The Historic and Design Review Commission stopped short of issuing conceptual approval for the second time this fall for a planned community of townhomes in the River Road neighborhood.
However, that approval could be within reach based on discussion about the project during Wednesday’s meeting where developer David Morin, CEO of Austin-based Site Identify, and site architect Mari Michael presented modifications they had made to original plans.
Both neighborhood residents and commissioners expressed concerns about late submittal of site-plan changes to the Trail Street Townhomes and insufficient time to review them. Commissioner Curtis Fish suggested delaying approval until a Jan. 2 meeting, allowing City staff, residents, and commissioners to evaluate changes to the project proposed to be built on a vacant lot at 355 Trail St.
Multiple commissioners commended Morin for working with residents and the River Road Neighborhood Association, listening to concerns expressed by commissioners at a November meeting, and addressing many of the problems.
“I think we’ve compromised, and I think what we’ve done is ... put a good faith effort into engaging the neighborhood,” Morin said during the meeting. “I think what we’ve done is respectable. ... We’ve really been working hard to make this a good fit for this community.”
Among the compromises Morin said he has made are reducing three units from three stories to two, adding a 20-foot-wide hammerhead turnaround, and including a 10-foot pedestrian walkway – all adjacent to the acequia and nearby homes, including the Zambrano Homestead, an official historic landmark.
Residents and commissioners complained they had only received documents revealing those changes in the hours or even minutes leading up to Wednesday’s meeting. Commissioner Michael Guarino suggested Morin provide a small model or visual presentation at the next meeting to better illustrate the steps taken to meet desired setbacks around the Zambrano Homestead.
“I think it’s really, really positive for our next meeting in January,” Morin said, after appearing frustrated during the meeting by the prospect of another delay. “We submitted a project we really liked originally, but we didn’t love it like we do this one.”
Residents who spoke Wednesday each said they were not opposed to the project and understand that development will eventually come to the area, especially in a city experiencing the kind of growth San Antonio has in recent years. They asked commissioners to help them ensure the project was appropriate for the area.
Morin said the project would clock in at 24 townhomes at 1,500 to 2,500 square feet, priced in the $300,000 range all the way up to more than $600,000. He said he does not anticipate the project being eligible for City incentives.
While protecting the Zambrano Homestead was an issue earlier this fall and addressed with the new modifications, residents and commissioners continued to mention five units along Trail Street planned to be three stories tall.
While the planned height of those units falls below the 45-foot limit for the neighborhood, commissioners and residents have told Morin they’re concerned with the height considering the rest of the neighborhood is made up of one-story homes.
“Probably the biggest single stumbling block we have for this is the height of the units on Trail Street,” said Richard Reed, chair of the River Road Neighborhood Association. “From the start, we requested that this be reduced by one full story. There are three units that have been reduced by one story, but this isn’t enough to really protect the Zambrano Historic site that is adjacent to it.”
Reed also said residents were concerned that the property's design was industrial in appearance and used “Hill Country German” influences that didn’t necessarily mesh well with the surrounding neighborhood of bungalow-style houses. Reed said many of those houses were built between 1923 and 1950.
Finally, Reed said residents are concerned that the property design assumes storm water could be drained through the acequia, which he said violates City codes.
“It’s not satisfying, nor has it been received in a time that the neighbors can digest it,” Reed said.
Guarino said he was seeing changes to the plan for the first time at the meeting and wanted City staff to have time to review them and offer commentary to commissioners.
HDRC on Wednesday gave conceptual approval to a $45 million, 215-unit apartment complex in the Lavaca neighborhood south of downtown. The project would be built by the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) in partnership with a private developer.
Planning for the development first started in the late 1990s when the Victoria Courts, federally funded Section 8 housing that once existed at the site, was demolished. Other projects have previously been completed on other portions of the 36 acres south of downtown where Victoria Courts once stood.