Terry Black's Barbecue is now involved in litigation with its neighbors over smoke emissions.[/caption]
Austin City Council's Health and Human Services Committee again delayed action June 1 on a code amendment that would require barbecue restaurants to install air scrubbers to prevent smoke from blowing onto nearby residents’ property.
Committee Chair Ora Houston said the committee would finalize a recommendation for City Council at its Aug. 3 meeting. Kathie Tovo, committee vice chair and mayor pro tem, said the delay would give the city time to contact the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which enforces air emission standards, to see how the organization has responded to complaints it received about smoke coming from local restaurants.
District 3 Council member Sabino “Pio” Renteria said he filed a complaint with the TCEQ and was never contacted by the commission. Renteria introduced the possible code amendment to council April 2 after residents who live near Terry Black’s Barbecue on Barton Springs Road said smoke from the restaurant was causing a health hazard in the area. The restaurant is now involved in litigation over the issue.
Although he is not a member of the committee, Renteria sat on the dais at the June 1 HHSC meeting. Renteria said district residents were calling his office constantly with complaints about smoke emissions.
“The phone was just ringing and ringing,” he said.
After hearing from local restaurant owners—Carter Hobbs and Skeeter Miller of The County Line barbecue restaurants and Hoover Alexander of Hoover’s Cooking—who said they hoped to resolve the issue without adopting a blanket ordinance, Renteria said he did not mean for his proposal to have such a wide reach.
“Yes, I probably did jump the gun a little without realizing this is going to affect everyone,” he said.
However, he said it is not fair for restaurants to force nearby residents to breath in smoke.
“It is a health issue,” he said. “These poor players come in and they have no respect for the neighborhoods.”
Renteria said he would support a complaint-driven response to smoke problems rather than a code amendment, but it needs to be enforceable.
Ellen Troxclair, District 8 council member and committee member, also said she does not want to adopt a blanket policy for all restaurants.
“They do seem to be very isolated instances,” she said.
Tovo said council does not need to create a new city policy to burden restaurants that are not causing issues with nearby residents, but it could tweak its existing policy to better respond to complaints. Committee member Delia Garza was absent.
Janet Pichette, the city’s chief epidemiologist, said she invited TCEQ representatives to the HHSC meeting.
“They were a little bit busy,” she said.
This is the second time the HHSC has delayed action on the proposal. At its May 4 meeting Houston said she needed more information from city staffers before deciding whether to recommend a change to City Council.
The Economic Opportunity Committee voted unanimously May 11 to recommend against the proposal.