Monte Vista Historical Association Seeks Compromise On Proposed Subdivision

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The property at the corner of East Kings Highway and Shook Avenue. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The property at the corner of East Kings Highway and Shook Avenue.

A proposed subdivision of 52 single-family homes between St. Anthony Catholic High School and Trinity University has Monte Vista residents questioning if the development would fit into their historic district.

Not many details are currently known about what La Marquesa Estates would bring to the century-old neighborhood, which includes the Monte Vista Historic District, but residents are concerned enough to share their worries online and prompt Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) to question the project’s compatibility with its surroundings.

The City’s Planning Commission voted Aug. 10 to approve the subdivision plat for La Marquesa Estates, which would sit on a 9.1-acre tract at Shook Avenue and East Kings Highway.

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate currently owns the green space. Oblate Title Holding Group, based in Washington, D.C., filed the subdivision plat July 21.

The Monte Vista Historical Association (MVHA) board plans to meet Tuesday night and consider two resolutions. One resolution is not one of outright opposition to the subdivision, but rather a list of recommendations toward a compromise.

“We don’t dispute the Oblates’ right to develop their property,” said Paula Bondurant, a member of the MVHA board. “We just don’t think what has been presented will work in Monte Vista.”

The property at the corner of East Kings Highway and Shook Avenue with Trinity Baptist Church in the background. Photo by Scott Ball.

The property at the corner of East Kings Highway and Shook Avenue with Trinity Baptist Church in the background. Photo by Scott Ball.

Fellow board member Antonio Garcia agreed with Bondurant. “There is maybe a very small percentage of residents who oppose it, but most of the comments we’re hearing is that the development should blend in with the historic district.”

“We don’t oppose development. We just hope it follows the City’s guidelines on new construction in a historic district,” he added.

Many Monte Vista residents took to social media sites such as NextDoor to complain that they did not know about the proposal until after the Planning Commission had approved the plat. According to City processes, no notification of residents near the property was required prior to the commission meeting.

The property is zoned R-4, which sets the minimum lot size of 4,000 sq. ft. for single-home development, public or private schools. It is unclear whether rezoning would be requested and whether there is another developer involved with this project.

A request for comment to Tony Byron, a local real estate developer who filed the plat on Oblate Title’s behalf, went unanswered Monday.

Bondurant and Garcia said representatives of the property had come to the historical association in 2015 with a proposal to build a 300-apartment community on the tract.

“We said that was absolutely unacceptable,” Bondurant said. The representatives returned with a scaled-down multi-family development, which was met with further opposition from the MVHA.

“They said that doing something with the property would help the Oblates out,” Bondurant said, recalling a past informal chat. No one representing the Oblates came to the historical association to formally explain the new proposal.

Not being compatible in an inner-city neighborhood filled with different early 20th century architectural styles is one of many challenges that the current proposal faces.

The historical association is also worried about the number of envisioned homes, drainage, the fate of heritage oaks on the tract, and that the development could be gated.

“We’ve never had a gated community in Monte Vista,” Bondurant said.

Councilman Treviño has received much feedback from Monte Vista residents on the issue.

“… People can see that it’s not a good fit for a place like Monte Vista,” he stated.

Additionally, the lots would be inward-facing and sit along curvy streets in a neighborhood where the roads are laid out in a grid style.

The resolution that the MVHA board will consider Tuesday night contains nine suggestions. The group hopes, for example, for a variety of home and lot sizes, and that a percentage of single-story homes would be different sizes so they attract mature buyers who are interested in downsizing.

Instead of a gated subdivision, the association also recommends having neighborhood entrances with decorative gateway monuments similar to those that exist at two intersections along West Gramercy Place in Monte Vista.

As part of this project, the City is considering demolition permits for the George Sexton House of Studies, located at 314 E. Kings Hwy., and a retaining stone wall that runs along parts of Shook Avenue between East Summit Avenue and East Kings Highway.

Demolition of a retaining wall is part of a proposal to build a 52 single-family home subdivision on private property in the Monte Vista Historic District.  Photo by Edmond Ortiz.

Demolition of a retaining wall is part of a proposal to build a 52 single-family home subdivision on private property in the Monte Vista Historic District. Photo by Edmond Ortiz.

The MVHA board will consider a separate resolution opposing these demolitions Tuesday evening.

The Oblates built both structures in 1951. The Sexton House is built in California Monterey Revival style. It’s situated in a park-like setting just east of the St. Anthony school property.

The MVHA thinks the house and surrounding landscape could be a scenic transitional point between the future development and the rest of Monte Vista.

“The MVHA believes that the George Sexton House can be reasonably repurposed and rehabilitated according to the U.S. Department of Interior’s standards for the treatment of historic properties,” the proposed resolution states.

Bondurant said the retaining wall has artistic and historical merits, as it reflects the Oblates’ local contribution to Catholic education and spiritual growth.

“The Oblates have had a generally positive impact in San Antonio,” she said.

“There is historic and architectural context,” Garcia added.

The City’s Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) will meet Nov. 2 to consider the demolition requests.

Because the proposed subdivision is in a historic district, it is subject to the HDRC’s approval. The Planning Commission’s action on the subdivision plat, which planning staff endorsed, is not subject to City Council consideration.

Monte Vista residents are encouraged to email info@SApreservation.com about the proposed demolitions before Nov. 2.

“Our intent is to mobilize the community and send emails to the HDRC and the (Office of Historic Preservation),” Garcia said.

He added that there was some surprise over the lack of notification of residents prior to the Planning Commission meeting. Councilman Treviño pledged to reach out to Oblate Title, which according to residents, has not been communicating with them lately.

Garcia said while it would be good for Oblate Title to communicate with Monte Vista residents, the MVHA is not seeking a confrontation.

“We’re behind the SA Tomorrow comprehensive plan in regards to development in neighborhoods,” Garcia said. “But there needs to be sensitivity on these types of developments.”

Treviño said he looks forward to the City facilitating some kind of compromise, saying it’s early enough in the process to be proactive with the developer.

“We’re not opposed to development. What we want is something that is appropriate for Monte Vista and north of downtown,” he added.

Treviño did lament the lack of recent proactive communication about the latest development proposal between the property owner, his office, and neighbors.

He said this case could emphasize a need for reforming how the Planning Commission is made up.

Many residents criticized the Council-appointed, nine-member commission when it jettisoned tougher rules for impervious cover and light pollution from the SA Tomorrow draft plan. Critics felt some commission members were biased toward the development community. Other observers say commission members, because they are defined as “at-large” rather than representing a Council district, are out of touch with the wishes of residents in various parts of town.

On Sept. 6, Treviño submitted a Council Consideration Request (CCR), in which he asked the Council’s Governance Committee to consider amending the commission’s make-up from nine to 11, excluding ex-officio members who are members because they hold other offices. Instead, he proposed having the mayor and each district appoint one member to foster better relationships. This could improve communication between commissioners and the Council, Treviño said.

 

https://rivardreport.wildapricot.org

 

Top image: D.C.-based Oblate Title Holding Group proposed developing a 52 single-family home community on Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate’s property in the Monte Vista. Photo by Edmond Ortiz.

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12 thoughts on “Monte Vista Historical Association Seeks Compromise On Proposed Subdivision

  1. Cutting Heritage Oaks? Demolishing a beautifully unique retaining wall? Destroying historic structures?

    I have lived in Houston, a place where demolishing history is the norm, and let me tell you…it’s very sad. San Antonio has such a rich cultural history, and any new development near or in a historic community should be well thought-out and sensitive to its surroundings.

    PLEASE do not make the same mistakes Houston has made, we are one of only a few unique cities in the U.S. Let’s not lose sight of our heritage.

  2. I have one small correction to offer: I don’t think I would have said that the Oblates have had a “generally” positive impact on San Antonio. I would have omitted the “generally.”

  3. Another example of people’s hands in the wrong cookie jar.

    The property you bought = yours.

    The property you didn’t buy = not yours.

    • Ray,

      Why don’t we build a skyscraper in the lot behind your house, and see if it doesn’t concern you. Its not that we as a community think we have absolute property rights for lots we do not own. It is the idea that there is development that is sensitive to the area around it, and there is development that ignores it.

      A property located in a historic district must NOT be ignored.

  4. I’m all in for keeping the HISTORY in Historical District.

    As a Monte Vista resident since 1999 I don’t like having to formally protest my taxes being raised 10% every 12 months but I do still love my neighborhood and simply think it’s both irresponsible and aesthetically inappropriate for the City to drop some Frank Lloyde Wrong , gated community smack dab in the middle of a beautiful oak laden meadow in the largest historical neighborhood in the US.

    And while yes, it is early enough in the process to be proactive with the developer, the fact that the Planning Commission can approve a plat in a historical district without having to notify it’s residents seems both unfair and in my opinion totally defeats the purpose of stewardship and historical preservation.

    HMK

  5. 52 homes on 9.1 acres. Seems that is 5.71 homes per acre, so an average lot size of 7,628 square feet per lot. That exceeds a minimum of 4,000 square feet per acre. I agree with the concern about the street grid and orientation to the the rest of the neighborhood, but concerns about the number of homes and lot sizes doesn’t seem valid.

  6. It would be fantastic if the city could implement ordinances with specifics for developing in these neighborhoods and the developers would only have to deal with them. These NIMBY busybodies are a major contributing factor to SA’s continuing sprawl.

  7. Poor Oblates. They’re an aging, dying religious order which needs money to run their nursing homes and pay for elderly members’ healthcare. If they hadn’t abandoned their charism of education—instead of opting for super groovy, 1970s-era social justice (the social justice train has kept moving since then)—they would have enough young members to keep their original mission successful. Then there might have been another school, or a larger St. Anthony’s campus, built on that land.

    Oh well.

    Now they’re trying to cash out on their valuable real estate. While they haven’t been public about it, you can tell they’re trying to be sensitive to the needs of the poor—hence the original multifamily emphasis, now scaled down to basically a gated public subsidized housing project, filled with the pastel houses that look like the ones Habitat for Humanity builds—but at the same time still get a good return so they can fund the retirement homes.

    They should just be honest that they need the money, then either (1) sell the real estate to someone like Trinity for as much cash as possible or (2) plat out, build, and sell like 16-18 realllllllly nice, historic-looking but zero-energy new homes (they could orient the hood to be walkable, have a community garden, Marian chapel, park or other central gathering place in the center, accessible to St. Anthony’s which would in turn support their school, etc.). Instead they’re trying to build some faux-organic McDonald’s version of helping-the-poor gloop.

    But hey, can’t expect a failed religious order to have any good ideas today—if they’d had them, they’d have stuck to their founder’s, Saint Eugene Mazenod’s, original good idea: Laudetur Jesus Christus: Et Maria Immaculata.

  8. NIMBY busybodies, eh? All that the Monte Vista Neighborhood Association (and other nearby neighborhoods in support) desire is a residential development that is compatible with the Historic context of the location. Tearing down that beautiful limestone wall would be such a loss. Furthermore, we don’t need gated communities in our near-downtown neighborhoods. This is in no way a positive trend and should be opposed at every turn. Hopefully, the Tier One Neighborhood Coalition will be effective in joining Historic neighborhoods and NCDs in an effort to battle inappropriate infill development.

    Jason C. has made some really great suggestions in his reply in this thread. This isn’t rocket-science and can be accomplished at a handsome profit. This is why it is always better to work with your neighbors than against them. It avoids the costly eventuality of returning to the drawing board.

    It is obvious that the Planning Commission needs a bit of a shake-up. It is developer-heavy and a more balanced group may help us avoid nasty surprises like this one in the future. Councilman Trevino, we are relying on your vigilance and leadership in this matter!

  9. I live within a few blocks of the proposed development. I believe it will be close to impossible to build this development in a tasteful manner, but at least it is tucked back on Shook and won’t be visible to most visitors to the MVHD.

    I always assumed this property was owned by St. Anthony’s School or Trinity University. I’m amazed that neither institution was able to purchase the tract and use it for their own purposes. A campus expansion would have been more appropriate and preferable. What would have been even more amazing is if the City of SA had purchased the tract and donated it as a park to its citizens. Why is it that the idea of preserving green space in this city elicits nothing but laughter and eye-rolling?

    Given that the project will likely move forward, I am more concerned about the traffic impact at this point. As the downtown and the area around the Pearl continue to infill with development, roads like McCullough, Mulberry and Hildebrand will be pushed to their limits. These roads are effectively two lane roads that can only handle a light amount of traffic. Get ready for lines at major intersections that stretch back for several blocks.

  10. Of course the overly concerned citizens are NIMBY busy bodies.

    Those sorts are attracted to the so called exclusivity and self generated snob factor of the bogus historic districts of San Antonio like flies to poop.

    Heaven forbid the Oblates should build to bring in lesser folk.

    • Not the issue. Many of us who live nearby enjoy Monte Vista – it’s a beautiful place. What’s inclusive about a gated community? Right, it’s not.

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