It seemed like a simple request. A Tejano bar and billiards hall wanted to add a dance floor so its customers could dance to a mariachi band that plays there from time to time. But the bar’s location, at 2900 Walnut Hill near
, is zoned community retail, which means tenants aren’t supposed to have dance floors without a permit.
Police enforcement of the restriction reportedly is spotty, at best. After all, having a dance floor without holding a piece of paper that says you can isn’t exactly one of the worst offenses
That’s when Ross Coulter, president of Walnut Hill Neighborhood Association, heard about the bar’s plans and sprang into action to prevent it. The boundaries for his neighborhood go only as far west as
, about a mile east of the bar’s location. So what do residents living at least a mile away have against people dancing to a mariachi band?
Nothing, Coulter says. But he adds it was important to protest the permit anyway.
“We’re not opposed to the club or the mariachi band, if it’s not causing a problem,” he says. “But the use attaches to the location. So if this place goes out of business, another place with less scrupulous owners could use that same permit and operate a dance hall.”
That, he says, he has learned from experience.
“It all started when Sans Souci, sort of a notorious swingers club that used to be at that location, wanted to file for a dance hall permit a few years ago,” he says. “They’d have underwear and lingerie shows, and women might come out wearing nothing but a thong and dance around on the dance floor. But they’d say that technically it wasn’t topless dancing, just a lingerie show. So given its history, there was a real concern, because having a dance hall permit, you can operate a de facto topless bar.”
With a number of bars and clubs located at that intersection, Coulter says the area has long had a history of illegal activities.
“With a conglomeration of all these clubs there, we really started having a big problem with prostitution, drug dealing, fights, all sorts of stuff,” he says.
Coulter insists that his group is not trying to ruin other people’s good time.
“We don’t want to be perceived as trying to stop people from having fun,” he says. “If they’re good neighborhood bars, they’re fine. We’ve never had an issue with some of them.
But, he says, it’s important that area residents keep a close eye on the activities around a center like 2900 Walnut Hill.
“Whenever these things come up, it really piques our attention, because we don’t want what happened at Northwest Highway to happen on Walnut Hill Lane. Property values drop, and crime goes up.”
Other residents agree. When Coulter sent e-mails regarding the permit hearing to area association members, he soon had more than 100 letters from like-minded neighbors.
“I think it definitely affects our home values,” says area resident Phyllis Smith. “It’s an encroachment issue. We just want to keep these things as far away as we can. The threat is there — that if one passes, it can open the door to more.”
Coulter and others attended the permit hearing, submitting approximately 130 letters saying the permit should be denied.
“They had all our letters, and no evidence why the permit should be approved. So they found no reason to grant it.”
Though the permit was denied, the owners can continue the process at the next level. So while it’s not necessarily over, Coulter says he’s happy to see how neighbors reacted to the issue.
“I think it’s a success for all the neighborhood groups around here,” he says. “A few years ago, a lot of people weren’t really coordinating their efforts. All of the sudden have all these areas working together, and it’s a neat thing to see.”
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