Smoothing the way for development of the Smitherwood tract, the Manassas City Council unanimously approved the creation of a zoning district that will allow for various innovative and atypical housing on the 92-acre property.

The new R-7 zone was designed specifically for Smitherwood--a diamond-shaped swath of hills and trees on the northern edge of the city--because it will allow for a mixture of housing types and lot sizes on a single area. The property is zoned agricultural, and the developer, the Airston Group, needs a rezoning before it can present its proposal to the city.

Roger Snyder, city director of community development, said the zone "has been tailored to fit Manassas." Before the R-7 designation created Monday, the only way to combine housing types was to group together different zoning districts.

The houses are estimated to cost $180,000 to $350,000 and would mostly be single-family houses tailored for an upscale clientele, with a host of custom houses boasting bold, atypical designs, Snyder said. A man-made lake and a buffer zone of trees and greenery would likely surround the neighborhoods, he said, to maintain the woodsy atmosphere.

Airston Group must provide an impact study detailing the probable effects of the development before it files a rezoning application. Some neighbors are concerned about the effect the additional residents would have on schools. It is estimated that several hundred students would move into the area, Snyder said.

Also Monday, the council voted unanimously to allow Mexico Lindo restaurant to keep its dance permit under certain restrictions. Mexico Lindo, which has been the subject of hundreds of complaints of loud music and drug- and alcohol-related brawls for nearly three years, successfully passed a 30-day probationary period for keeping its dance permit.

Under the conditions, dancing at the restaurant is restricted to Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights until midnight, and hard liquor cannot be served after 9 p.m. Beer cannot be served after midnight.

Restaurant owner and Manassas businessman Felix Vargas agreed to the conditions, and his attorney, Mike Vanderpool, said Vargas is willing to continue abiding by such restrictions to keep the peace in the residential area where Mexico Lindo is.

Since early 1997, more than 360 complaints have been filed against the restaurant, and more than 200 police hours have been required to respond to complaints and incidents. Of the complaints, 41 were for public intoxication and 11 were for driving under the influence. Police records also detail 78 complaints of loud music, 30 counts of narcotics violations on the premises and 23 verbal or physical fights at or near the restaurant, at 9920 Cockwell Rd.

"We recognize that this is just one step on the road," Vanderpool said. "Mr. Vargas is committed to the long-term goals, and this wasn't just a short-term fix."

Mexico Lindo's 10-year lease expires at year's end, and Vargas has said he doesn't have plans to renew it. He has, however, asked to remain at the location on a monthly basis while searching for a nonresidential area for his restaurant.

City Council members noted Monday that Mexico Lindo has evolved from a simple eatery to more of a nightclub, which raises questions about the zoning of such establishments.

"We do need to figure out where to put this nightlife," said council member Judith S. Hays (R).