The Corner Table and City Parking Ordinance Saga Continues

Categories: Spaced City

Can't we all just park together?
A handful of folks who live next to the popular River Oaks eatery Corner Table say the restaurant's customers are crowding the streets with parked cars because the restaurant doesn't have enough parking spots -- in violation of the city parking ordinance.

Sure, this might be one of those issues to file under "First World Problems," but our journey into the labyrinthine world of parking codes proved somewhat eye-opening: It is possible for a restaurant to flout the ordinance without any consequence.

Here's the deal: The building containing the restaurant, located at 2736 Virginia, is owned by a Dallas-based trust. But city planning officials have been working with designers hired by the restaurant's owner, Darla Lexington, to come up with a plan to meet the parking code.

If you ever want to find a reason to jump off the bridge, we suggest examining the nooks and crannies of the parking ordinance, which of course can't just be a simple thing. There are exceptions for free-standing restaurants; there are exceptions for whether you'll put in bicycle stands.

There's also a grandfather clause, and leeway can be given to new owners who inherited problems from previous owners -- such as owners who changed a building's footprint without approval, which is what all sides in this agree happened in the instance of 2736 Virginia.

And then there are variances -- a pass to work around the code -- that has to be agreed upon by a star chamber of planning commissioners. These people hear testimony. About parking.

We were first made aware of Corner Table's non-compliance by a guy named Gary Ruby, who lives nearby the restaurant, and who has spent an incredible amount of time over the last four years trying to find out why Lexington, and the operators of previous restaurants in that space, have been able to stay out of compliance.

Ruby and fellow Ryan Morris have been emailing City Councilwoman Ellen Cohen's chief of staff Dave Bonem, and a city planning official named Jennifer Ostlind. Similar to our experience, Ostlind seemed very responsive to the men's concerns, whereas Bonem seemed annoyed. Which we understand, because, let's face it, who wants to hear a coupla dudes bitch about parking?

Bonem told Ruby in a December 2013 email that "Corner Table will be submitting an amended plan to the Planning Department. They will need to increase parking for the space in violation, or not use the space. Once that plan is approved, it will be accessible to the Public, via TPIA [the state open records law]....My suggestion to you and your neighbors is to reach out to the owners of Corner Table and request a seat at the table when they are formulating their amended plan. Unfortunately, neither the City of Houston nor our office can force the owners of Corner Table to participate in discussions with the community."

More on Cohen's office in a bit.

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