Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
A public forum Wednesday night ended with some tears and shouting after about 70 people gathered at Alamo Beer Company's Eastside brewery to discuss a plan to build a four-story, 148-unit apartment building on an empty lot next to the historic Hays Street Bridge.
The purpose of the evening was to give people opportunities to suggest design changes and air grievances about the project. But there was no apparent compromise between the hopeful developers of "The Bridge" project, who said it would revitalize a blighted empty lot, and community members who claim it would bring unwanted change to the neighborhood and block views of the iconic bridge.
At times, people shouted over each other and at least two participants cried with frustration as they spoke for and against the project. Eugene Simor, who owns the land and Alamo Beer Company, concluded the evening with remarks delivered between sobs as he rebuked an audience member who claimed he was developing land sold to him through back room deals.
"I totally oppose this project being done," resident Lupe Barba said earlier in the night. Her family lived near the bridge for generations and she recalled driving across the bridge with her mother. "I'm upset it's going to block the view."
Simor said he would attempt to activate the North Cherry Street side of the building, possibly with public art, after several residents complained about impaired views of the bridge from the street.
The Historic Design and Review Commission is slated to consider the project for conceptual approval on Wednesday, Dec. 6.
Mitch Meyer, owner of local property management and development firm Loopy Ltd., is partnering with Simor on the market-rate apartment building. Meyer did not attend the forum. James McKnight, a land use attorney representing the developers, gave a presentation to the crowd at the beginning of the forum.
The apartments and ground floor retail will not impact public access to the historic bridge, Simor and McKnight said, adding that an increase of residents will only enhance and revitalize an otherwise industrial, neglected area.
Brian Dillard, president of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association, said developers should have started collecting input from the community months ago.
"I'm glad we finally had this," Dillard said. The property is not technically within the Dignowity Hill Historic District, but is within the boundaries of the neighborhood association.
"Understand that you are changing the dynamic of a neighborhood," Dillard said. "Whether you see that as good or bad, you are still changing a lot of people's lives that live here."
Representatives from the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group sued the City over the empty lot, claiming that it was supposed to be park land. In 2014, a court first ruled in favor of restoration group. The city then won on an appeal. The group, backed by the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, has appealed the case to the Texas Supreme Court, which has yet to say if it will hear the case.
HDRC commissioners decided to delay its vote on the project in September, citing a lack of context in the owner's material that illustrates just how close the building will be to the bridge. Those materials have since been provided to HDRC, but the vote was again delayed by the owners request until a community meeting could be held.
Rent at the proposed apartments will be around $1,000 and 10 percent of the units will be "affordable," Simor said, because their rent will be fixed.
Neither McKnight nor Dillard were surprised by the insurmountable conflict between those for and against the development.
"But I don't think anyone can walk out of here and say it wasn't an open forum," Dillard said.
Managing Editor Iris Dimmick contributed to this article.