Iris Dimmick / Rivard Report
Update: On April 28, City Council approved the zoning change that will allow Andrea and Raymond Garcia to open and operate their restaurant on 1036 S. Alamo St., despite the restaurant's limited parking spots.
Original story published on March 16, 2016:
Due to an oversight in the City of San Antonio's permitting process, a small sandwich shop will provide only five on-site parking spots in the King William Historic District where it would typically be required to have more than double that. A zoning change, which will ultimately require approval from City Council, was unanimously approved by the City's Zoning Commission on Tuesday essentially that waives parking requirements for the new restaurant.
Parking in King William and the greater Southtown neighborhood in San Antonio's urban core has become an increasingly impassioned issue as its growing stock of restaurant, commercial, and residential offerings attract more people to live and visit.
Casa Azul De Andrea, owned by neighborhood property owners and residents Andrea and Raymond Garcia, will soon offer tortas, chips, guacamole, and other simple culinary treats at 1036 S. Alamo St.
"Like something you'd find in Mexico City," local attorney Jorge Canales, who represents the Garcias and is a longtime friend, told the Zoning Commission on Tuesday.
The zoning change was needed to retroactively fix what city staff described as an "oversight" during the permitting process. The Garcias did nothing wrong. When the interior building plans were submitted for approval in August 2015, it was to convert the historic-home-turned-office-space into yet another new use, a small restaurant. Typically when structures change their use, a parking review is triggered. In Casa Azul's case, for some unknown reason, that review wasn't triggered by staff and so the Garcias received a permit to continue work.
After about five months and more than $70,000 worth of renovations, Canales said, he and the Garcias received notice that their building was in violation of local zoning rules because of the building's lack of parking. The issue was brought to the attention of City staff by the King William Association, which firmly opposed the zoning change approved on Tuesday.
"There was oversight somewhere in the machine?” Commissioner Orlando Salazar (D4) asked of city staff.
"Yes," came the reply.
"The gentleman did everything right. It was a snafu in the system and not only did he do everything right but he invested a significant amount of money," Salazar said, and therefore shouldn't be punished for the City's mistake. "There's not going to be any death involved ... it's just – in my opinion – making something right."
Nearby places like Hot Joy, and B&D Ice House, and newly opened Frank were not required to undergo a parking review when permits were issued because there was no change of use – those buildings were previously restaurants and were therefore grandfathered in.
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), whose district includes Southtown, said on Wednesday that permitting process is being updated to avoid situations like this in the future.
"(The Garcias) went about it correctly, they went through all the proper procedures," Treviño said. "They did a beautiful job.”
The King William Association typically opposes almost all Infill Development Zoning changes in the neighborhood as they provide for more flexibility in parking, set backs, and landscaping – all things that historic neighborhoods would typically like preserved.
Neighborhood Association Executive Director Cherise Bell said the neighborhood's top concern is noise and parking and spoke in opposition to the zoning change on Tuesday. Bell has nothing against the restaurant, she said, just the added strain to the neighborhood's oft-filled street parking.
Councilman Treviño said his office is studying parking problems and solutions in the area.
"It's a diverse strategy that we're looking at (for parking). The success of King William is great and welcome, but there are other things we need to be thoughtful of," he said. "We also want to protect the integrity (of the historic district)."
Treviño said he met with SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez to discuss a strategy that may involve sharing the district's assets like Brackenridge High School's parking lot. Rideshare, mobile applications like Lyft and Uber, and parking apps will also be part of the collaborative solution, he said.
"It sounds cliche, but it really just takes a partnership with everybody," Treviño said. "We will continue to push for a better parking situation."
An ongoing resident permit parking pilot program is being tested out on Arsenal Street by the Center City Development and Operations Department, the implications of which are pending.
"We're just asking the City to implement tools it already has," Bell said, like residential permits, special event parking, and restricted parking signs at certain intersections and sides of the street.
The parking problem in King William, said Commissioner Siboney Diaz-Sanchez (D1), is not one that can be solved by the Zoning Commission.
"Parking is always going to be an issue," Diaz-Sanchez said. "It kind of comes with the territory, if you move in to (or live in) an area that has that active of a street. ... Planning for more parking is not going to be the solution. The challenge of this commission is to consider various issues at different scales. It's hard to talk about parking on one project when really it's a greater issue."
The entire city needs better public transportation options, she said, to reduce the need for more parking.
Parking isn't the future for King William, added Commissioner Francine Romero (D8), "It's going to have to be something besides people driving down there in their cars."
Romero also noted that the simple menu is also something welcomed in a neighborhood with award-winning restaurants.
"That's getting back to the spirit of King William. Not every restaurant has to be something listed in Texas Monthly,” she said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified Orlando Salazar and Cherise Bell. Salazar is the zoning commissioner for District 4 and Cherise Bell is Executive Director of the King William Association, not the president.
Top image: A City rezoning notification outside the future Casa Azul De Andrea restaurant. Photo by Iris Dimmick.