City Staff Gives Green Light to Apartments Next to Hays Street Bridge – With Conditions

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This rendering shows the view of the Hays Street Bridge from a terrace of the apartment complex.

Courtesy / Loopy Limited, GRG Architecture

This rendering shows the view of the Hays Street Bridge from a terrace of the proposed apartment complex.

City staff, under City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s direction, gave administrative approval Friday afternoon to a controversial apartment complex next to the Hays Street Bridge, two weeks after the Historic and Design Review Commission rejected the project.

The approval – rare for such a high-profile project – comes with several conditions attached, some more onerous than others, for the design and use of the property. Those conditions may satisfy neither neighborhood groups that have opposed the project nor the developers.

The conditions outlined by City staff range from minor adjustments, such as putting hoods on exterior lights to mitigate light pollution, to significant changes such as lowering the height of the five-story building as it nears the bridge and adding design elements that “reinforce the industrial character of the site and respond to the architectural design and materials of the Hays Street Bridge.”

The number and scope of the conditions suggest that the City may want the developer to rework almost all of the design for the approximately 147-unit complex, which includes some ground-floor retail and a restaurant.

HDRC is an advisory body to the Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) that recommends projects for approval to the City of San Antonio. OHP’s director and, ultimately, the city manager have the last word when it comes to all project applications.

Sculley and OHP Director Shanon Shea Miller spoke about the project with City staff, and the city manager decided it would be best to move the project forward, Assistant City Manager Rod Sanchez told the Rivard Report.

“Sometimes it’s tough – the idea is to listen and consider what both sides are saying,” Sanchez said. “Sometimes it’s the tougher discussion that leads to a better project overall.”

Mitch Meyer of Loopy Limited, the property owner and project developer, has not yet decided if he will agree to the seven additional stipulations put forth by the City as conditions for the complex’s development.

“I’m exhausted,” Meyer said. “I’m glad that the city overruled the HDRC, but there are so many conditions …. it makes the project almost undevelopable.”

Developers, property owners, and any “aggrieved” party can appeal the city manager’s decision, according to the City’s unified development code, within 30 business days.

The Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group, which has raised funds to restore the historic bridge and challenged the City’s sale of the land in court, will be looking into such an appeal, said its attorney, Amy Kastely.

“I’m extremely angry, and I’m extremely disappointed, and I really think that it’s outrageous,” Kastely said, claiming that the decision to overrule HDRC is an example of how the City circumvents public input. “This is a deal that was made in secret with nobody else allowed in on it.”

A large group of guests arrived for the press event on the Hays Bridge. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

People gather on the Hays Street Bridge for a Luminaria event.

At public meetings about the project, design elements have been discussed, but most of the conversation from those opposed has centered around preventing any development on the site. Some say that the view of bridge should be protected, while others want the property to become a public park, and still others want to see the project come to fruition.

OHP and Planning and Community Development Department staff suggested the first four stipulations that Meyer previously agreed to as part of his second submission to HDRC. The seven others were based on feedback provided by commissioners during meetings, Miller said. “All of the stipulations came from the public hearings,” she added.

The stipulations, as written by City staff, are:

  1. That all lighting, including parking and security lighting, feature hoods and be directed to avoid spillover into neighboring residential properties.
  2. That selected window specifications be provided to staff. Staff does not recommend white vinyl windows. An aluminum-clad window with a darker color is most appropriate.
  3. That details regarding location of ventilation and mechanical systems be provided to staff. All un-desirable equipment must be screened or located to service areas positioned away from public view.
  4. That the roof plan be further developed to include mechanical appurtenances and provided to staff. Any roof-mounted equipment that is visible from the right of way including the Hays Street Bridge must be screened from public view.
  5. That the proposal for public art continues to be developed through HDRC and community input.
  6. That the proposed public “portal” be repositioned to provide a publicly-accessible view of the Hays Street Bridge.
  7. Divide the building facades into smaller modules that more closely resemble the scale of the neighboring residences. This is particularly important on the Cherry Street façade.
  8. Incorporate a greater separation between the south face of the building and the bridge by retaining only a single-story bay at the southeast corner and stepping back the upper floors away from the bridge by at least one bay. The goal is to improve site lines from this corner and a more appropriate transition from the proposed green space.
  9. Explore the feasibility of reducing the overall building height or changing the massing to incorporate a greater setback from Cherry and Lamar Streets.
  10. That architectural elements further reinforce the industrial character of the site and respond to the architectural design and materials of the Hays Street Bridge, particularly on the end of the building closest to the bridge.
  11. That the applicant formalize through deed restrictions or some other means the dedicated open space included in the proposed development.

After a tie vote at a March 9 HDRC meeting, commission chair Michael Guarino switched his approval vote to denial, breaking the tie. The rejection came after months of protests from community activists that want the land, including a pending appeal in court challenging the City’s sale of it, to become a public park. Opponents of the project also criticized the building’s height relative to the historic bridge, claiming that views of the bridge from the neighborhood – and views from the bridge – should be protected.

The project received a design overhaul after Meyer went back to the drawing board after its initial design was rejected by HDRC in December. The new design met more downtown design guidelines that commissioners said lacked in the first iteration, complies with zoning and planning rules, and includes a larger “pocket park” near the bridge.

The HDRC’s most recent rejection, Meyer said, was not based on design, but rather the commission’s inability to separate politics and emotion from the decision.

HDRC, an 11-member commission appointed by City Council members and the mayor, is tasked with reviewing designs of new or renovated buildings within historic or otherwise specially designated boundaries such as historic districts, areas near the San Antonio River, and downtown.

People have a right to appeal these administrative decisions to the Board of Adjustment, according to the City’s code. That’s another 11-member group appointed by Council. 

But that “aggrieved” person or group might have to prove that it impacts their financial or property rights, Kastely said. She said her experience from challenging the City’s decision in the demolition of the Univision building tells her that the Restoration Group will have an uphill battle arguing for the right to appeal.

James McKnight, a land use attorney representing Meyer, said his team would argue that a party would have to identify specifically “something at stake to be aggrieved other than, ‘I love the view from this position.’”

“Unless they’ve changed their interpretation of the UDC … then the community can’t file an appeal,” Kastely said, adding that the group is also considering legal action against the city.

“We’re pissed off, and this isn’t the end,” said Graciela Sánchez, executive director of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, which is associated with the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group.

For his part, Meyer is considering legal action, too, he said. “I can’t let this land lie fallow forever … We’re already six months behind [schedule]. I’ve got to rebid the whole thing. I don’t even know what my budget numbers are.”

“It is a lot of design work,” McKnight said. “Some of the design work, I feel, is not possible.”

A deed restriction for the “pocket park” is more feasible, for example, than coming to a consensus with the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association’s subcommittee on architecture and design, McKnight said, adding that he’s unclear how the city wants to adjust a public entrance “portal” for public views of the bridge.

This rendering shows the proximity of the Hays Street Bridge to the proposed apartment complex.

Courtesy / Loopy Limited, GRG Architecture

This rendering shows the proximity of the Hays Street Bridge to the proposed apartment complex and the “pocket park” that would be there.

“We’re handcuffed,” Meyer said. “[It’s like the City is saying], ‘you’re going to be happy – instead of cutting your leg off, I’m just going to cut your foot off.”

Councilman Cruz Shaw (D2), whose office hosted an earlier public meeting in an effort to get the warring sides to compromise, is hopeful that they can move forward together.

“I am glad that the conditions outlined by our city manager reinforce what has been said all along– that the community needs to be included in this conversation to reach a point that is agreeable for all involved,” Shaw stated in a text. “I am hopeful that the developers’ next conversation with the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association Architectural Review Committee will be productive. This historic bridge means a lot to our community members and [they] have been vocal about the need to ensure there is still space for the public to enjoy this land.”

Brian Dillard, outgoing president of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association, said he’s looking forward to the conversation that the City’s action on Friday has allowed.

“I am very excited that City staff is working with the neighborhood and the community to find a middle ground at least,” Dillard said. “It takes a lot of courage to actually step out there as City staff in a city that’s trying to develop and say that communities come first.”

Dillard and other have criticized developers for not engaging the community earlier on in the process, but wants to see something happen in the empty lot.

“The [City’s conditional approval] shows the power neighborhood associations and actually being involved in your community.”

 

29 thoughts on “City Staff Gives Green Light to Apartments Next to Hays Street Bridge – With Conditions

  1. Hopefully the developer will just quit then if these mild accomodations still prove to be too much for them. Sheryl Sculley strikes again… how much longer before this manager is ditched? People act like shes the only person who can get out city a good bond rating. That’s fallacious. Don’t ascribe the fact she has done it to mean she’s the only one who can. Her damage to long-standing communities here is problematic to say the least. Is money all that matters to San Antonio? Is it impossible to have a city perform well financially while also respecting its residents? I think that is a false choice. Let us get someone in who will respect San Antonio and its people!

    • Let me guess, you are overpaid SAPD or SAFD and don’t want to lose your free health insurance or 6 figure pension, even if it bankrupts the city.

  2. There’s no disrespecting of residents. This isn’t even neighborhood groups run amok. This is Esparanza group crazies and a majority of folks who don’t even live in the neighborhood, traveling from development to development in the urban core trying to hijack projects. It’s activism for activism’s sake with no clear alternative of what happens if nothing moves forward. These groups create environments where developers and investment goes elsewhere because why would you bother. Then these same activists after driving good investment out try to get the city to *fix* their neighborhood. The city doesn’t have a magic money tree and the area just continues to decline, and when you get the city to make a token gesture to put in a sidewalk or street light, they don’t even follow their own code. These are people drunk on their fifteen minutes of power who will celebrate a win to further impoverish an area. Great job.

    • Are you ready for this bomb shell? Graciela is paid by the city to do this. That’s right. The Esperanza Peace and Justice is another city funded non profit. This is the epitome of screwed up government, paying someone to beat you up.

  3. I would much more enjoy a view of bums who are drunk and/or high on a dilapidated lot, then a new apartment complex. Kudos all around to the people sticking it to the developer.

  4. ““I’m exhausted,” Meyer said. “I’m glad that the city overruled the HDRC, but there are so many conditions …. it makes the project almost undevelopable.”- how sad. A multi million dollar project stalled for what? It’s private land if a park is wanted Why doesn’t the Esperanza center buy the land and make it into a park? They don’t because they are crazy nuts protesting for the sake of protesting. Forget the millions of dollars of tax revenue, jobs, and all the things that go into projects. The east side is the most depressed area of San Antonio and the city is blowing this opportunity away

    • Agreed! After all of this, I’m surprised Loopy Limited doesn’t just sell the land to a more aggressive and uncompromising developer out of spite!

      • Agreed! There is the talk of allowing room for public art; if I remember correctly on the bridge itself there is an art installation on the bridge railing. And if I am correct it doesn’t add any value to the bridge it’s just a poor concept of some artist attempt to lessen the character of the bridge. So if we can destroy the bridge with art, why can’t we inlighten that whole area with positive growth for the betterment of this city. And stop with the picking apart of this project that in my mind adds great value to this city.

  5. The HDRC commissioners should resign. If their judgement is not respected by the City Manager why bother dedicating all of that time. It is a big commitment to give your time, knowledge, and experience just to be overruled whenever a case gets too much attention.

  6. Iris. Thanks for a good, well presented article. I’d like to add to it and provide a little more depth. Let’s talk about the “neighborhood” that has been so neglected. None of that is true. Over a year ago when I had some basic renderings of the project I met with the president, vice president and past president of the DHNA for guidance. Keep in mind there is nothing in the code or any requirement whatsoever to meet with the neighborhood. How would anyone even know to meet with the neighborhood to begin with? But I did on my own volition and out of a common sense of courtesy. At that very first meeting there were positive comments and few negative ones but the project was received well along with the additional guidance to meet with the ARC (an ad hoc “Architectural Review Committee” for DHNA). And guess what? I did. Very early on I met with Monica, Lulu and Bud (the entire ARC committee) in Liz Franklin’s dining room. How in the world can anyone say that I haven’t reached out to the neighborhood? I’m tired of hearing this rant. Furthermore there is no guidance about meeting with the neighborhood. What does that mean exactly? Anyway, my intention was to show off the project. It was never my interpretation and shouldn’t be anyone’s expectation that the ARC is supposed to be the architect for the project. That being said I explained that this is what we planned to put on the site. Subsequently we had a slide show presentation at one of the neighborhood meetings and two additional community meetings with the neighborhood; one at Alamo Beer and one at St. Phillips. Its important to point out that both meetings went off the rails quickly and mainly because of activists that don’t even live in the neighborhood. Councilman Shaw told the crowd “this ship has sailed” but the activism still persisted. We have reached out to Monica (president of the ARC) many times only to be ignored. We have email strings to prove it. I think it’s highly hypocritical for the president of the ARC to be vocal about view shed protection, which is code language for having no development at all, making architectural suggestions about my project. The ARC’s clear wish to have nothing on the site. Ask Monica for a copy of the power point presentation she gave on view shed and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Now let’s get back to the neighborhood itself. Monica, Lulu, Gary, Evelyn, Graciella and a hand full of others don’t represent the neighborhood, they only represent themselves. I have had real meetings with neighbors in their living rooms. When I say neighbors I’m talking about people that actually live there. Graciella doesn’t live in the neighborhood and Monica lives in Houston most of the time. I have forty signatures from people that “live” in the neighborhood who want to see this project developed. They’re tired of seeing vacant lots and are craving for more energy. These forty signatures were submitted to the HDRC but were ignored. I’m in tune with the neighborhood, and believe it or not, most of the neighborhood could care less if this project is developed or not. They just want to live in peace and go on about their lives. There are forty people for sure that absolutely want this project and would be disappointed if it wasn’t developed. There is only a very small group of people that actually live in neighborhood that are against the project. I can count them on two hands. It’s time to get truthful about not engaging with the neighborhood and it’s time to get truthful about what the neighborhood wants. The grenade throwing needs to stop and the accusations of me not meeting with the neighborhood also have to stop. Thanks again for your thorough reporting, I hope this helps shed some light on this aspect of the development.
    Mitch

    • Pack it up Mitch and take this project elsewhere. I’m sure Graciela Sánchez already has chained some chairs and tables to the weeds in the lot for her Easter Sunday gathering outdoors. Such a beautiful piece of land and area of town needs to be protected!

  7. The issue here is STOLEN LAND. The land was gifted to the City of San Antonio with the stipulation that it be made a park. The city deceived the former owners and community organizers who worked together for decades and gave the land to a wealthy individual. Mitch Meyer, who is largely known in San Antonio for owning the Aurora Apartments (a bedbug-infested, fire hazard of a low-income housing complex on the Westside) has a lot of nerve to dismiss the larger San Antonio communities concerns as “non residents” that don’t live in the neighborhood — as he himself does not live remotely close. Why does he feel entitled to grab the illegal land and profit from the scheme as a non-resident? Developers can still develop in thoughtful ways, just NOT ON OUR PARK. Period. Eugene Simor and Mitch Meyer, STEP BACK. The land is OURS, not yours. The park should be named after Nettie Hinton, Dignowity Hill native.

    • Suki. You need to check your facts. Get off the idea of evil spirits and phantom monsters. You have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m beginning to think you might be one of the bums that sleep under the bridge and afraid you might lose your cardboard home. I’ve met Mitch and he’s upstanding guy with a very good reputation.

      • Bobby, you do not own the facts even though you talk like you do. You don’t even know the facts enough to bully anybody with your revealing classist and elitist non-defense. Arrogance alone doesn’t even change one iota of the fact that the LAND HAS BEEN STOLEN. That is a FACT. It’s re-purposing is not going to happen. The land is all of ours as a city, not just Dignowity residents. Those city officials and Hardberger had no right to undermine public trust with back door quid pro quo’s resulting in a give it away to rich, elitist and classist money grubbing snobs like Eugene Simor and Mitch Meyer (or your ilk of defenders). Any “evil spirits” and “monsters” are yours to own in your ignorant and brutal attacks in defense of a colossally insensitive development. What would San Antonio look like if the greedy and elitist developers had been allowed to drain and pave over the San Antonio River downtown like they fought to do many decades ago only to to be checked and stopped by a group of brave women with sensible stewardship and vision of our collective resources? Look at that archetype and model of successful social and enviromnetally sound development. Think more like that rather than just a one-sided crass consumerism at all costs. Critiques of government and city officials by educated and long term activists and residents with valid concerns are not to be trifled with and are a very important facet of sensible growth. Justice demands accountability. Promoters of gentrification are not going to demand justice, quite the opposite — which is why we are now seeing all of the cajoling, crocodile tears and bullying techniques from them (and their boosters like Skully) now. Graciella Sanchez and the Esperanza should be hailed as a great defenders and leaders of our civil society, much like the ladies that saved the riverwalk from complete developer greed and annihilation. Bottom line is to BACK OFF our park and slink back to your your elitist bubble exists. There will be better opportunities to develop around the expanded edges of the park as long as the proposals are not part of a pay-to-play giveaway, i.e., Simor and Meyer and/or their ilk actually invest their own money in legitimate land purchases from private property owners with fair or better market value deals — and after cobbling together enough chinks of land, make smart development proposals like one-story family dwellings on the edge of the eventual Nettie Hinton Park etc. Speaking of homeless, after reading your disgusting comments, Simor and Meyer would be better engaged by promoting a non-profit that provides such services to those most vulnerable populations around the Hays Street Bridge and eventual Park rather than listening and accepting the cheers of a heartless stool pigeon like yourself.

      • Yeah every person our POTUS fires & every new one that replaces them is referred to as a fine upstanding “good guy” too. “Good” is always relative to ones ethics, values, & unfortunately, good ole boy networking. My thoughts on the proposed “pocket park”? It will serve as doggy doo doo land for the pedigreed pups of the privileged future residents of the development. This does not serve the original promise that the land -all of it- be reserved as a park for the people -all of us!

    • Suki, wouldn’t it be nice if the city could collect millions of dollars more in tax’s from downtown projects for things like parks, sidewalks, buried utilities (a big one to me), roads, etc.?

      • No. Besides, it’s not an either/or binary. The Park is desperately needed there. The land was donated for that implicit purpose. Reckless growth in search of grubbing for millions more in taxes is not what San Antonio needs. We need an equitable distributions of current taxes and it’s time to decelerate our ludicrous model of trying to ape Austin’s out of control and increasingly unaffordable and congested explosive growt or Houston’s greedy and damaging anti-zoning disaster.

  8. Using the Hays street bridge as an architectural standard really is not appropriate. The thing only exists because it practical, it is not a monument, does not have any design significance, and should not be put on a pedestal. If the housing project violates the experience of walking across the (ie. looking at the mechanical yard), something should change, otherwise, any architecture references should taken from St. Paul square. What does the “industrial look” of the bridge mean anyway.

  9. Re: City stipulation # 8 and the Loopy Ltd-provided street-view image showing “proposed green space.”

    Does Loopy Limited own and/or have any control over this plat that makes it relevant to include it in Meyer’s proposal?

    The attorney mentioned a deed restriction for this “pocket park” but HDRC commission comments from December appear to indicate that this plat of land is owned/controlled by Alamo Brewing and not Loopy. Is the Loopy attorney proposing the City restrict some other land-owner from developing property adjacent to the bridge?

  10. Below is a tried–and tired–true development process that I hope will be made a little bit more difficult at least in part by the awareness raised by the housing policy task force that is aggressively reaching out for public input.

    1. Developer sees prime land and buys it, even if there will be zoning, UDC, or regulations that need to be changed or if it has been the focus of community cultural or physical legacy preservation. Developers feel this is a safe bet because in San Antonio development history, past performance has unfortunately been a predictor of future performance.

    That is to say, in so many cases, city staff recommend the changes requested by the developer because, in part, the city staff to date has used a very, very, very narrow definition of what policy means when they have to determine if the change is contrary to policy. For example, in the case of Mission Trails Mobile Home Community, the staff said no policy conflicts were presented by changing the zoning of the property because the UDC actually just “grandfathered” the existing mobile home community in that location and the change in zoning would bring the property in closer compliance to the plan.

    There was no statement that this zoning change could displace residents–displace residents, which was counter to SA2020-inspired policies and counter to the policy of preventing and correcting home insecurity as implied by a long-term practice of funding standing service functions to address the prevention and correction of home security.

    2. Actually pursue zoning and planning changes, expecting success, portraying themselves as being unfairly victimized by regulations or community members who have different interpretation of the correct application of zoning/planning analysis, such as the interpretation of applicable policy, as mentioned above. Developers convey that they will be facing a great financial loss if they are not able to pursue their plans, regardless of the fact that they knowledgeably purchased property that currently was not established to be the site of their proposed projects.

    They fail to address the fact that real estate is an industry that is the perfect example of the nature of high-risk investments. The reward is a possible payback of very, very high return on the investment. Success in the industry means that one has made more good bets than bad.

    However, San Antonio developers do their very best to deflect public attention from this investment principle. They try to make us think that we have a responsibility to reduce or eliminate their risk… or make the success of their investment certain.

    Really, wouldn’t it be nice if we could be certain that there would be work available in our fields, that our wages would be livable, or that our retirement planning would cover our needs throughout our retirement years and even outlast us so we can be the first generation in our family to pass wealth on to our children?

    3. Most recently, there’s a new twist. If the developers’ reputations become smirched by public discourse, offer a remedial financial package for relocation or some other remediation, knowing that a realistic value for that remediation will not be identified before approval is given, and knowing also that decision-makers will laud the developer for doing something that hasn’t ever been done before and will be so overwhelmed believing that the gesture alone is sufficient.

  11. Marianne. Sometimes I agree with you, sometimes I don’t and sometimes I don’t understand you at all. That’s good. I feel the same way about Suki too. But where does personal responsibility enter into this? I’m a working stiff that has plans for myself and my wife but I’m not counting on a developer or the city or the government to do anything for me, nor do I think anyone is inherently evil or devious. If I feel slighted I vote with my feet or my check book and I truly believe in a free market. Therefore, I don’t think developers should have any incentives. A free market is what the market wants and what the market will bear. I think that without incentives developers would be a lot more cautious before rolling into a neighborhood with a project. They would definitely think twice. But if the market is there then let the development proceed. Suki, I liked your last post but the land was not stolen. It went through a process, like it or not. Your intellect is being disparaged by a conjured up idea about the land being stolen. Can you prove the land was stolen? No. By the way, I live on the east side and happy to see the growth and “gentrification”.

  12. Bobby, I should have stated up front that I was being facetious. The bottom line is that San Antonio historically provides an environment in which developers’ risk is often mitigated by policy decisions that free developers’ from some of the risk that is natural if the free market is not interfered with. In principle, the return for taking high risk is high return. For many reasons, through many processes, San Antonio has delivered more certainty to developers than the free market provides. I pointing out that in many aspects of our individual lives, such as jobs, income, saving for our futures, we would all love to have the certainty that developers have been able to extract from the city. If this doesn’t clear up the intent of my message, I hope that at least it didn’t make things worse! Thanks for the discussion.

  13. Also, with my statement that the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force is aggressively reaching out for public input, I was referring to real working public workshops, the second of which is 8:30 a.m. to noon, Saturday, April 7, at Sam Houston High School, 4635 E. Houston St.

    Here’s the description of the event from the Facebook event, which can be reached with this link: https://www.facebook.com/events/487459378322705/

    We want to hear from you! Help prioritize our city’s housing needs. Your opinions are important to us in this unprecedented collaboration among community members, housing providers, developers, and the public. Over the months, we have been gathering data, comments, and proposed solutions. We have engaged experts in all aspects of housing in the discussion. Now is the time for us to bring this information and recommendations back to the community for your input. Please join us!

    Follow this link to RSVP: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1VAly2iqfDj2bSuwW6grLkhGA3y0UvHKZJebeWqlnLu0/viewform?c=0&w=1&edit_requested=true

    Disclosure: I am a member of the Funding Funds and Finance technical working group and am anxious to see hear how San Antonio residents feel about the draft of our recommendations. In fact, it was from the first public meeting in December that the Task Force determined that a working group needed to be formed to figure out how a comprehensive, compassionate, and action driven housing policy could be supported.

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