Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
The City’s Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to modify the future land use of a Tobin Hill tract that has been eyed for a proposed multistory apartment community.
The properties at 1817 N. St. Mary’s St. and 824 E. Euclid Ave. would retain low-density mixed-use classification. But they would no longer be designated for low-density residential use, and a local developer’s request for a high-density mixed-use designation was denied.
Neighbors of the proposed multifamily project told commission members that the potential height of the buildings might be incompatible with their surroundings, and two members agreed.
But other commission members said they felt the multistory apartment buildings being near an Interstate 35 overpass, coupled with maintaining the existing lower-density category, would keep the overall project in check.
“The density of the project would create a buffer between the high traffic volume of the freeway and the single-family homes,” said Commissioner Andrew Ozuna.
The developer, Robert Melvin, and his local company, Disruptive Construction, have experience in converting former shipping containers into residential living space. Melvin is responsible for Park Avenue at the Pearl, a small development of single-family homes at East Park Avenue and East Elmira Street.
Melvin sought to amend the Tobin Hill neighborhood plan to change the land use at the two North St. Mary’s and Euclid properties.
Although Melvin initially envisioned building five seven-story buildings on the two properties, he most recently proposed erecting two four-story structures and four eight-story buildings on the site. Local attorney Patrick Christensen, who represents Melvin on the project, said the most recent proposal called for 27 total units, down from a previous 30-unit concept.
Low-density mixed use limits density at 25 units per acre. The North St. Mary’s and Euclid properties measure less than one acre.
The project would also involve the preservation of an adjacent former general store building, which would be turned into a sales office with potential for future community use, Christensen said.
“I realize we came in with a high-density project to begin with,” Christensen told the Commission. He added that Melvin was open to the low-density mixed-use option and is willing to work with neighbors to advance his project.
Tobin Hill Community Association (THCA) members have negotiated with Melvin to arrange the relocation of two vacant homes on the lot, and to dismantle two other vacant houses and salvage their materials for future reuse.
Tobin Hill is one of the many urban core neighborhoods experiencing an uptick in medium- and high-density infill development.
A few neighbors attended the Commission meeting to express their concerns about Melvin’s overall concept.
Ricki Kushner, a member of the THCA’s Historic Preservation Committee, said the neighborhood plan calls for low-density mixed use and low-density residential on the properties in question. Surrounding lots currently carry those classifications.
For the most part, one- and two-story bungalows surround the properties eyed by Melvin. But there are some nearby small businesses, including a Generations Federal Credit Union branch, and a few vacant industrial and commercial structures.
The nearest tallest building is the seven-story Metropolitan Methodist Hospital. City streets provide a buffer between the hospital complex and neighboring homes.
“We welcome development in our residential core, but we insist that it be responsive to the extensive planning the neighborhood has already done,” Kushner said.
Patti Zaiontz, first vice president of the San Antonio Conservation Society board, said the Tobin Hill neighborhood plan should not be changed so much that a revised land use designation would disrupt the community’s historic characteristics.
Tobin Hill resident Ben Fairbank echoed Zaiontz and Kushner’s concerns.
“The property in question is entirely surrounded by low-density residential and low-density mixed use,” he said.
“A change as proposed to high-density mixed use would bring an unpleasant and jarring change in the character of the land in question, and the land uses would permit changes that would contrast starkly with the surroundings.”
Christensen tried to allay fears about the exterior appearance of the proposed apartments made out of former shipping containers, which measure 10 feet tall.
“You won’t be able to tell that these were storage containers,” Christensen said. “What they do is rip out the walls and add an instant steel frame. They weld and connect these together so that you’d have a total structure.”
Commission member June Kachtik said she fears the apartment buildings could look out of place. But Commission Vice Chair Casey Whittington agreed with Ozuna’s assessment, adding that neighbors have a chance to negotiate with Melvin on issues such as setbacks and parking.
After the meeting, Tobin Hill resident Lynn Knapik said she expects she and her neighbors will talk more with Melvin about the project.
“We were very pleased with the outcome of today’s Commission meeting,” she said.