Revisions Underway on Draft of San Antonio’s Comprehensive Plan

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Sticky notes from a speed planning session about green buildings and houses. Photo by Scott Ball.

Sticky notes from a speed planning session about green buildings and houses. Photo by Scott Ball.

While looking over SA Tomorrow‘s draft Comprehensive Plan, Clarity Child Guidance Center staff noticed something peculiar. Out of 375 pages there was only one mention of mental health on page 208 – a quote from the World Health Organization:

“…Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

While there were plenty of policies and recommendations for health care, food, exercise, and water and air quality included in the Community Health and Wellness chapter, it left out mental health.

“It’s not just the City, but in general people take physical health and just call it health, but we need to be thinking about integrative health — physical and mental,” Clarity Director of Development Michele Brown told the Rivard Report on Wednesday.

Children and staff at Clarity Child Guidance Center. Courtesy photo.

Courtesy / Clarity Child Guidance Center.

One in five children has a diagnosable mental disorder. Photo courtesy of Clarity Child Guidance Center.

The Comprehensive Plan is one of three master plans – the others are Sustainability and Multimodal Transportation – that will be used as a guide for City services and development as it anticipates the population to grow by 1.1 million by the year 2040. The City has been collecting input from residents, working groups, and social media for more than a year.

“Our young people will be adults in 2040,” Brown said, reading a letter from Clarity to City Planning Commissioners on Wednesday who were briefed by City staff on the next steps for the SA Tomorrow progress. Clarity, which recently completed a $22 million expansion, is the only nonprofit mental health treatment center in South Texas that specializes in the treatment of children ages 3-17.

Brown knows the City didn’t purposefully leave out mental health, she said, but “without specifying mental health as part of the focus, we will continue to leave mental health out of metrics, outcomes, and funding.”

During an open house meeting on May 7 at Hardberger Park, a Clarity representative spoke with City planners and delivered the letter that asked the City to change the language in the plan’s Community Health and Wellness goals and policies to include mental health. For instance, Policy 1: “Increase coordination, education and awareness of the City’s social and physical/mental health programs and sustainability goals,” and Policy 4: “Partner with physical and mental health care organizations and non-profit to promote, support and expand the availability and quality of senior services and amenities citywide.”

After speaking with City staff, including Planning and Community Development interim Director Bridgett White, Brown is confident that Clarity’s voice was heard and the language will be updated.

And that’s what this whole public input process is about, White said, “Capturing those concerns.

“A lot of times people just assume that (mental health) is included,” she said. “If we don’t specifically state it, then it may get lost.”

White and Planning and Community Development interim Assistant Director Rudy Niño briefly presented this and other possible tweaks to the Planning Commission, which include additional protections for historic districts and clarifying language about how neighborhood master plans will be incorporated into the master planning process.

Martha Reyes and Jaime Payan provide feedback during the SA Tomorrow kickoff at the Alamo Convocation Center. Photo by Joan Vinson.

Martha Reyes and Jaime Payan provide feedback during the SA Tomorrow kickoff at the Alamo Convocation Center in April 2015. Photo by Joan Vinson.

Plan element working groups will discuss suggested changes to the three plans during several sessions scheduled for June 8 and 9 (see work group and Steering Committee schedule below), and Council’s Comprehensive Plan Committee will review each plan more in-depth on June 7 (Sustainability), June 13 (Multimodal Transportation), and June 23 (Comprehensive), each at 11 a.m. in the Municipal Plaza Building.

The Planning Commission will vote on the plan, alongside any revisions, on July 27. City Council will review the plan/revisions on Aug. 3 at 2 p.m. and then vote on adoption of the plan on Aug. 4.

All of these meetings are open to the public.

Several representatives from neighborhood associations attended the Planning Commission meeting to voice their concerns that the Comprehensive Plan will disregard the work done on neighborhood-scale plans.

“We’ve consistently heard from neighbors that streets, drainage and (multimodal) connections are important,” said Cosima Colvin of the Beacon Hill Neighborhood Association. “But more than anything is for our plans to be respected … so that the City cannot chip away from those plans in the future.”

While the Beacon Hill plan is 16 years old, it still contains key elements that residents want to keep. Other elements it wants to update, Colvin said, but the neighborhood associations want to retain the power to do so.

The Comprehensive Plan’s process allows for that, White said, by providing residents with opportunities to update their neighborhood plan, not forcing them into compliance with a new plan.

“We’re not discounting neighborhood plans,” she explained after the meeting. “We’re making sure that when we do any type of regional center or community plan, we reach out to those neighborhood groups that have plans or want plans and that we start that discussion. … With a master plan, you can always have a subsection that could mimic almost exactly what the neighborhood’s (plan) says.”

White admitted that the language that the plan uses to describe this process could be improved or strengthened, but it does specifically mention that “residents expressed their concerns that the plan would threaten their existing neighborhood and potentially even their homes. To the contrary, the plan is a blueprint for focusing future growth and development away from existing neighborhoods and into regional centers, urban centers, and along major transportation corridors.”

Part of the first five-year implementation plan may be to host neighborhood summits, she added, where the conversations will “go from the bottom up as opposed to top down,” to ensure “constant and consistant” contact with neighborhoods throughout the city.

Still, some are suspicious of the City’s process. Brady Alexander of the East Pyron-Symphony Lane neighborhood, one of several that are near the Missions of San Antonio that were recently designated by UNESCO as World Heritage sites, doesn’t feel that the City has engaged the community enough through the SA Tomorrow or World Heritage Work Plan processes.

“We’ve not been given any meaningful role,” Alexander told the Planning Commission.

Four out of seven area neighborhood plans are currently being updated in light of the World Heritage designation. The resulting plans, just like any other, will live under the umbrella of the Comprehensive Plan.

“World Heritage Director Colleen Swain, representatives from the Office of Historic Preservation, Development Services, and Planning and Community Development are meeting with neighborhood associations and stakeholders to collect additional feedback for incorporation into those neighborhood plans,” stated Councilwomen Rebecca Viagran in a recent op-ed published in the Rivard Report.

The City will host a 30-day open house, online and in person, in late June to review public input and proposed amendments. For more information call 210-207-7526.

To download shorter, more bite-sized summaries of each SA Tomorrow plan, click the following links: Sustainability, Multimodal Transportation, and Comprehensive.

SA Tomorrow Working Group Meetings

These meetings will be held at Pre-K 4 SA West education center at 1235 Old U.S. Highway 90.

Wednesday, June 8:

  • Public Facilities and Community Safety, 9-10 a.m.
  • Historic Preservation and Cultural Heritage, 10:30-11:30 a.m.
  • Community Health and Wellness, 12:30-1:30 p.m.
  • Jobs and Economic Competitiveness, 2-3 p.m.
  • Transportation and Connectivity, 3:30-4:30 p.m.

Thursday, June 9:

  • Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability, 8:30-9:30 a.m.
  • Military, 10-11 a.m.
  • Housing, 12:30-1:45 p.m.
  • Growth and City Form, 2-3:30 p.m.
  • Steering Committee Meeting, 4-6:30 p.m.


Top image: Sticky notes from a speed planning session about green buildings and houses during an SA Tomorrow event in June 2015.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

Related Stories:

SA Tomorrow Plan Reignites Annexation Debate 

Council to Vote on SA Tomorrow Plans, Anti-Idling Ordinance

SA Tomorrow Seeks Public Input for Comprehensive Plan

Councilman Nirenberg: SA Tomorrow and the Road Ahead

7 thoughts on “Revisions Underway on Draft of San Antonio’s Comprehensive Plan

  1. I’m used to city and regional comprehensive plans that are driven, first and foremost, by a strong commitment to human hazard mitigation and awareness of environmental constraints.

    The draft SATomorrow Comprehensive Plan does not appear to include the word ‘hazard’ anywhere within the roughly 375 pages included with the draft (bar one use describing ‘hazard’ous military materials), nor does it appear to reference the City’s FEMA Hazard Mitigation Action Plan (HMAP) — drafted in 2015 and finalized recently, with the agreed action that the HMAP drive the City’s comprehensive and other planning, including through annual updates of the Comprehensive Plan (see HMAP Action 30):

    More critically, the draft SATomorrow Comprehensive Plan does not appear to identify key human hazards in our region or draw from potentially lifesaving development principles included in the City’s finalized HMAP.

    For example the draft Comprehensive Plan does not seem to reference:

    – ‘wildfire’, ‘wildland’, the City’s ‘wildland-urban interface’ (WUI) or new international WUI development code requirements (HMAP actions 4 and 9);

    – the HMAP commitment to reducing fuel (including pipeline infrastructure) on public and private lands as well as human interaction with pipeline infrastructure (HMAP actions 13 and 36);

    – the HMAP commitment to purchasing open space in flood-prone areas to keep land free from construction in perpetuity. As well as to acquire properties in flood prone areas with priority given to repetitive flood loss structures (HMAP actions 23 and 39);

    – the HMAP commitment to upgrading drainage/stormwater management along the Union Pacific rail road tracks to reduce flooding to adjacent residential and commercial structures — marking this as a possible key corridor for urban redevelopment (trail, etc) through 2040.

    In addition to the above actions, San Antonio’s Hazard Mitigation Action Plan (HMAP) details roughly one hundred actions steps for the City to take to help address stormwater runoff and/or flood risk within specific areas of the city.

    In contrast, the draft SATomorrow Comprehensive Plan does not appear to include any environmental constraints mapping — flood/waterways mapping, flood-prone lands to be acquired, identified areas of HMAP flood risk, areas of high wildfire risk, etc.

    Overall, the draft SATomorrow Comprehensive Plan suffers from a dearth of quality mapping and by not making various proposed and existing map layers easier to compare or study. Navigating the draft Comprehensive Plan is also made more difficult by the lack of a list of figures/illustrations as part of the index as well as by not including a clear list of plans and policies reviewed (references) in constructing this comprehensive plan – hence concern from the public about how this new draft plan ‘fits’ with neighborhood and other existing planning.

    The feedback I provide here is consistent with feedback I provided the planning team as a participant in the City’s first Citizen’s Planning Institute active from roughly mid to late 2015.

    It is sad to me to see now in mid 2016 a draft and very wordy comprehensive plan released to the public still lacking some of the ‘basics’ – such as lists of figures/illustrations and references but, more critically, seemingly ignoring key aspects of the City’s own and finalized hazard mitigation planning.

    Hopefully The Rivard Report can help at least bring the City’s FEMA Hazard Mitigation Action Plan (HMAP) – the City’s only finalized ‘SA Tomorrow’ / long range ‘smart growth’ planning at this point – into the SATomorrow Comprehensive Plan review and other planning discussions.

  2. Mental Health Services are an integrated part of County Operations. This makes sense given the County’s role in administering the local Criminal Justice system. People may or may not like Mental Health and Criminal justice being mentioned together, but the are inexorably linked.

    So it makes perfect sense that mental health is not a part of the City’s plan, to do so would constitute mission creep and a redundancy of services that does nothing but waster efforts.

    If you have a problem with current mental health efforts, go to the courthouse, not city hall.

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