Mission Concepción Apartments Win Big Vote

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Building massing and site plan for the proposed Mission Concepción apartment and office building complex. Image courtesy of Moule & Polyzoides.

Building massing and site plan for the proposed Mission Concepción apartment and office building complex. Image courtesy of Moule & Polyzoides.

The San Antonio Zoning Commission unanimously approved the zoning change that will transform the long vacant, dilapidated St. John’s Catholic Seminary behind Mission Concepción into an apartment and office complex. City Council will consider Tuesday’s affirmative vote and the Planning Commission’s vote of approval at its Oct. 15 afternoon session.

The project design already has won conceptual approval from the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC). While developers still need to work out final details with permitting and design, the zoning change one of the last major hurdles for the $26 million project to proceed as planned. The World Heritage site designation from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) this summer has brought with it sustained scrutiny of projects near the four Spanish colonial Missions, all active parishes on the Southside.

Commissioners heard from more than a dozen citizens that signed up to speak for and against the project. Some were neighbors who believe the project that will “breathe new life” into an historic property plagued by vagrants and vandals, and as a catalyst for further Southside investment. Others called for a five-year moratorium on any zoning change near the missions, concerned that development could threaten the World Heritage designation.

Site plan for the proposed Mission Concepción apartment and office building complex. Orange buildings indicate existing historical structures. Image courtesy of Moule & Polyzoides.

Site plan for the proposed Mission Concepción apartment and office building complex. Orange buildings indicate existing historical structures. Image courtesy of Moule & Polyzoides.

The project at Mission Concepción has been in the works for more than two years. The plans were carefully reviewed by UNESCO representatives in the months prior to the designation, according to Fr. David Garcia, director of the Old Spanish Missions who played a key role the restoration of the Missions and the bid for World Heritage status.

“I see absolutely no threat to the World Heritage designation from this project,” Fr. Garcia said.

The Archdiocese of San Antonio, which owns the property, has contracted 210 Development Group to manage the project that will include some 200-240 apartment units and the renovation of at least five historic structures of the old St. John’s Seminary school complex. Two of those would be maintained by the Archdiocese as office and community organization space. The “courtyard architecture” project was designed by California-based Moule & Polyzoides, the same firm that designed the River North District Master Plan.

The project will provide a “long-term income stream for the Archdiocese’s charitable works while preserving the site,” 210 Development Group Managing Partner Mark Tolley told the Commission. Tolley said that the project’s size has been reduced and its orientation has been modified six times in the course of the HDRC review and community meetings.

“We’re not opposed to development, we’re fine with intelligent development. But I’m not sure that some of these developments fall into that category” said Carroll Brown, a member of the Alliance for San Antonio Missions, which advocates for the City to to take a “second look” at construction and design rules. “Perhaps this one (at Mission Concepción) is a foregone conclusion, but the rest of the Missions are not.”

Local resident Apifanio Hernandez said the Archdiocese of San Antonio, which owns the property, should forfeit the profit-making endeavor to work with Native American tribes that trace ancestry to those that built and lived in the missions. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Local resident Apifanio Hernandez said the Archdiocese of San Antonio, which owns the property, should forfeit the profit-making endeavor to work with Native American tribes that trace ancestry to those that built and lived in the missions. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Other residents called for a five year moratorium on development – no construction or zoning changes.

Candie Beltran, a lifelong resident, said she can’t wait five more years. Beltran did not speak on behalf of the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association because its members could not reach a consensus. She and her neighbors on Felisa Street, across from the project’s southern edge, gave their whole-hearted support to the project.

“We support development because they are fearful of what’s going on there,” Beltran said. “It’s more of a hazard, a danger, now than when it was a substance abuse and rehab center.”

Former Mayor Henry Cisneros, an investor in the proposed Mission Concepción apartment complex, concludes his statements to the Zoning Commission. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Former Mayor Henry Cisneros, an investor in the proposed Mission Concepción apartment complex, concludes his statements to the Zoning Commission. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

After the seminary school closed in 1971, the complex was home to the Patrician Movement that operated a rehab center. It’s been vacant for more than three years since the rehab center closed in 2011 and has become a haven for vagrants and drug dealers, she said. Several fires have been started on the grounds over the years.

Former Mayor Henry Cisneros also spoke in favor of the development. Cisneros, founder and chairman of the development firm City View, is an investor in the development and spoke of the need for new housing in the long-neglected Southside.

“The Missions have always been surrounded by residents, ” he said. “Far be it from us in the modern area to separate them.”

Ultimately, it was the project’s design to stay out of Mission Concepción’s view shed and its relatively urban location that swayed Commissioner Orlando Salazar (D4) to approve the zoning request. While the Zoning Commission is technically only concerned with land use issues, those of design and planning seep into conversations more often than not. Salazar said the approval of this project does not mean developers eyeing other Missions get a free pass. In other words, this decision should not set a precedent.

“If any type of development is proposed at Mission Espada, I wouldn’t’ say ‘No,’ I’d say, ‘Hell no,’” he said. Mission Espada is the southernmost of the four missions, surrounded by farmland and small neighborhoods.

210 Development Group has another project in the works across the street from Mission San José on a former industrial site. Many of those that spoke in opposition to the Mission Concepción project live near San José. That project is still in the early design phases, and 210 developers continue to meet with neighbors and stakeholder groups in the wake of strong opposition from area neighborhood associations.

The Concepción project more closely fits into the existing viewshed of the seminary. Its tiered design builds up from two to four stories and back down will blend the development into the surrounding single-story neighborhood, said 210 Development Group President Michael Wibracht after the project received Planning Commission approval last week.

 

CORRECTION: The Alliance for San Antonio Missions is not calling for a five-year moratorium. Several other residents that spoke at the meeting are.

*Top image: Building massing and site plan for the proposed Mission Concepción apartment and office building complex. Image courtesy of Moule & Polyzoides.

Related Stories:

Mission Concepción Housing Project Wins Commission Approval

Mission San José Neighbors: Apartments Too Close For Comfort

Daughters of the Republic Bid Farewell to Alamo Duties

San Antonio Celebrates World Heritage Site Designation

Mission Overlay Districts to Strengthen World Heritage Bid

16 thoughts on “Mission Concepción Apartments Win Big Vote

  1. Decision was made without a D3 Zoning Representative. Shame on the D3 Councilwoman for not having a representative there in our behalf. Not that it would of made a difference. 210 group had all there heavy hitters, especially the Huziar family.

    Couldn’t take the reading by the Huziars of his great, great, great Grandfathers documents. That must of cost the 210 group their lunch money. It was a sad scene.

  2. Concepcion is already surrounded by development and blends into its surroundings. It’s a shame a buffer wasn’t previously implemented around the mission. But the next best option is remove the empty buildings that attract crime and vagrants.
    This new development will eradicate the blight and offer housing in the area. It is the development near San Jose that concerns me.

  3. Thank you for the coverage on the question of development around the Missions, which is so important for the entire City of San Antonio — and beyond.

    We have a significant correction about the position and goals of the Alliance for San Antonio Missions.

    We advocate for smart development that will protect our global world heritage, AND build better local infrastructure.

    We do NOT advocate for “a five-year moratorium of development” around the Missions. Our members at the hearing heard this time period being mentioned, but did not hear it attributed to the Alliance, or would have corrected it on the spot.

    In fact, rather than a moratorium, we have called for a closer look at the relevant development guidelines and the zoning process. And that’s not all. To hear what the Alliance actually proposes, please visit our website at allianceforSAmissions.org– this is a conversation we hope will become even more public.

    Thank you again, Rivard Report!

    • Sorry for the confusion. Someone who identified themselves as a member of the group told me they wanted a moratorium after the meeting. I should have confirmed with them if they were part of the Alliance – apparently they were not.

      Apologies, I’ve updated the story. Thank you for letting us know!

  4. As a small commercial property owner with retail aspirations one light over, I have nothing to lose with this deal except the serenity, solitude and sense of suspended history from the Spanish Missions. These people should buy out the old L&H Meat Packing plant instead.The lot is bigger and further away while also having a better traffic artery and being closer to the river. I can already hear the apartment parking lot car alarms going off in unison with the pealing of Mission Bells… Sad!

    • So Tim, what your saying is, not near our Mission Concepcion, but its okay to build near Mission San Jose, which is next to L&H Meat Packing plant. You sound like the Zoning Commissioner during the hearing. He voted for approval, but for the record, he stated that if they were going to build near his Mission Espada, he wouldn’t say no, he would say HELL NO. Those were his exact words. Come on Tim, lets work together on this. Its obvious, there should be no development near any Mission.. That is Our Mission…..

      • Armando, a little information would be useful before you call out Tim. The L&H Meat Packing Plant Tim refers to is on Steves Avenue, directly across from the Juvenile Detention Center, NORTH of Mission Concepcion. It is nowhere near Mission San Jose.

  5. Yes. We have blight. But we’ve a history of very bad zoning policy that’s created the blight. Building ‘new age’ apartment communities creates another kind of blight. What is better built? The communities around the Missions are still here after 100 years. New apartment communities won’t stand up. The Archdiocese should shoulder part of this burden. You can’t brag about how full your Sunday masses are then plead poverty when it comes to performing historic preservation on your own land. It’s tough to be both pimp and prostitute. In this case you have a developer who offers money (profits) to land owners who lease

  6. It is city politics as usual. Our group demanded that our City Councilwoman place a moratorium on development around the Missions until The Mission Protection Overlay Plan (MPOD) view shed was redesigned to protect them from inappropritate development (apartments, hotels, high rise office buildings) directly next to the Missions. We proposed that a larger area of green space/park be designed on the empty lots around them to act as a true buffer zone. Our City Councilwoman refuses to address this important issue by not sitting with the community stakeholders and creating a plan. Why? Because the plan was already made without the stakeholders input. I am leading a quiet protest aganist the city of San Antonio this Wed., Sept. 23 from 4:30-7:30 p.m. across the street from Mission San Jose’s Vistors Center during the San Antonio Conservaiton Society’s general meeting. It is also to show the San Antonio Conservation Society that there are citizens that care about protecting the Missions and we want our voices validated with their support for NOAPARTMENTS NEXT TO THE MISSIONS!

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