Take a drive down Pleasanton Road south of Loop 410, and there will be plenty of green in sight. Heading toward Loop 1604, you’ll encounter Mitchell Lake on your left and the lush Texas A&M University-San Antonio campus to your right, with a few feed stores and stables sprinkled in between.
There isn’t much development, but there’s plenty on its way. That’s what the City of San Antonio is counting on and why they chose the area for close attention in SA Tomorrow, the City’s still-developing plan for 1 million more people living and working in the metropolis by 2040.
City Council adopted a comprehensive plan in 2016, with 13 areas identified in the community as future employment hubs. The area surrounding San Antonio’s newest four-year public university is one of them.
“We project it to have 15,000 jobs by 2040 given that the main anchors are Texas A&M-San Antonio and Toyota,” Assistant Planning Director Rudy Niño said. “We want to see it develop as a complete community where there are jobs and places folks can live close to their work if they chose to … high-quality public transit, good infrastructure, and amenities.”
Near the Southside university campus is a large Toyota manufacturing plant that employs 7,200 people. City Council recently approved a $10 million incentive package to grow the Toyota plant even further with expanded buildings and enhanced production lines. Toyota announced in March that it would choose one of its North American factories to win millions in investment for production technology. If selected, San Antonio’s plant could grow its employment and attract more people to the area.
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The SA Tomorrow plan that addresses the growth of both Texas A&M-San Antonio and Toyota will be completed as part of an 18-month process. It is roughly 40 percent of the way done, Niño said. The City has already published a draft vision and goals for the region and conducted an existing conditions analysis to learn what they have to work with.
In the future, the City envisions the area surrounding Texas A&M-San Antonio as a “dynamic urban community” that provides “plentiful housing options while respecting the rural character of the area,” according to a City document.
Missing from the area currently is “access to retail options such as grocery stores, entertainment, shopping areas, and more healthy food options,” one resident told the planning committee in an online survey.
Respondents to the online survey also said a solid internet connection, parks and recreation areas, health care facilities, and access to VIA services and public transit were lacking.
The draft goals state the City’s intention to springboard off of the university’s growth to add retail, entertainment, and off-campus housing options; use natural assets like the Medina River and Leon Creek Greenways to attract future residents and visitors; and expand protected land to enhance biodiversity. The City also wants to improve and enhance roadways and expand multi-use trail and greenway connections.
This aligns with Texas A&M-University President Cynthia Teniente-Matson’s own vision for the region.
In a recent interview, Teniente-Matson spoke eagerly about a potential plan to bring bike paths from Mission Espada to Mitchell Lake.
“You could get from the Alamo to Texas A&M-San Antonio on a bike,” Teniente-Matson said. “It begins to connect the university in ways you can’t imagine, and that provides a traditional connectivity that hasn’t really existed even when you think about the North [Side], all the way out where UTSA is.”
The City’s assistant planning director indicated bike trails aren’t the only mobility improvement under consideration – the City is also looking at trail systems, particularly along the Medina River, and better ways to move cars.
Besides transportation and mobility upgrades, Teniente-Matson also hopes to build up the retail and entertainment options listed in the City’s goals. On her own campus, Teniente-Matson has begun exploring how she could add to the area’s offerings, even proposing a 1,200-seat arena to host concerts or performances.
Niño noted that, when planning for commercial development, it is important to consider what is already happening on the land surrounding the university. The majority of the surrounding land, owned by Verano Land Group, remains undeveloped.
(The land group donated close to 700 acres for Texas A&M-San Antonio’s campus, which opened in 2011.)
“To the north, it is intended to be more of an urban scale neighborhood that would create a really inviting and innovative gateway to the campus from [Loop] 410,” Niño said. “Additionally, [Verano Land Group] owns the property to the east, west, and south. The south should be a transition to more of an industrial area, with some warehouses and for [research and development.]”
In December 2018, Verano Land Group released a statement saying it would immediately follow up on commitments with the City, Texas A&M-San Antonio, and others for development of its land.
When the area builds out, it won’t be a mirror image of how the land surrounding UTSA developed, Niño said. UTSA is close to the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, which makes it less well-suited for industrial use.
As the SA Tomorrow process continues, a planning team, made up of stakeholders and nearby property owners, will forge ahead with developing a comprehensive plan and holding community meetings. The group held one community meeting in March. Niño estimates that late next year, the plan, along with the others under development at the other 12 regional centers, will go to the planning commission and then to City Council for adoption.
“The plan horizon is 10 years, so everything that is put in that plan, the goal is to have it accomplished or in the works within 10 years,” Niño said.
In the meantime, the assistant planning director asks all area residents to stay tuned into the process and give input on what they want to see as the city grows and develops, on its way to at least 15,000 area employees by 2040.