Scott Ball / Rivard Report
A proposed subdivision of 52 single-family homes between St. Anthony Catholic High School and Trinity University has Monte Vista residents questioning if the development would fit into their historic district.
Not many details are currently known about what La Marquesa Estates would bring to the century-old neighborhood, which includes the Monte Vista Historic District, but residents are concerned enough to share their worries online and prompt Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) to question the project's compatibility with its surroundings.
The City’s Planning Commission voted Aug. 10 to approve the subdivision plat for La Marquesa Estates, which would sit on a 9.1-acre tract at Shook Avenue and East Kings Highway.
The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate currently owns the green space. Oblate Title Holding Group, based in Washington, D.C., filed the subdivision plat July 21.
The Monte Vista Historical Association (MVHA) board plans to meet Tuesday night and consider two resolutions. One resolution is not one of outright opposition to the subdivision, but rather a list of recommendations toward a compromise.
“We don’t dispute the Oblates’ right to develop their property,” said Paula Bondurant, a member of the MVHA board. “We just don’t think what has been presented will work in Monte Vista.”
Fellow board member Antonio Garcia agreed with Bondurant. “There is maybe a very small percentage of residents who oppose it, but most of the comments we’re hearing is that the development should blend in with the historic district."
“We don’t oppose development. We just hope it follows the City’s guidelines on new construction in a historic district," he added.
Many Monte Vista residents took to social media sites such as NextDoor to complain that they did not know about the proposal until after the Planning Commission had approved the plat. According to City processes, no notification of residents near the property was required prior to the commission meeting.
The property is zoned R-4, which sets the minimum lot size of 4,000 sq. ft. for single-home development, public or private schools. It is unclear whether rezoning would be requested and whether there is another developer involved with this project.
A request for comment to Tony Byron, a local real estate developer who filed the plat on Oblate Title’s behalf, went unanswered Monday.
Bondurant and Garcia said representatives of the property had come to the historical association in 2015 with a proposal to build a 300-apartment community on the tract.
“We said that was absolutely unacceptable,” Bondurant said. The representatives returned with a scaled-down multi-family development, which was met with further opposition from the MVHA.
“They said that doing something with the property would help the Oblates out,” Bondurant said, recalling a past informal chat. No one representing the Oblates came to the historical association to formally explain the new proposal.
Not being compatible in an inner-city neighborhood filled with different early 20th century architectural styles is one of many challenges that the current proposal faces.
The historical association is also worried about the number of envisioned homes, drainage, the fate of heritage oaks on the tract, and that the development could be gated.
“We’ve never had a gated community in Monte Vista,” Bondurant said.
Councilman Treviño has received much feedback from Monte Vista residents on the issue.
“... People can see that it’s not a good fit for a place like Monte Vista,” he stated.
Additionally, the lots would be inward-facing and sit along curvy streets in a neighborhood where the roads are laid out in a grid style.
The resolution that the MVHA board will consider Tuesday night contains nine suggestions. The group hopes, for example, for a variety of home and lot sizes, and that a percentage of single-story homes would be different sizes so they attract mature buyers who are interested in downsizing.
Instead of a gated subdivision, the association also recommends having neighborhood entrances with decorative gateway monuments similar to those that exist at two intersections along West Gramercy Place in Monte Vista.
As part of this project, the City is considering demolition permits for the George Sexton House of Studies, located at 314 E. Kings Hwy., and a retaining stone wall that runs along parts of Shook Avenue between East Summit Avenue and East Kings Highway.
The MVHA board will consider a separate resolution opposing these demolitions Tuesday evening.
The Oblates built both structures in 1951. The Sexton House is built in California Monterey Revival style. It’s situated in a park-like setting just east of the St. Anthony school property.
The MVHA thinks the house and surrounding landscape could be a scenic transitional point between the future development and the rest of Monte Vista.
“The MVHA believes that the George Sexton House can be reasonably repurposed and rehabilitated according to the U.S. Department of Interior’s standards for the treatment of historic properties,” the proposed resolution states.
Bondurant said the retaining wall has artistic and historical merits, as it reflects the Oblates’ local contribution to Catholic education and spiritual growth.
“The Oblates have had a generally positive impact in San Antonio,” she said.
“There is historic and architectural context,” Garcia added.
The City’s Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) will meet Nov. 2 to consider the demolition requests.
Because the proposed subdivision is in a historic district, it is subject to the HDRC’s approval. The Planning Commission’s action on the subdivision plat, which planning staff endorsed, is not subject to City Council consideration.
Monte Vista residents are encouraged to email info@SApreservation.com about the proposed demolitions before Nov. 2.
“Our intent is to mobilize the community and send emails to the HDRC and the (Office of Historic Preservation),” Garcia said.
He added that there was some surprise over the lack of notification of residents prior to the Planning Commission meeting. Councilman Treviño pledged to reach out to Oblate Title, which according to residents, has not been communicating with them lately.
Garcia said while it would be good for Oblate Title to communicate with Monte Vista residents, the MVHA is not seeking a confrontation.
“We’re behind the SA Tomorrow comprehensive plan in regards to development in neighborhoods,” Garcia said. “But there needs to be sensitivity on these types of developments.”
Treviño said he looks forward to the City facilitating some kind of compromise, saying it's early enough in the process to be proactive with the developer.
“We’re not opposed to development. What we want is something that is appropriate for Monte Vista and north of downtown,” he added.
Treviño did lament the lack of recent proactive communication about the latest development proposal between the property owner, his office, and neighbors.
He said this case could emphasize a need for reforming how the Planning Commission is made up.
Many residents criticized the Council-appointed, nine-member commission when it jettisoned tougher rules for impervious cover and light pollution from the SA Tomorrow draft plan. Critics felt some commission members were biased toward the development community. Other observers say commission members, because they are defined as "at-large" rather than representing a Council district, are out of touch with the wishes of residents in various parts of town.
On Sept. 6, Treviño submitted a Council Consideration Request (CCR), in which he asked the Council's Governance Committee to consider amending the commission's make-up from nine to 11, excluding ex-officio members who are members because they hold other offices. Instead, he proposed having the mayor and each district appoint one member to foster better relationships. This could improve communication between commissioners and the Council, Treviño said.
Top image: D.C.-based Oblate Title Holding Group proposed developing a 52 single-family home community on Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate's property in the Monte Vista. Photo by Edmond Ortiz.