Gwen and I tried out Ruta Maya in its new digs last night, bizarrely located between a strip joint and a country radio station. Nice place though — it’s sort of a hodgepodge of two walls from an old industrial building that have been sandblasted to within an inch of their life, and bridged by the kind of insta-building architecture that usually house welding shops and the like. But it actually feels quite comfortable inside, though a little empty.

In less happy news, Flightpath has a problem.

I’ve been a regular at Flightpath for…a long time. Let’s say eight years for the sake of argument, but it might be nine or ten. It occupies part of what was once an auto-repair shop, When it first opened, it occupied a small chunk, with a large area in back left unfinished. Over the years, the previous owner, Terry, finished out the remaining space in a couple of phases, until Flightpath came to occupy its entire “slice” of the building.

Here’s the problem: The City of Austin mandates that all businesses have a certain number of parking spaces proportional to their square footage (the ratio depends on business type). When Flightpath opened, it was fine. But at some point, its square footage exceeded its available parking. This didn’t become a problem until someone who lives near Flightpath began bugging the city about Flightpath’s lack of parking. Flightpath is a popular place, especially at night, and evidently people were parking in front of this guy’s house. He didn’t like that, discovered that Flightpath was out of compliance with this regulation, and went on a crusade.

The current owners of Flightpath tried to make some creative accommodations for the city’s requirements, but evidently the squeaky wheel kept on squeaking. Last Thursday, an inspector said they had to wall off their back room by Monday. And so they did.

There is so much wrong with this picture that I don’t know where to begin.

  • I have always objected to the parking/floor space ratio requirements. It flies in the face of the city’s nominal policy of–and my preference for–urban densification. For a place like a coffee shop, it creates an added burden in terms of rent. For a neighborhood joint like Flightpath, it is also unfair in the sense that it gets more bike and foot traffic than other locations might. Mine was one of five bikes on the rack today.
  • I have never understood the objection to street parking. It’s a city. Of course people park on the street. It’s not illegal. If you don’t like it, move to the country. Or at least shut up and let us city dwellers live in a real city.
  • Although Flightpath now has about half of its floor space closed off, it is still paying rent on all of it. I don’t know how long it can manage.
  • Flightpath has become a very popular neighborhood hangout, but its ability to do business–and the ability of many neighborhood residents to continue enjoying it–is being threatened essentially by one crank. Flightpath is also noteworthy for being one of the first places in town to install free wireless Internet access.

Flightpath is going to be seeking a waiver on the parking requirement, and at some point, this post is going to be reworded and sent as a letter to the City Council.

7 thoughts on “Coffeeshops”

  1. Oh, do keep me updated on this. I love Flightpath and would hate to see it get driven out of business. I have to admit that I get a bit cranky about people parking in bike lanes, but come on! It’s not like this place is belching black toxic smoke into the air or anything, it’s a coffee house. It’s one of the few remaining things that makes austin austin.

    btw – I did not know that there was wireless internet access there. Can you tell me how I would take advantage of that?

    Oh, and hi! I’m a fellow austin blogger. haha.

  2. I love popping in to Flightpath, checking my email, etc. I have had people that live in the neighborhood bitch at me for parking in front of their houses before…

  3. 1. Parking in the bike lanes is legal at night, but not during the day. Don’t get me started on bike lanes: I’m a cyclist and I think they’re a bad idea. Of course, if you’re going to have them, they should be no-parking at all times.

    2. For wifi access, bring your wifi laptop into flightpath and ask for their cheatsheet. I helped a friend get her laptop on line there without the cheatsheet–it’s not hard.

  4. There’s some logic to laws like that. They keep exploitive businesses from deliberately scanting their parking lots, saving money on real estate by dumping their customer parking into other businesses’ parking areas and the nearby residential streets.

    This has become something of an issue in my neighborhood because we have three upscale restaurants clustered together up around the corner, all three of them have gone over to valet parking, and none of them have their own parking lots.

    This is Brooklyn, where people don’t have driveways and garages. The street’s all we’ve got. In the evening, especially on a weekend, it’s next to impossible to find a parking space anywhre near those restaurants. We’re competing with professional car-parkers. And yes, they pull stunts like “warehousing” spaces by parking a single car in the middle of a double space.

    Fortunately, they’re relatively small, quiet restaurants. I don’t know what we’d do if we got stuck with a loud, popular, late-hours dining & dancing joint. I also don’t know what we’d do if someone brought in big-box retailing but not enough parking at the other end of our street. Nobody wants to be living in someone else’s parking lot.

    The question is whether the city will grant reasonable exemptions from the zoning laws. Sounds like this hangout of yours is the reason zoning exemptions exist.

  5. Teresa–

    Thanks for dropping by. I understand perfectly the issues you mention: I grew up in a lively part of Chicago. Most businesses had no parking of their own, so it was strictly catch as catch can. And some years later, I lived within half a block of one of a busy entertainment district in Chicago.

    Some neighborhoods there instituted a parking-sticker program, where only neighborhood residents with special window stickers (or their friends, with temporary tags) could park on residential streets during certain hours.

    Anyhow, there are a few ways to skin a cat. And Austin’s problems are opposite to Brooklyn’s — we’re already too spread-out, too car-oriented, have too many fields of blacktop, etc.

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