Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a later interview with local developer Glen Huddleston.
But local developer Glenn Huddleston’s idea to instead create a public park on the land at Austin Highway and Broadway is gaining traction, at least with residents who have fretted over the mixed-use project.
Huddleston of Harper Huddleston Inc. (pictured above) formally made his pitch to the City Council on Monday night. He proposes acquisition of land at Ausway Lane between Austin Highway and Broadway, and an adjacent .1517-acre, city-owned parcel. A local 501(c) 3 organization, similar in structure to a park foundation, would be chartered to receive the property.
Huddleston pledged a cash payment of $100,000 to acquire and convey the tracts in their current condition. Mayor Louis Cooper has said there are some indications that Bexar County owns the sliver of land south of Ausway Lane, while the right-of-way, where Broadway and Austin Highway meet, belongs to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
Huddleston reiterated his concern that the $30-million, four-story, 150-unit complex proposed by Argyle Residential could one day send floodwaters toward the vintage Mobil gas station he owns across the street. The former station now houses an upscale retail business.
Huddleston urged that the newly acquired public acreage should be deed restricted, with the property remaining in city hands for public use. Huddleston also pressed for the city to keep following its own development code, especially in arguably the most prominent spot in town.
“Alamo Heights is a village. I believe a village is best enhanced through green space,” Huddleston said, adding he has no intention of requesting a closure of streets, which Argyle seeks to accommodate its project.
——- Updated on Friday, Feb. 27 at 6:30 p.m. ——
The Bexar County Appraisal District currently lists 29 properties owned by Huddleston. Eleven of the properties sit along different parts of Broadway inside Loop 410, with a handful of them inside Alamo Heights, including the former Mobile station tract.
In a later interview, Huddleston said it makes sense for the tracts he’s eyeing at Austin Highway and Broadway to be preserved as green space because they are in a floodplain.
Huddleston said he sees establishing a permanent green space there as something that could help to raise the value, financially and in a community sense, of immediately adjacent land owned by Richard Peacock. Peacock is part of the Broadway-Ellwood group. He also owns the neighboring Paloma Blanca restaurant/retail center.
“Think of three quarters of an acre surrounded by green space,” Huddleston said.
Huddleston said he feels the city will end up not selling its affected property for the current mixed-use project.
“I think (the City) will see closing streets as detrimental,” he said.
Huddleston said a high-density mixed-use project such as the one proposed by Argyle belongs in an industrial area, where businesses once thrived, so that it could act as an economic catalyst.
“These kinds of projects generally are meant to be a renaissance for an industrial place, like Pearl (Brewery), where there used to be 80-year-old, obsolete or abandoned buildings,” he explained. “You see a renaissance on South Flores, which used to be industrial, and Pearl on the northern part of the San Antonio River. Mixed-use is a fabulous tool for a renaissance like that.”
In the end, for Huddleston, the green space idea is about helping to implement a greater sense of community pride in the center of Alamo Heights.
“Alamo Heights needs positives. Alamo Heights is consistent with a provincial village within an urban area. Green space is part and parcel of being a successful village,” he said. “It’ll bring pride. We need it.”
Huddleston said he would pledge initial funds to help support anything that would improve the condition of the land so that, even as green space, it could properly serve as a communal gathering spot. He added there should be a public process, facilitated by the City, where community members could have a say on how the green space should evolve.
“I have a very clear vision as this being a place for community events, for public art,” he said. However, he does not envision it being a typical park with amenities such as a children’s play area.
“I think of it as a blank palette. The use of it should emanate from the residents,” he added. “But I don’t think of it as a passive green space.”
Argyle, advocates for the apartment complex, and Broadway-Ellwood Co., the partnership of individuals who own land where the midrise could sit, all say the mixed-use development could spark economic renewal for Alamo Heights.
The city’s architectural review board last week gave conditional approval to preliminary design for the apartment complex, but by all appearances, that decision has not raised confidence among critical residents.
“Mr. Huddleston’s proposal is a wonderful alternative to what we’ve been hearing about,” said Debra Nason, vice president of the Alamo Heights Neighborhood Association. “He’s being generous in his offer.”
The city’s planning and zoning commission is poised to further review the Argyle proposal at its next meeting while council members are likely to ask Cooper to place Huddleston’s idea on a future council meeting agenda for action.
*Featured/top image: Glenn Huddleston explains his green space proposal to the Alamo Heights City Council and the audience on Monday. Photo by Edmond Ortiz