Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
The Alamo Heights City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a zoning change request that will allow The Argyle to construct a parking lot on property previously zoned for residential use.
The Specific Use Permit (SUP) clears the way for the members-only club to turn a 2-acre parcel at 423 Argyle Ave. into a 28-space parking lot for its employees.
Located at the corner of Argyle and Patterson avenues, The Argyle is a 19th-century ranch house now operating as one of San Antonio's oldest private dining clubs and benefitting the work of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute to the tune of $3 million a year. The stately house is situated among some of Alamo Heights' oldest homes and next door to the unique, 1950s-era house owned by John and Carolyn Seals since 2000.
Tucked into a quiet cul-de-sac on a hillside overlooking the Olmos Basin, the Seals' 2,300-square-foot home is considered one of the best examples of modern mid-century residential architecture in San Antonio. The Seals, both age 77, consider it their retirement home "oasis." But they say the proposed parking lot will put an end to that ideal.
The lot is "parking space we desperately need," a representative of The Argyle has said, and is expected to reduce the number of cars that park along residential streets. But the Seals' contend it will add traffic, noise, light and air pollution, and vagrancy to their property. In October, the Seals' presented their concerns to the Alamo Heights Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z).
Architect Don McDonald said he and representatives from The Argyle have made numerous attempts to meet with the Seals and get their input on plans for the parking lot. The Seals dispute that and insist they do not want a parking lot of any kind.
Zoning Commissioner Al Honiglum, an Argyle member, said at the Oct. 1 meeting that he felt the parking lot would be attractive and that the Argyle is a responsible neighbor that "will do what is right." Honigblum spoke pointedly against the Seals' request to deny the SUP, comparing the issue over whether the Seals were informed about the project to what he called the "he said, she said" conditions of the Supreme Court hearings to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
With the Zoning Commission and the Architecture Review Board (ARB) both voting to approve the SUP last month, the issue went before the full City Council for approval on Tuesday.
At the council meeting, Mayor Bobby Rosenthal opened discussion of the case by saying there has been much talk at City Hall about that zoning meeting, and added, "Doing what's best for the city isn't always easy to do."
At least five board members and a former manager of The Argyle were present and signed up to speak during the meeting, then declined when called. But John Oberman, Argyle president and Texas Biomed founding board member emeritus, stepped forward to describe the project.
Oberman said to mitigate the relationship between the two properties, plans call for an 8-foot wall between the parking lot and the Seals' home, dark-sky lighting, 11 trees and other landscaped screening. It would also involve relocating an employee break area and storage unit closer to the building and away from the adjoining property line.
Councilwoman Lynda Billa Burke (Place 4), also a club member, said she has studied the project, walked the area many times, talked to both officials at The Argyle and its neighbors, and read their letters of support.
"I’m excited about the project because it solves the parking problem. This makes it safer for neighbors, The Argyle," and fire protection, she said. "It's a wonderful thing."
Following the discussion, the five council members voted unanimously to approve the SUP, with Rosenthal, as a member of The Argyle, recusing himself.
Before the meeting, Ken Roberts, interim community development services director for Alamo Heights, said the case tugs at his heart. "It's [the Seals'] view that it will bring more traffic, but the representatives from The Argyle itself have gone to great lengths to put up walls and flora so the headlights won't come into the Seals' residence, then left it up to the P&Z, then the ARB took a look at it. They are all of the opinion that it's masterful work.
"In this instance, it's all in the eye of the beholder. But for someone once removed from it, maybe what the architect thinks is great isn’t so for this family. Dr. Seals has been a doctor in San Antonio for ages – he's a gentle spirit, and it touched my heart."
McDonald, who also worked on the Seals' home 20 years ago, approached Carolyn Seals outside council chambers after the meeting and urged her to meet with The Argyle and discuss the landscaping plans. "It would be beneficial if the two neighbors would talk," he said.
"How could we have any input whatsoever?" Carolyn Seals responded. "We don't want a parking lot."
McDonald told the Rivard Report that the parking lot has been rolled into a project The Argyle is already working on to add a terrace bar area to the building, and work on both will begin within a year.
"We’re very disappointed there will now be a parking lot in my parents' front yard," said the Seals' daughter, Chesley.