A proposed development in Dignowity Hill that would turn two vacant lots into four two-story homes has become a microcosm for the challenges and opportunities that infill development faces in San Antonio.
(Explore Dignowity Hill housing and other neighborhood dynamics by visiting our Place Changing series here.)
In one hand, an owner wants to maximize the use of his property. In the other, neighbors – while welcoming of new developments – want to ensure the historic and architectural standards aren't compromised in the pursuit of density. The two sides represented at Tuesday's Zoning Commission meeting are not, conceptually, in disagreement. Neither the residents nor the property owner Logan Fullmer and his development partner George Herrera of McAlister Real Estate want the new homes to stick out aesthetically from their neighbors' historic homes. And everyone seems to agree that the more than 200 vacant lots in the historic district is a waste of space.
"We want to put those parcels to work," Herrera said after the meeting. "The more people paying property taxes, the more infrastructure and school funding (will be available) to lift the whole neighborhood."
The zoning change, for what they're calling "Residences at Mesquite" at 532 Dawson St. and 417 N. Mesquite St., received unanimous approval from the Zoning Commission that would allow for more flexible criteria for setbacks and and off-street parking. City Council will have the final say on the zoning change when it votes on Oct. 15.
The Zoning Commission received 15 letters in favor and 16 letters against the zoning change, illustrating a deeply divided neighborhood. City staff, which recommended approval, said the change would keep the lots restricted to low density residential land use.
Speaking on behalf of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association (DHNA), Brian Dillard said the City was "railroading" the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Plan for future land use, adding that the developers had previously tried to "amend our master plan behind our backs” by requesting a change in the plan's future land use map.
The neighborhood plan identifies several sections for infill development zones (IDZs), but Fullmer's lot isn't one of them. IDZs were created by the City to encourage development of underutilized or vacant lots in certain areas of town.
The lots' current low density residential zoning would allow for more than four units, but the IDZ allows for less space between features like driveways and property lines (setbacks). The lots are surrounded by single family homes.
After receiving conceptual design approval from the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) earlier this month, Fullmer and Herrera will be seeking final approval soon. But first, the duo will be meeting with the DHNA and its Architectural Review Committee (ARC), Herrera said, to "refine details – it's a give and take process. We can't make everybody happy, but we're going to try to address concerns."
Six months ago, Fullmer presented plans for five homes and the design renderings of the "craftsman homes" have been further updated (beyond the top image) to reflect features that mimic nearby historic homes.
He attributes part of this project's six-month struggle to the fact that this will be he and Fullmer's first project in Dignowity Hill. "We're just meeting everyone ... we're going to have to prove ourselves."
According to Dillard and ARC representative Liz Franklin, the developers haven't done a good enough job of trying to connect with the neighborhood association as a whole. While they've had several informal meetings with residents and DHNA/ARC members, they've yet to attend an official DHNA general membership meeting. Herrera said they will attend the next one on Monday, Sept. 21.
"Cramming four houses onto two lots" isn't the answer to infill development for this lot, Franklin said. "Nobody wants to derail a project, (but) we want to follow a process.”
Zoning Commission Chair William Shaw III (D2) cited Fullmer and Herrera's willingness to scale down the design as a good sign that some sort of compromise could be made. He encouraged them to continue to meet with residents and address concerns before the zoning matter goes before City Council.
"It could still be denied,” Shaw said.
In an email sent after the meeting, Dillard stated "I want to make sure that we aren't being perceived as the 'neighborhood of NO' or as being nit-picky, but rather folks who value a contextual look at community development."
*Top image: The four-structure development at 532 Dawson St. and 417 N. Mesquite St. Courtesy image.