“I don’t think [Zelicks] should be punished or should get any different treatment than they were treated last time they were before this commission for their CUP permit,” said Ryan Perkins, an historical district resident who normally opposes the commercialization of Hopkins Street but supports Zelick’s. “They have made many concessions for the sake of being good neighbors.”
Whatever sympathy Zelick’s supporters hoped to get from the planning and zoning commission, however, evaporated when someone mentioned that the bar’s conditional use permit had expired in June 2011 and that the bar has been operating since without proper permitting.
“For four or five months there (the Katz’s) were breaking the law, because the law requires that you have to have a conditional use permit be in place in order to sell alcohol, and they did not have that by their own negligence,” planning commissioner Curtis Seebeck said.
Matthew Lewis, the city’s Development Services division director, told commissioners the failure to catch the expired permit was an oversight by the city and Zelicks. Lewis and other staff said the city is not required by law to provide notifications regarding expiring CUPs, though the city plans to begin sending notice after an internal audit of current permits.
After Zelicks applied for a new permit, the bar was authorized to continue operating until the permit was granted or denied, said Jon Foreman, a city planner.
The commission eventually voted to give Zelick’s a six-month reprieve to resolve their neighbor problems, instead of a full three-year permit renewal like Zelick’s had requested and city staff recommended. Said planning commissioner Travis Kelsey, himself a barowner, “I would encourage them to work together on it before we’re put in a situation to pick one business over the other.”Email | Print