Planning Commission Backs Tobin Hill Land Use Adjustment for Apartments

Print Share on LinkedIn Comments More
Some windows are boarded up in the houses along E. Euclid Ave.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Windows of some houses along E. Euclid Avenue, where apartments are planned, are boarded up.

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.

Courtesy / City of San Antonio

The map identifies the tract where developer Robert Melvin had sought to change land use classification to accommodate a proposed multistory apartment complex.

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.

24 thoughts on “Planning Commission Backs Tobin Hill Land Use Adjustment for Apartments

  1. As long as 8 stories is seen as “jarring” near i-35 in a neighborhood like tobin hill, san antonio will not achieve much in sustainable development and walkable cities.

    This is exactly what is needed to protect the existing historic housing stock..much in very bad repair. Otherwise, by the time higher density is needed, it will be 20 stories near i35 and 6 over existing, which means demolition of any 1 and 2 story homes. versus putt8ng 8 or 9 floors at i35 now and infill at vacant lots so in future its not cost effective to demolish the 1 and 2 story bldgs for just 1 to 3 stories more.

    Very short sighted and sad.

    • Perhaps their concerns need consideration. It’s their property down here. Did you or any of these developers stop and consider the impact on the property value of those 1 and 2 story homes diminishes with tall apartment buildings next door. I think not considering that should be considered short-sighted and sad.

      • First, 6 to 9 stories is not tall, and it is considered the most sustainable urban density. I would love to live in a neighbor like that, but san antonio doesnt have it yet.
        Second, usually in other walkable cities in the US, property values increase with greater density, and neighborhoods become safer with more eyes and people walking around, so the impact to the adjacent home would be net positive. Increased density will also benefit support businesses and create demand for new ones.
        What happens when density remains low is that the deteriorating homes become functionally obsolete and not financially feasible for repair because the cost isnt recaptured fully in a higher value once repaired. Existing stock gets worse until it is fully replaced instead of rehab. And historic designation doesnt stop that process and can make it worse overall.
        Tobin Hill is in a location that will gentrify, and many existing renters and owner occupants will have to leave if unaffordable. That is a different issue that wont be solved if conflating increased density with that issue. There are ways to address that without unintended consequences of artificial restraints that end up making everything more expensive than it would have been otherwise and worse overall than it could have been.
        It is best to focus new development as greater density infill so the existing older structures become more feasible to renovate.

    • Couldn’t agree with you more Steve. How a change from the existing land use of abandoned boxing gym, abandoned brewery, and gas station on that corner is not a welcome thing for those in the urban community surrounding this area is beyond my comprehension. We should be welcoming of the many future neighbors that could move to the area and help support a real urbanism so close to downtown and centers like the Pearl and Jones/Broadway.

  2. “Disruptive Construction”indeed. How in your face is this??
    Defines in terms of business as :
    relating to or noting a new product, service, or idea that radically changes an industry or business strategy, especially by creating a new market and disrupting an existing one.

  3. At nearly 4,000 persons per square mile. Alamo Heights is one of the most dense areas of the SA metro area. Multistory apartments next to single family do not appear to diminish character or property value. An 8-story apartment building, especially if aesthetically pleasing, could serve as a landmark for the neighborhood. I always find it fascinating how folks get their backs against the wall against urban renewal, yet are perfectly complacent with existing drab industrial and commercial buildings. More neighbors bring community renewal, increased safety, and increased markets for local businesses. If you agree, consider checking out San Antonio Neighborhoods for Everyone.

    • I’m not aware of any 8-story buildings in Alamo Heights that are adjacent to single-story single-family homes. It is one thing to have those properties adjacent to single-family homes (ala 200 Patterson) it is another thing to have the actual building right next to the homes. I haven’t seen the actual designs but it seems hard to see how that site allows for sufficient setbacks to not create significant adverse impacts. The middle-ground here is something like 3-5 stories max with setbacks and screening adjacent to the single-family homes. That allows for more density and change without being TOO disruptive. Good job planning commission on striking what sounds like the right balance here.

  4. I agree with Steve, that walkability is important for City sustainable development, and, that height of the new proposed development should not be the sole disqualifying factor for the proposed development in the Tobin Hill neighborhood.

    Walkability provides healthy exercise. Walkability should include healthy aesthetically pleasing landscaping, away from moving cars. Walkability is needed to walk to a nearby corner store or to reach a transit system for distant destinations. A transit system can include VIA busses, the River Walk, sidewalk system, the huge Howard Peak Greenway Trails, and others.

    New land development proposals should include proposed walkability enhancements. Ideally, the proposed walkability enhancements should be integrated with the many existing and planned City transit systems.

    Click on “Nature Trail Maps” above, and provide ideas for enhancing this website for walkability.

  5. No one has their backs against the wall with urban renewal here. It is grossly inappropriate to place 8 story towers with zero setbacks next to one and two story properties. No one is even complaining about the project as a whole. In fact, most of the surrounding neighbors are excited to see something new there that will contribute to the area in a new way, and to compliment the old grocery store/boxing gym on the corner. It is short-sighted and sad to dump infill into a property as densely as you can and wash your hands of the unintended consequences of doing so.

    • It is NOT “grossly inappropriate” to put an 8 story building next to a 1 or 2 story one. It happens all the time in the great cities of the world. It even happens in Houston where they arent even trying to create a walkable vibrant neighborhood. 4 to 5 isnt any “better” as a compromise. Its worse if the goal is neighborhood vibrancy. If the goal is homogenized suburban where a car is still required, then 4 to 5 stories will help make that happen.

      • Show us some pictures of eight story buildings next to single-story single- family houses? I’ve never seen that look good anywhere. Show us where this works great and we’ll believe you.

        • look at photos of Chicago or Montreal on google – you will see 1-2 stories next to 6-10 stories. They are both beautiful, walkable, diverse cities.

          • Hmmm… I looked on google and didn’t find pictures like you were saying. I’ve visited both cities and didn’t see that either. Can you just send one picture that you think illustrates this concept? Also, we were talking 8 stories next to single story and now you’re talking 6 stories next to 2. I think 6 and 2 is a lot more feasible than 8 to 1.

      • Well, being a former Houstonian that fought against the Ashby high-rise in one of the few inner city historical neighborhoods (Boulevard Oaks), I can tell you what a disaster it is first hand! San Antonio and its history of preservation was a big draw for me in thinking of where I would choose to retire. I applaud organizations such as the HDRC (wish Houston had one), Conservancy Society, and an active AIA chapter that speak out!

  6. “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”

    This is the problem with many of the current SA neighborhood plans…they don’t consider future growth of the city nor do they consider diverse housing choices to welcome diverse groups of people. Not everyone can own a single family home and continuing to build single family homes in the inner core does not promote sustainability.

    We need options for everyone – we need more housing and more types of housing in our inner city neighborhoods to help reduce the impact of displacement, provide opportunities for people to age in place, provide options for younger generations that can’t afford home ownership or don’t want to own a home, and to support transit and other non-car oriented transportation options.

    Kudos to Disruptive Construction for their creativity in development providing building options that are quality but not high costs. Furthermore, their short setbacks are welcoming due to creating more friendly walkable places – large setbacks do not invite walkability nor do they create eyes on the street for safety.

    This project seems quite sane, SANE supports this project! http://www.sane-satx.org

  7. I agree with Steve, that walkability is important for City sustainable development, and, that height of the new proposed development should not be the sole disqualifying factor for the proposed development in the Tobin Hill neighborhood.

    Walkability provides healthy exercise. Walkability should include healthy aesthetically pleasing landscaping, away from moving cars. Walkability is needed to walk to a nearby corner store or to reach a transit system for distant destinations. A transit system can include VIA busses, the River Walk, sidewalk system, the huge Howard Peak Greenway Trails, and others.

    New land development proposals should include proposed walkability enhancements. Ideally, the proposed walkability enhancements should be integrated with the many existing and planned City transit systems.

    Click on “Nature Trail Maps” above, and provide ideas for enhancing this website for walkability. Click on the Alamo photo ,or map 67, for integrated bus routes, River Walk trails, and the river boats.

  8. I’m not sure where all of you commenting are getting that Low Density Mixed Use means single family homes? Perhaps you should educate yourselves on what these land use categories actually mean. Low Density Mixed Use allows zoning up to MF-25, which is 25 units per acre. Seems like a good compromise between a neighborhood and a developer. MF-25 will not prevent a neighborhood from being walkable, nor is it single family density. The article states that the neighborhood was happy with the result, and so was the developer. “SANE” seems quick to attack the neighborhood without having all the facts. Are they are intentionally trying to make neighborhoods look bad? Dawn Hanson of SANE works for the Westside Development Corp. https://westsidedevcorp.com/wdc/
    What are they playing at?

    • Not sure why you are anonymously attacking where I work. My work has nothing to do with my advocacy through SANE and vice versa.

    • Low density residential and comments on not wanting more than 1-2 stories does typically mean single family. I don’t think the comment was stating that low density mixed use was single family, the development is going to be over two stories with low density mixed use. It’s unfortunate they weren’t allowed the higher density.

  9. @Dawn

    “Kudos to Disruptive Construction for their creativity in development providing building options that are quality but not high costs.”

    I am curious as to what you even think that new housing units on the property will look like on pricing? I’m sure the developer is not selling his 1200-1400 sq foot, brand new, trendy concept condos for an “affordable” price. With existing in-place properties selling at $225 a square foot, that puts each unit between $275K and $315K. And these are luxury places. The price will be higher.

    “We need options for everyone – we need more housing and more types of housing in our inner city neighborhoods to help reduce the impact of displacement, provide opportunities for people to age in place, provide options for younger generations that can’t afford home ownership or don’t want to own a home”

    This is not realistic for this property or this development. You INsane ideas do not apply here.

    • It will be many years before luxury housing comes to Tobin Hill. Make sure when you are citing costs or process psf that you pay attention to the land value component. Lower land cost (higher density) will lower total unit cost.

    • Also, if units are selling at $250 psf, or whatever, that means there is demand at that price level and more units are needed. So why does it matter how many units are built? In that case, enough for the demand is the best amount.
      However, if your issue is affordability, income inequality, and how are existing residents “rewarded” for their occupancy and stewardship of a declining neighborhood until it attracts capital and gentrification interest to improve (a very major issue as San Antonio grows), then it wont be solved by land planning. And land planning restraints make it worse and more expensive for everyone in the long term. Thats a proven urban geography fact dealing with human history and modern capitalism and not my opinion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *