The Historic and Design Review Commission last week readily approved the first three floors of a luxury apartment tower near Southtown, but it didn’t like the remaining nine due to perceived interference with views of downtown San Antonio’s skyline. Commissioners suggested that the tower be designed taller and more slender.

Generally, towers appear taller than they are wide, but that’s not the direction developers and architects took for the 75-unit Durango Apartments project at 421 S. Presa St. They wanted to keep it short, Laney Development Manager Tim Proctor told commissioners last Wednesday, so as to respect the pattern of neighboring buildings’ heights.

After meeting with the San Antonio Conservation Society and the King William Association, both of which have offices nearby, “neither group had an objection to the height and massing of the building,” Proctor said.

But commissioners took issue with the more stout design. Commissioner John Bustamante questioned whether passersby on South St. Mary’s and South Alamo streets would be able to see the iconic Tower Life building and asked if the architects would consider a “more slender tower.”

This rendering shows the proposed Durango Apartments, looking northwest. The lower buildings rendered across the street represent the completed Agave Apartments.
This rendering shows the proposed Durango Apartments looking northwest. The lower buildings rendered across the street represent the completed Agave Apartments. Credit: Courtesy / Laney Development

The tower would include two townhomes, three live-work spaces, and about 1,400 square feet of ground floor retail space, features that members of the King William Association’s architectural advisory committee praised.

“It was done in a sensitive way,” Chris Price, the association’s president, told the Rivard Report last week. “I think the other thing that appealed to the committee was the fact that it was mixed-use. It wasn’t just strictly an apartment complex, but included some live-work space and some commercial space.”

But commissioners ultimately sided with City staff who, according to City documents, recommended that Proctor and architects work on a diagram that shows how the building would look next to the historic building immediately to the north. They asked for renderings that would “illustrate the impact of views to and from downtown from various points…, explore alternative tower massing that yields a more slender design that tapers as it ascends higher,” and that the Laney team continue to work with staff on other design and landscaping matters before coming back before the commission.

Proctor told the Rivard Report Wednesday that he plans to meet with the commission’s design subcommittee and “do a better job of explaining the design features of our building.”

The professionals on the commission can provide valuable input on design, he said. “This is something that conversation is good for.”

But he hopes he can convince them that shorter is better for the neighborhood, he added. “I didn’t want to create a skyscraper in San Antonio.”

As for the potential impact on views of the Tower Life building, he added, “We can easily demonstrate [to HDRC] that our building does not impact the Tower Life building at all … that’s a question of fact we can address quite quickly.”

Michael Guarino, who chairs the HDRC and is interim executive director of the King William Association, did not attend the presentation and so declined to comment on this specific project.

“I suspect there will be a lot of discussion of viewsheds in 2018,” Guarino wrote in an email to the Rivard Report. “San Antonio hasn’t had so many tall buildings on the drawing boards since the 1920s. While the Durango is taller than its immediate environs we need to remember that …. a 30-story tower [is proposed] almost immediately adjacent to the Tower Life (Smith Young) building.”

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Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com