East Austin Piñata Store Demolished Due To Dispute Over Parking Variance

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If you’re in Austin or have Facebook friends who are, you might have seen news articles in the past few days about the sudden destruction of Jumpolin, a piñata and party-goods store formerly located on East Cesar Chavez Boulevard.

The well-known piñata store was razed by the owners allegedly without sufficient warning — and it may all have been caused by a dispute over a parking variance for an adjacent building between the owners and the neighbors.

The piñata store occupies a lot along with a building that is currently an auto repair shop and is slated to be remodeled into office space. (It’s the purple building seen here in this GoogleMap street view.) In October, the owners applied for a variance from the City of Austin regarding parking requirements, shortly after they purchased the lot. They wanted to reduce the required amount of on-site parking for the corner lot from 6 spaces to one handicapped space. A nearby business owner did send a letter supporting the variance, welcoming the new owners to the neighborhood.

The case went to the Board of Adjustment (which is where one goes for variances), and was scheduled for a hearing on November 10. Several neighbors in the East Cesar Chavez area — none of whom, I will note, have Hispanic surnames — filed paperwork with the Board of Adjustment to oppose the variance because it would increase parking around what is already a commercial street and made clear their intention to block it.

[You can read the full documentation at this link; note that supporting materials are alphabetized and not chronological.]

The case was postponed to December 8, before the owners’ agent withdrew the request in the face of neighborhood opposition. As a result, the owners chose to provide the required on-site parking for their future offices by knocking down the piñata store.

That brings us to Thursday, February 12, when the owners of Jumpolin — who rented the space for their business — Sergio and Monica Lejarazu came to the store to find their business literally torn to pieces, dismembered piñatas lying about and the cash register and other property destroyed. While a demolition permit had been applied for and approved in late January, the business owners claim they had no meaningful notice to remove their belongings. Doran Peters, the attorney for the Lejarazu’s, has already filed a lawsuit and claims that proper notice was not given, according to CultureMap. The owners — Jordan French and Darius Fisher — claim that the tenants were behind on rent, something the Lejarazu’s lawyer disputes.

In the past 24 hours it has also come out that site owners have applied for — and apparently received a permit to hold an event in the newly razed parking lot during SXSW, causing some Austinites to wonder if the entire purpose of the tear-down was for the event. Public scrutiny and the perceived political tone-deafness of the permit approval begs the question about when the permit was applied for since that process apparently stopped last week due to high demand.

Perhaps this didn’t have to happen: the site could have had its parking and a piñata store too. Emails from a neighborhood listserv suggest that some residents found the new owners rude in their interactions with the group, and that the actual dispute centered around not Jumpolin but rather the potential demolition of an 80-year-old gas station on the property. Allegedly a proposed parking plan by one neighbor would have obviated the conflict though it’s not clear if the owners were willing to explore alternatives (or if these were meaningful alternatives that were economically viable given the cost to buy the lot).

However, the property owners appear to have behaved in a manner that may even make it harder for nice, non-jerky people to gain future parking variances.

The story of obstinate neighborhood activists who seem to dedicate their lives to opposing any and all change is a familiar one in Austin, and can certainly be frustrating. This is a city in which changing any part of the built environment can entail months of delays and postponements that drive up the costs of projects in an effort to overcome individuals willing and able wait up all night at a meeting solely to deny a variance — here, for six parking spaces.

However, it’s quite frankly hard to be even remotely sympathetic to the owners of the property given the deplorable manner in which the owners destroyed the store’s durable goods without confirming the Lezaraju’s knowledge of the demolition on the 12th. They didn’t take the effort to save the store’s belongings or even rescue the cash register — any steps one might take as a decent human being. And it’s not clear how much longer the piñata store would have remained as such since apparently the lease was not going to be renewed. Regardless, smashing the store to literal bits is a poor way to act as a landlord and a neighbor.

But generally speaking, the broader context to this dispute isn’t surprising in a city where policies often prioritize plentiful parking over people, while failing to provide sufficient non-car alternatives.

For the neighbors, would allowing six cars to park near a commercial street around a corner lot really have been a worse outcome than turning the piñata store into a parking lot? For the owners, would considering the neighbors’ alternative parking plan that provided sufficient space for six cars while preserving the on-site structures really have been worse than gaining the ire of the entire city for destroying a business that rents bouncy castles for children’s birthdays?

I’d encourage everyone to be a better neighbor next time, but I wonder if it’s possible for the people that want to build things and the people that want to oppose building things to ever come to meaningful common ground in a city that fails to meaningfully address our population growth and the housing and transportation needs of all residents.

In the meantime, how many more minority-owned businesses are going to end up as rubble?

All in all, this tale of parking instead of party supplies and neighbors pitted against neighbors seems to have only resulted in a bunch of broken piñatas spilling only bile, leaving nothing sweet for anyone to enjoy.

Special thanks to researcher Analiese Kornely of BirdDog Research who found the City documents and shared them with Burnt Orange Report. She also made the nifty Google streetview map.

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About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.

11 Comments

  1. FYI regarding French and Fisher’s character. Their PR firm, Status Labs, was created after their previous firm, Wiki-PR, was determined to be a sockpuppet and banned by Wikipedia. Little doubt in my mind given the pair’s history that at least some of the “conflicting stories” referenced by CultureMap have their origin in this pattern of behavior

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiki-PR_editing_of_Wikipedia

    • Katherine Haenschen
      Katherine Haenschen on

      I concur. Due to length considerations I didn’t rehash that history (amply available elsewhere) but suffice to say past behavior of F&F gives me NO reason to be sympathetic to them.

  2. I’m curious to know how a company could receive a demolition permit on a property that had a lease that was not due to expire for another two years? It is clear that the owners wanted the tenants out. Perhaps they should have gone for a property that did not have an iron-clad lease….

  3. “The story of obstinate neighborhood activists who seem to dedicate their lives to opposing any and all change is a familiar one in Austin, and can certainly be frustrating.” This is simplified to an almost insulting level.

    ——-

    “Building things” is not an issue where I live on East Cesar Chavez. We have businesses there already, many of which have been there before you were probably born and definitely before you moved here. We welcome business if it is built responsibly and doesn’t put too harsh a burden on our existing infrastructure.

    Not being from Austin or the South you might not know our long history and of he city plan that forced ppl of my color to the east-side originally. We had no control of how or where we lived, but in spite of that we made a home out of the land that we were forced towards. There is an old Mexican proverb:

    ‘They tried to bury us: they didn’t know we were seeds’ .

    We grew in this area, placed our roots here and placed our culture upon it. Now we are being pushed out against our will. This time not by a certain race, but by money. This is not simply boiled down to not having enough parking spaces.

    “But generally speaking, the broader context to this dispute isn’t surprising in a city where policies often prioritize plentiful parking over people, while failing to provide sufficient non-car alternatives…..
    All in all, this tale of parking instead of party supplies…”

    Do you seriously believe that if given a few parking spots and a little neighborly caring these people would have behaved differently. Of Course! The solution is a rail and a few more bike lanes. If we only had that then no buildings would be knocked down and sold/rented to the highest bidder so they can afford the rising property taxes. They can get far more money renting/selling this property than they were getting from the small local Hispanic business owner. Bars, trendy business and sxsw will keep displacing our local business and our culture until the city steps in.

  4. “hispanic surnames”? I’m pretty sure no one appreciates you bringing race into some petty neighborhood parking argument.

  5. Katherine Haenschen,

    A comment on FB stated “The UT Longhorn Entrepreneurship Association uses French as a mentor for UT students. Ask their director Amanda Barrington (amandabarrington@utexas.edu.) why this is a good idea.”

    Seeing as you’re a part of UT and a fine reporter, maybe you can find out why French is allowed to be a part of the mentoring program. Here’s the link to UT LEA: http://utlea.org/ff-mentors/

  6. Non-Hispanic Neighbor on

    Is there something you can cite that shows that this property is going to become a parking lot? I think it’s very untrue and irresponsible of you to blame neighbors who opposed the parking variance requested for the demolition of Jumpolin. I’m also not sure what not being Hispanic has to do with anything. Half of the East side is non-Hispanic now. You also should have known that French owns the lot behind the office space that could have been used for parking, but he moved an Airstream on the lot and uses it for an Air BnB instead. I recommend that you take a trip down Navasota between Cesar Chavez and Willow using Google’s street view and then tell me if you, as a person who lives in this area and drives on Navasota everyday, would want to grant a business to park 6 more cars on this street. There are plenty of local businesses who have have properly planned for their parking (like Weather Up). To allow a parking variance here would not be good precedent for our neighborhood and may even go on to support granting other business who do not want to support their own parking needs (like the East Austin Hotel) parking variances in the future.

    • Katherine Haenschen
      Katherine Haenschen on

      If you read closely I think it’s clear that I’m not solely blaming the *neighbors* — it’s clear that there were potential parking alternatives that the owners apparently did not consider. However, I think the long-standing pattern of obstinacy by neighborhood activists sets a problematic precedent in these disputes.

      As for the “parking lot” comment the vacant site has been permitted for an event, and the owners say it will eventually be “landscaped.”

      Here is the link to the event permit referring to the site as a ‘parking lot.’
      Here is the site plan for the offices showing where the parking will go. Look at page 6: the current “slab” for the pinata store will be turned into 4 more parking spaces.

      • Non-Hispanic Neighbor on

        I did read your article closely. And you again admit that you are blaming the neighbors (“I’m not solely blaming the *neighbors*”). You are insinuating that someone came to us and told us “Hey, if you don’t approve this parking variance, Jumpolin will be demolished.” We submitted our comments for the parking variance before this site plan was submitted. Also, the site plan provides for parking spots in the area in around the former Jumpolin structure. It’s actually very clear from the plans that the parking situation could have been resolved without demolishing Jumpolin, so bringing the citizens who live in this area into this controversy was uncalled for and insulting.

  7. Robert Clayton on

    The crime here is a landlord demolished a building full of their tenant’s belongings. Blaming the neighbors or City planning is reaching far beyond what is necessary for understanding these events. They behaved in a way that is far outside of socially acceptable limits. I’m shocked that they be given anything resembling a pass.

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