Restaurant smoke stirring up clouds of complaints

Investigations led by city of San Antonio, TCEQ

SAN ANTONIO – Charcoal grills at an east side restaurant are cooking up multiple battles. One between the owner and the city, another between that same man and nearby neighbors.

Pollos Asados los Norteños owner Frank Garcia told the Defenders increased smoke from the charbroiled chicken is a result of high demand.

“Smoke’s always been here. We’ve been here eight years,” Garcia said.

Tara Jackson lives near the restaurant and is concerned for her family’s health, along with other nuisances that come as a result from the smoke.

“I understand barbecue restaurants put off smoke but it’s just too much,” Jackson said.

Restaurant owner Garcia said he hears the complaints loud and clear. He would like to work things out, even though a lawsuit is pending between him and the Jacksons.

“When we read the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), what they say about smoke, the particulate matter in the air, it’s lower respiratory infections, it’s pneumonia, it’s strokes, it’s cardiac arrest, it’s early death,” Jackson said.

Garcia said he built the smokehouse in 2011 but the extra truck also smoking out front is needed to keep up with the thousands of customers he serves a day.

Rod Sanchez, development services director for the city of San Antonio, said the restaurant’s certificate of occupancy was pulled Wednesday.

“As of right now, he should be closed down,” Sanchez said. He told the Defenders the certificate was pulled because the unattached smokehouse doesn’t have permits and isn’t in compliance.

Garcia is racking up fines. A recent court appearance ordered him to pay $250 for two citations.

“When I got inspected in 2011 no one told me I needed a separate C of O (certificate of occupancy) for that little room,” Garcia said.

Several times, Garcia said he’s trying to work with both the city and the neighbors. He plans to build a taller chimney for the smoker.

“He needs to pull permits,” Sanchez said. “He needs to follow our codes and at that point, we’re happy to work with him.”

The Development Services Department director said a better ventilation system is needed before the city will reissue a certificate of occupancy.

The city plans to have CPS shut off electricity to the restaurant Friday. Sanchez said the city’s building code allows such enforcement.

The Defenders contacted the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality about the smoke complaints from the restaurant at 4642 Rigsby Avenue. A spokeswoman sent a detailed e-mail listing multiple investigations spanning the last two years. Some of the violations given to Garcia from TCEQ have a potential penalty amount of more than $5,000. The agency couldn’t comment further on the situation due to pending litigation.