Local hair stylist Andrew Guerra was on the verge of tears Thursday afternoon after City Council voted 6-2 in favor of a zoning change that allows him to operate a hair salon out of a historic home in Mahncke Park.

“I don’t know if I won or lost,” Guerra quipped as he stood outside City Council chambers. “It’s a confusing process … now I’m going to do everything by the book.”

Lessons learned, it appears. He invested $350,000 in the property and opened the new doors to Ritz Hair Studio earlier this year – before he obtained the proper commercial zoning, an offense he has been ticketed for. With Thursday’s approval he can obtain a certificate of occupancy and reopen his doors soon.

More than a dozen area neighbors and a few of Guerra’s customers delivered sincere testimony before the vote. Some argued that the hair salon is representative of “commercial encroachment” on the historic residential fabric of the neighborhood. Others said the long-vacant 1939 home, and Mahncke Park as a whole, can now participate in citywide revitalization efforts to create more vibrant, walkable neighborhoods that have softer lines between commercial and residential.

Mahncke Park’s Council member is Alan Warrick, who represents District 2. Warrick voted against the zoning change, siding with the Zoning Commission’s recommendation and official position of the Mahncke Park Neighborhood Association. While the revitalization of a vacant building is something to be encouraged, he said, this particular neighborhood did not “sign up for” businesses to move in.

(Read More: Zoning Commission Unanimously Rejects Hair Salon in Mahncke Park)

The so-called “Council courtesy” would have dictated that his colleagues side with Warrick on a district-specific decision.

“My stomach just went down … I thought we failed,” Guerra recalled feeling when as he listened to Warrick. But then Councilman Mike Gallagher (D10), Shirley Gonzales (D5), and Rey Saldaña (D4) spoke up in favor of the hair salon.

“Look at how much better that property looks,” Gallagher said and pointed to the adequate off-street parking accommodations and the home’s historic aesthetic.  “It’s really a transformation.”

The side facing 140 Burr Road. Photo by Scot Ball.
Ritz Hair Studio’s parking and entrance will be located at 140 Burr Road. Photo by Scott Ball.

Several members of the Mahncke Park Neighborhood Association argued that allowing commercial use would diminish nearby home property values and encourage other home owners to consider operating commercial businesses. But not all neighborhood association members were opposed to the zoning change, nor was a majority of the salon’s next door neighbors.

Dolly Homes, who lived in Mahncke park for 17 years before moving to Monte Vista, said allowing commercial interests to move into the neighborhood is a slippery slope. “I’m happy the house is in much better condition,” she said. “But (the Ritz Hair Studio) may not last … we may not find the new owner as desirable.”

Thursday’s vote does not change the zoning of the property from single-family residential to commercial, staff explained. The “conditional use” zoning means it can only be either a home or a hair salon.

Gonzales said the subtle nature of the salon, which is allowed to have a small sign but does not have plans to install one becuase it is by appointment only, fits within the context of the neighborhood.

Saldaña agreed, but admitted he’s no zoning expert.

“I’m also not an expert on great hair but, Mr. Guerra, you have great hair.”

Warrick and Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who offered no commentary on the dais, voted against the measure while Gallagher, Gonzales, Saldaña, Viagran, Ray Lopez (D6), and Mayor Ivy Taylor voted in favor. Council members Ron Nirenberg (D8), Cris Medina (D7) and Joe Krier (D10) were absent.

“I owe it all to them,” he said, Guerra said before joining his wife, son, several neighbors, and clients to celebrate Council’s decision at Pico De Gallo.

Andrew Guerra hugs his neighbor and customer, Nora, outside the Municipal Plaza Building. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Andrew Guerra hugs his neighbor and customer, Nora, outside the Municipal Plaza Building. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
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Top image: The historic home’s entrance at 143 Perry Ct. will not be the Ritz Hair Salon’s main entrance. Instead, the owner will welcome guests off of Burr Road. Photo by Scott Ball.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org