Despite pleas from several neighbors, City Council declined Thursday to overturn a ruling from the Planning Commission granting a three-year extension to a site plan for redevelopment of the historic Green Pastures restaurant and surrounding gardens. The vote was unanimous, with Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison absent.
In July, the commission approved a request from the developer to extend a previously approved site plan for 811 W. Live Oak St. that will include two hotel buildings, providing about 100 rooms, as well as an existing restaurant, event center and associated parking in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood.
Two neighbors, Milena Boytchef and Simon Eastwood, filed the appeal.
Green Pastures has a long and storied history and has served as a wedding venue for countless Austinites. Started in 1946 by Mary Faulk Koock, Green Pastures is now called Mattie’s at Green Pastures.
“Should the Council approve this extension for our site development, we would double our employee base and that would give more people the opportunity to thrive in Austin,” said Ethan Holmes, executive chef at Mattie’s at Green Pastures.
Laura Shearer, director of operations of Mattie’s at Green Pastures, told Council, “When we contacted the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association about the site plan extension, they told us that they felt we had every right to build the hotel and they were not interested in getting involved.” She said the neighborhood group told her to have a meeting and advertise it on the city’s website. Nineteen people attended that meeting, she said. “To our knowledge, none of the people who visited with us that night came to the Planning Commission meeting to voice any objections.”
Jeff Trigger, chair of the board of La Corsha Hospitality Group, explained to Council that in 2015 the owners of the restaurant found that it was not economically feasible to simply continue without an expansion of services. The owners feared that failure to offer more to the public might result in the iconic venue falling into the hands of business owners who would want to turn it into a private club, he said.
Opponents of extending the site plan argued that the proposed development has stalled and that developers have not in fact complied with city regulations regarding extension of site plans. Of course, many site plans were extended at the time that Covid was wreaking havoc on many people’s plans.
According to a letter from engineer Chad Kimbell, “The first phase of the site plan is complete. This phase included the interior remodeling of the previous Green Pastures restaurant, and the improvement of the restaurant’s landscape, hardscape and parking areas associated with the restaurant. In addition, gas, water, and underground electric infrastructure were constructed for not only this first phase but also to handle the future hotel phases.”
Matt O’Hare, who spoke on behalf of the project’s opponents, told Council, “These developers have not ever broken ground for this project. When asked by the city to prove that they had done work in this project, they submitted invoices directly related to their model of the restaurant, which is not part of the plan which had been completed before the issuance of this permit.”
In addition, O’Hare explained, “I wake up many mornings each week to the sound of tractor trailers parked and out in front of my house on South Fourth Street, which is also the entrance to the service entrance to Green Pastures, which is a tiny little entrance. And sometimes these tractor trailers are backed onto Oltorf, waiting for the gates to be open. There are days when these trucks are backed up all the way. … This tiny residential street with six homes cannot handle any more trucks.”