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City Decides to Go Low-And-Slow on Barbecue Smoke Regulations

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Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT
Only three complaints have been filed against bbq restaurants in Austin, so the city council decided not to regulate smoke emissions, for now. Pictured here: Franklin Barbecue, which has had no formal complaints filed against it.

Neighbors filed a lawsuit against Terry Black’s barbecue last week, saying the smoke from its pits was disruptive. But in a Health and Human Services Committee meeting Monday, city staff argued that complaints like these are mostly isolated incidents.

Vince Delisi with the city’s Health and Human Services Department talked to the Texas Commission on Environmental Equality, which tracks air pollution complaints such as barbecue smoke.

“That report was a little bit disappointing," Delisi says.

Delisi says there have been only three formal complaints against barbeque joints in Austin – against Fresca’s Chicken al Carbon, the La Barbecue food truck, and recently, Terry Black's. But when state officials went out to assess the smoke, they decided not to issue any violations.

Council members agreed that it would not make sense for the city to regulate barbecue smoke. 

“A blanket city-wide ordinance regarding smoke emissions would in essence place an undue burden on all of our restaurants, the huge majority of which are complying and being good neighbors," says Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo.

Instead, Council members say the City should start keeping its own number on complaints, and later reassess how much disruption barbecue smoke is causing. 

The Committee last heard this item in June. Members decided not to take action on a code amendment at that time.

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An instagram post from Terry Black's barbecue.

Lawsuit aside, Terry Black's took the opportunity to throw some shade at those who filed the lawsuit against them last weekend over Instagram, posting a photo of their then-smokeless smokestacks on "yet another clear, beautiful day."

With the regulation defeated, the city will take on complaints on an individual basis and is urging residents to call 3-1-1 if they're bothered with pollution from nearby restaurants.

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