An increasing number of real estate professionals and market watchers see the surge of infill-based development in San Antonio’s urban core as the dawning of a new day of steady, smart, sustainable growth for residential and commercial opportunities in and around the center city.
Dan Mitchell, executive vice president of the local Weitzman Group, recently stated in an article that he believes infill development will only grow this year since businesses are establishing themselves in proven population and commercial sectors instead of only newly built areas.
Will Balthrope of Institutional Property Advisors echoed Mitchell’s optimism about infill development in a separate article in January following the sale of 1800 Broadway, the luxury apartment complex near Pearl.
"Compared to other Texas urban infill sub-markets, the lower Broadway corridor is in the infancy of its growth," Balthrope wrote. "The area is emerging as a location of great interest to renters and investors, much as Uptown Dallas and Galleria Houston evolved."
Now, developers such as Austin’s PSW Real Estate have recognized and are taking advantage of such opportunities in San Antonio, specifically in higher-end communities north and south of downtown.
PSW Real Estate, a specialist in infill development and sustainable communities, opened a local office on Austin Highway in Alamo Heights, where Robyn Mattinen is the company’s lead San Antonio-area sales representative. Mattinen is currently working with two other full-time people locally, but as PSW’s founding co-partner Anthony Siela puts it, there is potential to grow.
Siela and Ryan Diepenbrock founded PSW Real Estate in the mid-2000s. The firm has since developed more than 10 communities between Austin and the Dallas/Fort Worth market.
In each community, PSW has emphasized developing urban housing in places where modern construction and density can combine to benefit the surrounding community.
The first spot where PSW seeks to make a positive impact in San Antonio is inside the near-Northside municipality of Olmos Park, where the firm is in the first of a two-phase project to develop 26 upscale garden homes on stately East Olmos Drive. The homes will sit where older apartment complexes had been located. Demolition is completed on the first property where the initial 17 fee-simple homes will be built. Fee-simple means the buyers will own their properties outright and not be subject to shared ownership arrangements.
PSW plans to close later this summer on an adjacent tract in the 400 block of East Olmos Drive, to build nine more garden homes. The homes will measure 1,800-2,400 sq. ft. Each townhome will be priced between $500-700,000, Siela said. He added that foundations for the first phase of homes should be going in soon.
“We’re excited. We think it’s going to be a great addition to the community,” Siela said. “Building two to three homes a month, that’s our expectation here.”
According to Siela, Olmos Park is an ideal place for PSW to make its mark locally, applying the company’s sustainable principles – urban density, water and energy conservation, green building techniques – appropriately in an area that holds much potential in a wider booming housing market.
“But we don’t include green features just for the sake of marketing. We include them where they make sense,” Siela added.
PSW’s entrance into Olmos Park was not all that smooth. Some city officials and residents initially expressed concern last year about the compatibility of the company’s proposed garden home development with the surrounding neighborhood. PSW made modifications to reach a middle ground with Olmos Park leaders.
There was a consensus that the existing multi-family units on East Olmos Drive, already vacant, had long since passed any point of adding value to the community.
“Those apartments were no longer a benefit to Olmos Park or to the residents who had lived there,” he added.
After additional public discussion, city leaders including Councilmember Enzo Pellegrino supported PSW’s project as an appropriate redevelopment of a prime real estate location. PSW adopted suggested changes to its parking designs and in the selection of exterior materials to be used on the townhomes.
“The PSW project has afforded Olmos Park an opportunity to turn one of our most rundown areas into a safer, more family friendly environment which is better aligned with the character of our great city,” Pellegrino wrote in an email to residents last summer. This was outlined in a San Antonio Express-News report after the council approved PSW’s replat.
PSW representatives went to the Olmos Park Council’s regularly scheduled March meeting to update residents about how the developer was following conditions in an approved special use permit for the East Olmos Drive property. Those conditions affect the plat and lot characteristics as well as architectural and aesthetic characteristics.
"The city of Olmos Park approved the PSW project on Olmos Drive several months ago through a special-use permit, which stipulated a number of specific architectural and land use requirements," Mayor Kenneth Farrimond said afterwards.
"To date, rather early in the process, we have found PSW to be fully cooperative and easy to work with. They have so far fulfilled all requirements and submitted all plans which we requested. We are expecting that the good relationship we have with the company will continue as we move along."
Siela said another selling point for PSW is that it tries to foresee potential homebuyers’ variety of desired amenities and options in a new home and offer them upfront. That way, he added, a home buyer is not inundated with options later in the home-buying process. The company also internalized many services that are typically outsourced to other companies by other developers, from architectural design and engineering to construction.
“We want to minimize the burden of owning a home, and maximize the overall experience,” he added.
PSW continues to enter what Siela calls highly-desirable neighborhoods in San Antonio’s central core, with plans to develop homes in Southtown and Alamo Heights.
“Our goal is to bring more families into the city, help them realize what it’s like to live in these neighborhoods,” Siela said.
In the grand scheme of things, PSW and similar developers hope to bolster the profile of homebuilders that are adding to quality infill development across the San Antonio area. According to an Environmental Protection Agency report released in 2012, about 16% of more than 134,000 homes built in the San Antonio-New Braunfels metropolitan area between 2000 and 2009 replaced previously developed parts. The report also stated that, nationwide, residential infill topped one-fifth of all new home building.
EPA officials in the report stressed the positives of infill development, including that such development “can also provide significant environmental benefits when compared with conventional suburban development. Developing more compactly in a location surrounded by existing development means that residents can drive less if they choose, reducing air pollution, and that less paved surface is needed for roads and parking lots, reducing the amount of polluted stormwater runoff flowing into waterways.”
“San Antonio is a great, well-diversified city from an economic perspective. It’s going to be that way for the long-term,” Siela said.
*Featured/top-image: Exterior image of a future garden home in Olmos Park. Courtesy image.