Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
The first thing A.D. and M.J. Smoot did when they bought their home in Shavano Park in 1997 was count the trees. There were 86.
“My husband is a country boy, and I’m a city girl. So here in Shavano Park, it’s perfect,” said M.J. Smoot. “I have everything close by, within arm’s reach, and he has his space, so that’s the beauty of Shavano Park.”
But where her husband once fished for widemouth bass and cattle grazed, where children explored area caves and teenagers skinny-dipped in a stock tank, there is now a gas station and a Starbucks at this far Northside intersection of Loop 1604 and N.W. Military Highway. Restaurants and office space occupy an area near where early landowners had a private airstrip.
As longtime residents hold tight to memories of Shavano Park's days as an undeveloped enclave, commercial development and San Antonio sprawl envelop this city within a city. What was considered a village of country estates is now a city of affluent neighborhoods and everything that comes with it.
The original Town of Shavano was established around 1881 along the Olmos Creek and served as a stagecoach and rail stop between San Antonio and Boerne. A mass of arrowheads discovered on a hill lend to the theory that a battle was once waged there, perhaps inspiring its name, that of an Indian chief, Shavano. In 1947, Wallace Rogers and his three sons purchased the former Stowers Ranch for a residential development.
“He wanted some investor friends of his to try and partner up with them. ... They looked at the project and thought it was too far out of town and would never happen,” one of the sons, Happy Rogers, said in a January 2018 interview with City Manager Bill Hill. “My father said when they finally did end up with the property, and wanted to eat lunch, the closest place ... was at the corner of San Pedro and Basse roads.”
Incorporated in 1956, Shavano Park is a 3.3-square-mile municipality with the boundaries generally being Loop 1604 on the north, Huebner Road on the south, Lockhill Selma Road on the west, and Salado Creek on the east. Bisecting the city is N.W. Military Highway.
In September, the City Council of Shavano Park approved a new Town Plan following more than a year of work and seven public hearings. It outlines vision and goals for future improvements and development within the city and on municipally owned property. In July, it adopted the city's new motto, “City Living with Country Charm.”
Shavano Park's population today numbers about 3,800. The average age of residents is 50, and the 2010 Census shows the city population is 91 percent white. Their homes are single-family dwellings, some newer and some dating to the '50s, most owner-occupied and many on oversize lots full of heritage oaks and white-tailed deer.
Besides homes, there is a growing panel of retail, restaurants, offices, and other enterprises at the 1604 gateway to Shavano Park – mostly low-density development – and along the west side of Lockhill Selma Road. The first retail establishment, an Exxon station, was built in 2002.
There’s even more fast-growing development just outside the Shavano city limits – between there and the congested 1604 and Interstate 10 exchange, including the recently completed tech center at the 80,532-square-foot Pinnacle Oaks Business Park.
The City of Shavano Park has created a buffer zone between much of that commercial development and its neighborhoods.
“The intention was to have significant barriers, and I think we’ve been pretty good at keeping our promise that we’re not going to allow commercial properties along N.W. Military,” said Shavano Mayor Bob Werner. “The only one is an AT&T building that’s been there forever. They gave us money for our first city hall.”
Werner proudly noted that Shavano Park may be the only city in the state with all four of these designations: Scenic City USA, Tree City USA, Firewise Community, and soon a certified wildlife habitat community. On Sept. 27, members of the city’s Tree Committee accepted an award from the International Society of Arboriculture for its annual Arbor Day program.
Shavano Park is also known for its low property taxes – about half of what San Antonio homeowners pay – plus its City-owned fire, police, and emergency services, and low crime rates. Sixteen officers patrol the city daily with a goal of driving by each home every one to two hours.
A Shavano Park newsletter states there were 374 calls for police intervention during July, and 363 of those were initiated by a police officer. About 70 percent of the City’s nearly $6 million annual budget goes toward public safety.
Werner has lived in Shavano Park since 1987 and served on a variety of City commissions before becoming mayor, an unpaid position, more than three years ago. The home he shares with his wife, and where he raised his children, sits on 2.5 acres in the Old Shavano Park section off N.W. Military Highway and is one of the first five homes built there.
Many of those first homes were owned by retired military officers, according to a timeline document of key events and milestones in Shavano Park's history. It states that in 1960, there were 343 people living in Shavano Park.
Soon the city began having problems with water supply. That’s when Denton Communities and the Bitterblue Development Company stepped in to help.
Lloyd Denton, the father of current Bitterblue President Laddie Denton, worked with the Rogers family to acquire water on property south of San Antonio and pipe it to Shavano Park. The San Antonio Water System also supplies some water and sewer services. That jumpstarted more housing development, and by 1980, the population had grown to 1,440.
Today, Shavano Park development is Laddie Denton’s primary project, along with his business partner and CEO Gene Powell, who also is a board member of the Alamo Endowment. They are nearly finished developing Shavano's residential areas, and in the process of building out commercial and office space along 1604.
Residents, Werner said, have been generally accepting of development in the last 20 years, and a culture of doing things together as a community has developed over time, whether it’s protecting trees or planning for growth.
Denton said more development is coming soon, including a brew pub-style restaurant that will occupy a space under massive oak trees near the Shavano Park Tennis Club.
“It’s been slow in coming. The commercial focus has been at I-10 and 281 interchanges, and we are kind of in the middle,” Denton said. “For a long time, we didn’t have access roads, and we had to join with TxDOT [Texas Department of Transportation] to create them [in 1996] ... So, we’ll be out there for another 10 years at least.”
Road construction and improvement will be there, too. In addition to a project widening N.W. Military to Shavano Creek Road that will start late next year, TxDOT is in the early planning stages to improve N.W. Military from Huebner Road to 1604. That project will add a continuous center left-turn lane, sidewalks, and bike lanes.
The project has some funding, but the earliest construction start date would be February 2020, a TxDOT spokesman said. Some residents are already concerned about what the sidewalks will look like and the fate of trees that line the stretch of roadway.
“In terms of existing landscape, we will do our best to preserve trees along the corridor,” the spokesman said. “But some removal will need to take place to ensure traffic safety as well as for drainage needs.”
Karen Gallagher bought her first home in Shavano Park when she was expecting her youngest daughter and working at a local TV station. “You literally have that old-town, ‘you know them by name’ feel there,” she said. “[It's] that sense of a small hometown that I certainly never had growing up in the Air Force, where we had the safety but never the lifelong friends. It’s charming and something you can’t put a value on for me.”
Gallagher later moved to Virginia but returned and three years ago bought a home in the Bentley Manor neighborhood a few miles from her husband’s surgical office. When she walks outside, she enjoys the peace and quiet of the neighborhood and large yard that backs to a greenbelt. She feels less peaceful about the nearby Beckmann Quarry blasts that occasionally rock her home.
Martin Marietta took over the 80-year-old stone quarry that sits less than a mile north of Shavano Park four decades ago. On its website, homeowners can sign up to get “blast alerts” that warn them of planned mining detonations. In 1999, Shavano Park brought a lawsuit against the company for blast levels the city felt were unreasonable. An amicable settlement led to reduced mining and a good working relationship with Shavano Park, the mayor said.
“We value interaction with our neighbors and strive for true partnerships that benefit and support the interests of the community,” said Chance Allen, regional vice president for the Central Texas Aggregate of Martin Marietta.
A February 2018 survey of Shavano Park residents found their top two concerns remain traffic and access during construction (82 percent) and loss of trees and rural atmosphere (57 percent).
The only untouched green space remaining in the city is acreage next to City Hall. “I think of it as ‘legacy Shavano Park,’ because it is what most all of Shavano Park used to look like,” said Mary Ann Hisel, a resident who served on City Council for two terms and voted to keep the 16 acres not only natural, but completely undeveloped. It’s what she loves most about the area, and the fact her young daughter and her neighborhood friends have room to run.
“In my opinion, what makes Shavano Park unique is the green space and the large lots. In a sense, each home has its own park-like setting,” Hisel said, adding that with City of San Antonio parks and the Salado Creek trailhead nearby, there’s no need for a community play area or pool.
“We all know that progress may be unstoppable, but we’d just like to hold it off a little longer,” M.J. Smoot said. “This is our forever home. It’s so tranquil here. We sit on our porch in a rocking chair, watch people walk by. We know our neighbors and they know us.”