HDRC Rejects Plans for Apartments Next to Hays Street Bridge

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This rendering shows "The Bridge" mixed-use project as seen from the Hays Street Bridge.

Courtesy / Loopy Limited and A+B Architecture

This rendering shows "The Bridge" mixed-use project as seen from the Hays Street Bridge.


Eastside neighbors and protesters rejoiced late Wednesday night after a city commission firmly rejected plans to build a four-story apartment building next to the iconic Hays Street Bridge.

The decision came around 10:30 p.m. after more than three hours of discussion by the Historic and Design Review Commission and residents who packed the board room during an unusually long meeting. Most of the 53 residents that signed up to speak wanted to see the land at 803 N. Cherry St. developed into a public park or at least incorporate more public access and views of the bridge. Others wanted a smaller building or more affordable housing units – anything from which the largely low-income surrounding community could benefit.

“They’ll be back,” Gary W. Houston, a member of the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group, said of developers Eugene Simor and Mitch Meyer. “We won today, but they’ll be back. And so will we. …. The bridge should be protected. If they submit a plan that protects the bridge, we’ll take a look at it.”

Houston said he hopes next time the developers will meet with and listen to community members more often. A community meeting held just one week before Wednesday’s vote isn’t enough, he added.

A few residents supported the project, saying it would bring new life to a long-vacant lot that is adjacent to the bridge and Alamo Beer Company, which Simor owns.

But for commissioners, the crux of the issue was more technical. It’s their responsibility to review the design integrity of the project in specially-designated areas of the city using city guidelines, several commissioners and the attorney representing the project owners noted. HDRC routinely considers testimony from community, but some issues like potential lawsuits and affordability are outside its purview.

“I want to support it,” said Commissioner Daniel Lazarine. “It could be a prime example for good development, but I just don’t think the execution is there.”

Several community members and commissioners cited the street level parking “hidden” behind a green, living wall as a poor way to activate the street. Others raised concerns about plans for a restaurant between the bridge and apartment building.

The developer’s presentation still doesn’t respond to commission feedback and downtown guidelines, said Michael Guarino, HDRC chair. For such a high-profile case, Guarino said, there is a need for high standards.

“The case has not been made here,” he said, adding that he’s not confident that the building fits into the fabric of the community.

Meyer told commissioners that he’s open to compromise on the design. “I’m a big boy, I could change it,” he said. Ultimately, however, too much compromise would be needed than what could be addressed on Wednesday.

Asked after the vote if he plans to return to the commission with a new design, Meyer said, “Let me sleep on it.”

Out of seven HDRC commissioners present Wednesday night, five voted to reject the plan. Lazarine abstained from voting in hopes of having more time to deliberate. Commissioner Edward Garza cast the lone vote to approve the plan.

“More eyes on the streets [and bridge] is the highest goal of this project.”

 

25 thoughts on “HDRC Rejects Plans for Apartments Next to Hays Street Bridge

    • Change for change’ s sake (or for the pocketbook of a developer) is not in and of itself progress.

      Progress is moving toward so mething better. This project is not that.

  1. A view of a parking lot from the bridge? Who thought that was a good idea? I wish the city would buy back the land and build a park there to end all the contention and what seems to be the continued eagerness of the developer to treat the bridge as if it is his own.

    • Actually, I was going to ding Iris on this comment: “anything from which the largely low-income surrounding community could benefit.” Didn’t y’all run a multi-part series about “place changing” in Dignowity Hill? The area is gentrifying, seriously fast. That’s a reality.

  2. Actually when the land was donated to the restoration group the donor’s intention was for it to become a park. The city said to the restoration group, if you want this crappy bridge then use your own money to fix it up, to which they did. NOW that the city sees the monetary value in it they want to take it back and sell it. It’s inspiring to see our community voicing their opinions and not backing down!

    • The addition of a public park would bring more business to the area, and increase surrounding home values, and make the city good on its word. This is the clear solution.

      • The addition of a public park will increase green space (if planted appropriately and maintained adequately). HOWEVER. it will NOT necessarily change home values or bring more or less businesses to the area. That depends on how it is designed, used, and maintained. So, if a park is wanted, the citizens need to make sure it is a good one. If done wrong and neglected, it could increase city budget, increase crime, decrease values, increase vagrants, etc. Active participation in the neighborhood is key.

  3. I’m looking forward to being able to enjoy another vacant lot in an industrial area surrounded by blight and neglected homes. Plus I have a huge public park to enjoy only two blocks away. What a victory!!!!

  4. As a resident of the Eastside, I drive by this vacant tract of land everyday full of empty beer cans, trash, and just the overall unsightly nature of this plot. I am in support of the Bridge project as it will help improve the esthetic of this area and liven it up a little. Such a shame. Everyone talks about bringing change and improving the area, that is likely to happen if we keep shutting down projects and pushing developers from making the change. There is a perfectly good park two blocks away, use that one as a park we don’t need another park. I fully agree that it needs to be a cool project with appeal from the street as well as the Bridge. Hope to see what comes of this.

  5. “More eyes on the streets [and bridge] is the highest goal of this project.”

    That may have been a lofty goal a decade ago when the area could be described as “plagued by crime.” But today more Eastside residents and homeowners visit the area, as well as tourists and resident from other districts, outnumbering the pot smokers, beer drinkers and other Bridge “criminals”.

    Very inspiring to hear the voices of long-time residents of Dignowity Hill and the Eastside speaking up to protect their Bridge. Educated, informed, articulate – young as well as seniors. People involved and committed to the neighborhood and protecting the neighborhood for grandparents and grandchildren residing in the ‘hood.

    The days of pushing around the Eastside are over, with or without support from city officials.

  6. I guess my comment published by the Rivard Report in mid November reached the HDRC! Regardless, I’m thankful the HDRC recognized that the proposal did not meet Downtown Design Guide guidelines and that they acknowledged the importance of any new development in this area in setting the pattern of pedestrian urban design along two key downtown streets — Cherry and Lamar.

    To reiterate:

    The re-development of this site should really represent the BEST San Antonio can do pedestrian urban design, including as it is a property within the downtown district addressed by the City’s Downtown Design Guide (2013).

    So far, I’m not seeing with this proposed project the best or even good enough urban design, or urban design that’s in keeping with the historic East Side in regards to sidewalk conditions and pedestrian paths and amenities. Using E. Commerce west of Cherry as an example of what we should be seeing with this new high density project that will set the pattern of future urban development on Cherry and Lamar into the rest of downtown:

    – we should be seeing sidewalks much wider than 6 feet on Cherry and Lamar–including a paved utility zone at least 5 feet wide to accommodate street tree wells as required with the Downtown Design Guide (2013) and suggested with the renderings. The building envelope likely needs to be stepped back further from both Lamar and Cherry or reduced to achieve the minimum sidewalk and utility zone requirements and to create sidewalk conditions that meet the basic needs for higher density urban design.

    – we should be seeing sidewalk awnings that enclose a generous sidewalk area and provide real comfort — including connecting and sheltering pedestrian building entrances and where bikes are expected to park on Lamar and Cherry (see the Downtown Design Guide). The current awning design as rendered is practically useless, leaving various pedestrian entrances and bike parking areas exposed.

    – there should be planning for covered VIA bus stops on Cherry and Lamar, including the ample sidewalk space needed to ensure safe bus boarding and waiting that does not obstruct a minimum 6 foot wide walking area. Such design could also support ride hailing and taxis. The unprecedented request to increase density with this proposal should require better accommodation of mass transit options along with truly urban/downtown sidewalks.

    – currently there is no space for sidewalk bins or other sidewalk seating planned.

    – the planned pedestrian paseo/path under the Hays Street Bridge is not provided enough detail with the proposal. The path should be at least ten feet wide to serve the high level of pedestrian activity and mixed use depicted with the renderings. We also need to see how this path/paseo will cross the rail road tracks to the west and connect with the street grid and accommodate ADA requirements. If the path/paseo goes nowhere or is not ADA compliant, it’s a boondoggle and distraction from very poor pedestrian conditions planned on Cherry and Lamar.

    That the architects misspell ‘bicycle’ in the renderings publicized in mid November suggests that the design has not been properly reviewed or considered in terms of pedestrian amenity and the City’s Downtown Design Guide. We deserve better pedestrian urban design downtown than what has been proposed with this project to date.

  7. Everyone that thinks that the developers are interested in making the eastside a better place are out of your minds.The only think they care about is making money,just like the city.They know that they can sell the apartments at a higher price because of the bridge and they will be using that as a selling point.The city needs to build the park as they had said ,thats what was suppose to be done from the beginning.The city or those developers didnt pay to make the bridge look like that so why should they benefit from it,just to make thier pockets bigger.Why dont they go and build lockwood park into their apartments and turn the lot and the bridge into a focal point of the eastside.Thats what its suppose to be, a park from the getgo.O, i forgot they wont be able to revenue more money because they wont have the bridge to use as a selling point.That would mean less money in their pockets.
    A better idea if they re so intersted in making the eastside better would be for them to go and build on New Braunfels street.Now thats where the eastside needs help.Thats where all the crime is going on.Not on Cherry St. .But then again,they wont revenue all the MONEY they want and make their pockets bigger.
    so anyone thinking that its about making the eastside better,ITS NOT ABOUT THAT ,to them

  8. I was so looking forward to the mural of the bridge inside the bar in the ground floor retail space of the apt building butting up against the bridge blocked by the same building. Maybe they should have proposed a life sized hologram bridge across the roof with images of different scenes from historic san antonio on a timer. The Historic Review Committee would have HAD to have liked that idea.!

  9. A supposedly non political entity decided it would be political. This isn’t a story of the developer or even the Esparanza group but is reflective of an appointed but volunteer body who set aside it’s given task to play pseudo hero for a day. So, you have a vacant lot that will remain a vacant lot and the Esparanza group can move to the next development and vigorously oppose it and try to insure that the east side and other downtown communities remain bereft of private investment and then try to browbeat the city to ‘do something about the demise of our inner city’ to which the city will respond that we only have so much funding and we need to encourage private investment and Esparanza can then rally to oppose those private investors and then turn to the city when it’s over and tell the city to ‘do something about the demise of our inner cities’ and this is how democratic socialists kill a city but at least we are ‘equally’ destitute in our crumbling architecture. Good job.

    • Well stated Jeff. This area needs another park like it needs a hole in the head. There are already two parks to be combined into one a couple of blocks away and who’s paying for these parks. View from the vacant lot? That’s just insanity. The view is FROM the bridge. I’m new to SA but it sounds like political groups like this one can intimidate the city and what on earth is “historical” about a vacant lot in an industrial area. Craziness

      • It is the bridge that is historical, which is blocked by the propsed apts. The vacant lot is where the aots are proposed for but was originally designated as a part in conjunction with the bridge to be the center point of a future denser neighborhood. The lots surrounding this one are where the medium density mixed uses should go. That was the original plan that started the bridge project in the last century.

  10. To the owner, architects, engineers, developers, contractors who bid it, and even the legal team who fought for this project I would just like to say thank you.

    I think you did a great job. I hope you don’t give up, but if you do decide to pursue another direction then I hope that it works out and that it goes nothing like this did. You probably don’t need encouragement from the RR comment section, and maybe I just don’t like seeing the people rejoice at your loss en masse, but just so you know not everyone thought that what you were doing was the wrong thing at all.

    I think you were doing the right thing, following all of the rules, and were actively making this city a better place. I’m sorry it didn’t work out and I hope you don’t give up. For what it is worth I appreciate it and thank you. Please don’t give up here in town, some of us believe it really does need it and would welcome what you have to offer even if Dignowity doesn’t. You are doing the right thing already, please don’t change.

    This attitude of privilege from the long-term or life-long residents of this city makes me sick. Grow up. You’re like a teenager mentally but you’re 45 years old. Everyone wants to see you get better and improve yet you wallow in your ugly childhood and use it as your excuse to pass up good opportunities in your life. Then you point fingers at those who raised you for the lack of opportunity in your life when you realize just where its at and how badly it could use some work or somebody coming along who gave a flip. The archetype doesn’t look good the older you get.

    • Richard, I appreciate your comments. Not everyone in Dignowity is against this development. What has gotten lost in the aftermath of the HDRC denial is that a statement of support for the project signed by 42 Dignowity Hill residents/property owners/business owners and all members of Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association was submitted to the HDRC at the hearing on Dec 6th. This statement of support was crafted independent of the DHNA. The DHNA membership has yet to be given an opportunity to weigh in on this project and vote for or against. What’s unfortunate is that the narrative has been allowed to be hijacked by groups like Esperanza and the Hays St Bridge Restoration Grp. These groups do not speak for the neighborhood or the DHNA. My hope is that the conversation can be re-calibrated to not only address the project design shortcomings but to initiate a more inclusive conversation with members of the DHNA.

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