At 3 a.m. Thursday morning, a group of thieves tied a strap from their truck to the doors of The Peddler, a bike shop on 5015 Duval St., and tried to pull the doors off the building, witnesses told Austin police. When the strap broke, they drove the truck through the door and stole at least four bikes worth at least $15,000 total, management said.
The break-in was the fifth time the store has been hit since the start of 2021, according to owner AJ Camp, who said the constant burglaries have left him with $75,000 worth of losses, of which his insurance has only covered $20,000.
"Before 2021—16 years of business—I've never once had a problem," Camp said. "It just keeps on happening. I'm waking up at night and can't sleep and I feel like I need to come down to the store, but I have kids. I can't just leave my kids to go sleep at my bike shop."
Camp is just one of many victims of a bicycle burglary spree that is sweeping across not only Austin but the entire state, according to local reports. Cycle Progression, Mellow Johnny's, Kyle Cyclery, Monkey Wrench, Buda Bike Co., Velorangutan and Trek Bicycle tell Austonia they have all been hit, many of them multiple times.
The biking industry has already been experiencing product shortages due to the pandemic, driving up prices. The carbon fiber wheels on one bike stolen from The Peddler were worth $2,000, Camp said.
With a family to take care of and stomaching a loss of around $50,000, Camp is one of many shop owners in various Facebook groups who say they are considering armoring up and sleeping in their stores to prevent further burglaries.
Velorangutan owner Wesley Hayslip said after two organized break-ins at his store, 3924 Woodbury Drive, he has friends who have offered to guard the store in shifts. Hayslip said he is out thousands of dollars and in the process of having bars put on his front door.
Owners believe the crimes are connected, but their suspicion remains unconfirmed. Hayslip said some people in forums have found their bikes for sale in Monterrey, Mexico.
"I knew it was coming because I had been watching the other shops getting broken into—there's an email chain," Hayslip said. "It's bigger than the guys that are breaking into the store, you know, there's a bigger organization going on."
Joe Ender, owner of North Lamar shop Monkey Wrench Bicycle Repair, said he has been forced to close his doors for good due to a combination of rising rent, three break-ins and high deductible costs for repairs. One break-in, when thieves stole three bikes, cost him $25,000. The store is open until the end of the month.
"It's affecting people's livelihoods," Ender said. "Eventually somebody is going to get tired of spending money on security and locks and bolting bikes to the floor and hiding bikes at their house and having to move them in and out every day just for somebody to defeat those things and continue to destroy property and rip doors off of buildings."
Monkey Wrench is one of many bike shops dealing with major theft. (Joe Ender/Facebook)
The three owners say they see little action from Austin police, whose average response time for urgent and emergency calls remain more than a minute longer than the citywide target, according to a recent APD presentation. Austin police officials attribute the slow response times to staffing shortages, which predate City Council's decision to defund the department last August.
Both Hayslip and Ender reported that they were able to make it to their stores faster than police on at least one occasion. "I live just right here in this area. (There) used to be a presence of APD (and now) you see nobody around to prevent it, and businesses being broken into and the rise of gun violence and stabbings and stupid stuff going on in our no-longer-town."
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.