City regulations can stymie new, expanding businesses in Oak Lawn

Lack of parking, ‘surprise’ new requirements for liquor licensing delayed opening of Thai restaurant, forced other shops to close before they could ever open

Danny-S

Danny Sikora

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

The number of seats in a restaurant is usually limited by the fire marshal. But in Oak Lawn, that limit is set by parking regulations, according to Thairrific owner Danny Sikora.

Although he acquired the space formerly occupied by Hungdingers about five months ago, Sikora did not receive his final certificate of occupancy until this week. Most of the delays, he said, were city-related.

But Sikora’s schedule isn’t the only casualty. City regulations requiring restaurants and bars to provide more parking spaces than retail stores has resulted in at least two other problems for businesses on Cedar Springs Road.

When Zen Clipz closed, Buli owner Scott Whittall tried to rent the space and turn it into a nighttime cabaret-style venue. Parking issues forced him to scuttle those plans.

And building had already begun on a coffee shop on Throckmorton Street between Macho Nacho and Thairrific when lack of parking put the kibosh on those plans as well.

Sikora said he was approved for a restaurant with 78 seats, even though the space could comfortably seat more.

“The city is not taking into account how pedestrian-heavy this neighborhood is,” he said.

Parking, however, was not the only delay in opening his new business.

“The city has a surprise new requirement before they’ll complete their portion of the TABC packet,” he said.

Sikora said he had to submit to the city a new architectural rendering of his space and a map of all property within 300 feet of his business. But Sikora said that since this regulation is new, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission didn’t know about it — and neither did Dallas City Councilwoman Angela Hunt.

And in the office charged with enforcing this new regulation, no one agreed on what was required.

One city worker told him that it meant 300 feet from the edge of the property. Another said it was 300 feet from his space and a third told him to measure 300 feet from his front door.

The renderings have to be completed within 10 days of submission. After a week’s delay in the city office and being turned down once because of a disagreement of what the regulation meant, one city employee approved the plans and sent the city’s portion of the packet off to TABC, without a day to spare in the 10-day rule.

In addition, the new regulation cost Sikora $1,200, plus a $100 fee to the city to certify that the plans were correct. Another day’s delay would have cost him another $1,200 for a new set of plans.

And by delaying his application until Sept. 3, the city cost him more money, because TABC licenses increased in price on
Sikora said that he thought it was foolish, especially since alcohol has been approved for this location numerous times over the last 15 years.

Once the certificate of occupancy was issued, Sikora said, he could then order the things he wanted for the restaurant that he didn’t need for the inspections.

“We weren’t doing what next-door did,” he said, referring to the coffee shop. He said they sunk $30,000 into the space before learning that the city was not going to approve an operating permit.

For the restaurant’s sign, Sikora said he had hoped his partner’s sister, an artist, could paint it directly on the building. But that didn’t work because the non-retractable awning was in the way.

Sikora said he considered taking down the awning to paint the sign, but then he learned that a city ordinance required a hefty fee for putting an awning back up.

So instead, the artist ended up having to paint the sign on a sheet of plastic. Then hanging the sign required a permitting process that included submitting drawings, a list of items used to construct the sign and an explanation of how the sign would be hung. A professional sign company with a cherry-picker to reach over the awning had to be hired to hang it.

Other delays included a roof leak that Sikora said was not obvious through the exceptionally dry summer and other problems with some of the equipment that was purchased from the previous owner that have been fixed.

Sikora invested in the restaurant earlier this year. Family-run Thairrific has been in business for about 11 years in an old shopping center on Forest Lane at Webb Chapel Road. Sikora said he’d been a regular customer for most of that time. Then the restaurant’s owner/chef said he wanted to cook and wasn’t interested in the business aspect of the restaurant anymore, and he asked Sikora if he wanted to become a business partner.

The two then discovered that much of their business at the North Dallas location was actually coming from Oak Lawn, so they decided to move to the new location, closer to their customers.

Sikora also has a small investment in Aston’s Bakery, another family-run business, located on Lover’s Lane near the Tollway.

Next to the cash register in the new Thairrific location, he installed a bakery counter and plans to offer a limited number of items from the Aston’s.

Sikora said that what sets his restaurant apart from other Thai places is that there are no steam tables.

“Everything’s made-to-order,” he said. “Soup? It’s not coming out of a soup tureen.”

The soup stock is made, but everything in the soup will be added when ordered.

“It’s healthy cooking,” he said. “Few fried items.”

And after five months, Thairrific may be open soon. When? Well, things are on order. But Sikora’s still just not sure on the date.

…………………….

Two Corks ribbon cutting set
North Texas LGBT Chamber of Commerce members John Ley and Elwyn Hull will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for their new winery, Two Corks and a Bottle, on Tuesday, Nov. 1 from 5:30 p.m.
to 7 p.m. The store is located on the north side of The Quadrangle on Routh at Lacliede streets.
There will be door prizes and happy hour pricing.

American Airlines expanding Curbside Check-In
FORT WORTH — Officials with American Airlines recently announced that the airline is expanding its Curbside Check-In service to give customers traveling internationally the opportunity to check their bags with the skycap — making their trip through the airport as smooth as possible.
For more information about the expanded Curbside Check-in service, go online to
aa.com/curbside.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 28, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

6 months later, owner Keith Lackie says Klub Wet will finally open on Maple Avenue next week

Keith Lackie

After six months of wrangling over parking requirements, the new gay bar Klub Wet is set to open on Maple Avenue next week, according to owner Keith Lackie.

Lackie initially planned to open the bar in late October, in the building that previously housed Illlusions, 4100 Maple. But at the last minute, the city refused to issue a certificate of occupancy, saying Lackie didn’t have sufficient parking.

What followed was a protracted dispute involving the city, Lackie and Crow Holdings, which owns property across Throckmorton Street where Lackie had two remote parking agreements. In the end, Lackie said he decided to build his own parking lot on a parcel behind the bar that’s owned by his landlord.

“We finally got it figured out,” Lackie told Instant Tea today. “Everybody’s very excited right now. … I don’t give up on anything. It takes a lot more than Crow Holdings to get me to give up.”

Lackie has said he spent $150,000 remodeling the inside of Klub Wet, which will fulfill a dream he had his with late partner, Andy Primm.

Lackie also plans to redo the outside of the building once the bar is open.

He said he expected to receive a permit today to begin grading the new parking lot, and hopes to be open by the middle of next week. But this time, he isn’t setting a firm date.

“With the city, you never know what they’re going to pull at the last minute,” he said. “I’m just going to hold off on announcing the actual opening date until I get final approval and get my CO [certificate of occupancy] in my hands.”

—  John Wright

More than a month later, owner still seeking approval from city for new gay bar on Maple

Owner Keith Lackie stands inside Klub Wet in October holding a plaque he received to commemorate the bar’s opening — an opening that never happened.

Keith Lackie is frustrated and angry. Pretty soon, he says, he might also be bankrupt.

Lackie was set to open Klub Wet, a new gay bar on Maple Avenue, at the end of October. But then the city of Dallas refused to issue him a certificate of occupancy, saying he didn’t have sufficient parking. Lackie has two separate remote parking agreements for property across the street owned by Crow Holdings. But he says Crow Holdings is attempting to get out of the agreements because they want to use the property for their own redevelopment.

Lackie says he’s invested $150,000 to remodel the building that once housed Illusions, at 4100 Maple Ave. Klub Wet would fulfill a dream that Lackie had with his partner, Andy Primm, who died last year. Much of the money for the bar came from his partner’s life insurance policy.

For the last five weeks, Lackie and city building officials have gone round and round over the parking situation. Finally, last week, Lackie claims they agreed to a resolution whereby Lackie would wall off a section of the club to reduce the square-footage so he doesn’t need as much parking. But now he says the city is refusing to give him a final OK, and he’s convinced it’s due to opposition from Crow Holdings.

“We came up with a resolution and they’re still sitting on it,” Lackie told Instant Tea on Thursday. “It’s ridiculous, and in the meantime I’m on the brink of bankruptcy. I think the reason they’re putting it off is they’re waiting for Trammel Crow to come back with a different plan. They’re waiting for Trammell Crow [Crow Holdings] to tell them what to do next to prevent me from opening.”

Representatives from Crow Holdings failed to returned numerous phone calls from Instant Tea seeking comment about the matter over the last month. City Councilwoman Pauline Medrano, who represents the area, also hasn’t returned our phone calls. Medrano’s assistant referred questions to city building officials.

Phil Sikes, an assistant building official for the city, said Thursday that his department is still researching the history of the Klub Wet property and the parking agreements. Sikes said he hopes to have an answer on Lackie’s latest proposal by next week.

Sikes said it appears as though one of the two parking agreements with Crow Holdings is valid, while the other is not. The city is now trying to determine how many “delta credits” — grandfathered parking from before the city required it — Klub Wet should receive.

The investigation, Sikes said, is complicated by changing uses of the building over the years, an illegal expansion in the 1990s and other factors.

“It really is just a mess,” Sikes said. “We understand his situation is that he’s ready to open his business. He’s sank a tremendous amount of money into it, and every day he’s not open, he’s losing money. We get that.”

But Sikes denied that opposition from Crow Holdings has anything to do with the delay.

“They don’t talk to us about this stuff,” Sikes said. “We don’t go talk to them. Whoever the neighbor is doesn’t matter to us. We’re trying to make a determination based off the records.”

Lackie says if he doesn’t hear something soon he plans to take his story to the mainstream media and demand an investigation.

“I can tell you from the conversations that I’ve had with people at different events and the clubs around town, everybody thinks the city and Trammell Crow are colluding, and probably that the city has their hands in Trammell Crow’s pockets,” Lackie said. “Trammell Crow doesn’t want a gay bar in their front yard. The city is grasping at straws, at any little thing they can come up with to keep me from opening, so that Trammell Crow gets what they want. I guarantee it.”

—  John Wright

Owner says city, Crow Holdings blocked opening of new gay bar on Maple after he invested $150K

Owner Keith Lackie stands behind the bar on Friday holding a plaque he received to commemorate the opening of Klub Wet.

It was Keith Lackie and Andy Primm’s dream to open a gay bar together.

When Primm died last year at 44, Lackie was left with a life insurance policy.

Lackie decided to use the money to fulfill the couple’s dream, and three months ago, he signed a lease for the building that housed Illusions, at 4100 Maple Ave., which had recently closed.

Since then, Lackie said he’s spent $150,000 remodeling the building. He was scheduled to open Klub Wet Piano & Music Video Lounge at 11 a.m. today.

But on Wednesday, Lackie found out the city of Dallas won’t issue a certificate of occupancy — the final permit needed before he opens — because he doesn’t have sufficient parking.

“I don’t even have the money to pay my house payment next month,” Lackie said Friday afternoon as he stood inside Klub Wet. “I was counting on being able to open this week.”

Lackie explained that the owner of the building that houses Klub Wet, Victor Ballas, has a Remote Parking Agreement for 46 spaces on property that sits just across Throckmorton Street. Lackie signed a one-year lease with Ballas with a four-year extension option.

But the parking for Klub Wet sits on property that’s now owned by Crow Holdings, which plans to redevelop much of the neighborhood. Lackie said Crow Holdings has convinced city officials that the Remote Parking Agreement is invalid, because it doesn’t list an accurate square footage for the bar.

The parking agreement, from 1996, lists the square footage of the building at about 1,400 square feet, while Klub Wet actually occupies about 2,500 square feet. But even with the larger square footage, the 46 spaces would be more than sufficient. Lackie said the square footage discrepancy is probably due to the fact that the bar occupied only part of the building in 1996.

Lackie said the term of the Remote Parking Agreement is as long as the building is occupied by a bar. But he said Crow Holdings has seized upon the square-footage technicality because it wants the parking for its own development.

“If Trammell Crow can keep me from opening up and it can’t be a bar, these parking agreements will go away and they’ll get their property back,” Lackie said.

Lackie said he’s been working with a licensing consultant to try to obtain a certificate of occupancy from the city, but now that the effort has proven unsuccessful, he plans to consult with his attorney.

Lackie said he’s already hired about 10 employees, some of whom have quit their old jobs. Among other things, he’s furnished Klub Wet with a grand piano and was poised to make it the only gay piano bar in Dallas.

On Thursday night, Klub Wet hosted a private party attended by 40-50 people, and one of Lackie’s new employees presented him with a plaque that reads “A Dream Come True, Alan Primm and Keith Lackie.”

For now, though, it’s a dream on hold.

“It was our dream to do it,” Lackie said. “I can’t give up.”

—  John Wright