A proposal to build houses and townhomes on the North Side of San Antonio is raising concerns that the development would increase impervious cover over part of the sensitive Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone.

The Zoning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to approve rezoning 21.6 acres near the intersection of Jones Maltsberger and Redland roads to allow the construction of residential and multifamily units. The change must be approved by City Council.

The land is situated entirely within the aquifer recharge zone and includes portions of West Elm Creek.

Bexar County tax records show the land is owned by Mustang Oaks LLC, and real estate professional Austin Hagauer is listed as its managing member, according to Texas Secretary of State records. The proposed development would be called Mustang Oaks.

The rezoning would change the parcel from a Neighborhood Preservation-Edwards Recharge Zone District to 16.3 acres zoned for residential single-family housing and 5.3 acres zoned for limited density multifamily units. Neighborhood Preservation Districts protect existing subdivisions of homes, and the Edwards Recharge Zone District is an overlay district that restricts uses that could negatively impact the water supply.

Land uses permitted within the Edwards Recharge Zone District are those “not having operations, production, or storage of hazardous materials which could contribute contaminants to the water supply,” according to city codes.

Developers plan to build 68 homes – four houses per acre – and eight to 12 townhomes. A spokeswoman for the law firm of Killen, Griffin & Farrimond, which represents the owner and requested the zoning change, said a floodplain bisects the two zones, but developers could build infrastructure that helps push stormwater “closer to where it should be.”

The site of the requested rezoning is an existing residential property of 21.6 acres transected by West Elm Creek and situated entirely within the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

Members of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance (GEAA) oppose the development of the land, which was a horse farm but has been unused for the last several years. Annalisa Peace, the GEAA’s executive director, said the zoning change will inevitably clear the way for an increase in impervious cover as construction adds more roofs, roads, and other infrastructure that doesn’t allow the absorption of rain. She said environmental scientists have determined that protecting the recharge zone means limiting impervious cover to 10 percent to 20 percent.

“Since 2001 the City of San Antonio has adhered to an informal policy of not granting requests for zoning changes on the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone within City’s jurisdiction if the request involved a substantial increase in impervious cover on the site,” GEAA Executive Director Annalisa Peace said in a notice Monday to alert the organization’s members to the zoning meeting.

However, a spokeswoman for the City’s Development Services Department, Ximena Copa-Wiggins, said there’s never been such an informal policy, and that City zoning follows state statutes.

During the Zoning Commission meeting Tuesday, a spokesman for the San Antonio Water System said SAWS backed the approval of the rezoning.

More than 20 citizens wrote, emailed, or called in to voice concerns during the public comment portion, stating they worried potential developments would take water away from the aquifer, cause more flooding, and/or more traffic. A spokeswoman from the San Antonio River Authority also spoke against the rezoning.

The spokeswoman for Killen, Griffin & Farrimond said the planned development calls for less impermeable cover than the rezoning allows.

“A part of this ordinance is requiring that we don’t increase runoff – we either stay with the pre-developed runoff rate or do better, and we are proposing to do better,” she said.

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Under current zoning, up to 50 percent on half of the land and 30 percent on the other half is allowed to be developed into impermeable cover, SAWS Communications Manager Anne Hayden said. Under the new zoning, only 35 percent of the total land would be allowed to be made impermeable, meaning more of the land would have to be kept permeable, she said.

After five-hour Zoning Commission meeting, Peace told the Rivard Report the GEAA was displeased with the outcome, saying that having even 35 percent impervious cover isn’t good enough since almost all the land is currently undeveloped and available to recharge the aquifer.

“We will be mobilizing people to contact their council member since it goes to Council next,” Peace said.

This story has been updated to correct the number of proposed townhomes in the development.

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett reports on business and technology for the Rivard Report.