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The projected growth of San Antonio is well-documented, and there is no shortage of conversation around its challenges and opportunities. Many speculate as to how growth can be accommodated while maintaining the charm and character of our friendly, culturally rich city.
One challenge at the forefront of the conversation involves new development and how it fits within the surrounding community. Of course, there are other aspects of development, such as affordability, sustainability, and safety, that are also important to neighbors. When our nine-person action team was assigned the topic of urbanization during the 2018 Alexander Briseño Leadership Development Program, we immediately knew we wanted to focus on bridging the communication divide between developers and the community.
Developers are generally encouraged to engage with the surrounding community early in the process, whether the project requires discretionary approval or is nearly entitled. The City notifies registered neighborhood associations of certain hearings regarding projects within 200 feet of their boundaries, such as zoning cases and land use plan amendments. However, residents commonly call for a more consistent feedback loop when it comes to development in their neighborhoods. Beyond what’s required by the City, how else can residents weigh in on projects happening nearby?
What if there was a tool that could transparently evaluate a project, identifying areas of agreement and points of departure? What if this tool could assign a score to projects based on their alignment with stated community goals?
Our team began by meeting with neighborhood and community leaders, elected officials, and City staff. Based on our research and stakeholder feedback, we developed Score the Project SA, which takes into account criteria from six categories: affordability, beautification, community involvement, safety, sustainability, and walkability. Scoring each category can highlight, for both the community and the developer, where a project’s strengths lie and where more conversation may be warranted.
Since this is an optional community input process, not a requirement of City code, success relies on reward rather than regulation. Those projects that utilize the scorecard and achieve an overall “B” rating or higher would receive a Score the Project logo to be affixed to the building, signifying a successful community conversation. In future phases, the scorecard could result in financial incentives.
Accessibility and ease of use were of the utmost importance in developing this tool. We wanted a resource that could be used by anyone, anywhere. The scorecard is intended for use without prerequisite knowledge or extensive vocabulary related to development. It would be available in print, with an online option, and in both English and Spanish.
Admittedly, this level of accessibility required some simplification of complex issues. We recognized that the scorecard alone would not achieve consensus on every project, nor would it address bigger-picture concerns of each neighborhood. However, it would start and steer the conversation. The scorecard can help fill a widening gap of understanding and trust between residents and developers, bringing them together in a meaningful and mutually beneficial way. As one stakeholder stated, bringing the developers and community together already is a success.
What elements would you want captured in a simple, user-friendly development scorecard? Would a scorecard be useful to you and your neighbors?
The Urbanization Team is made up of:
- Adrienne Alcazar
- Bianca Garcia
- Brittany Alonzo
- Erika Ragsdale
- Hugh Farr
- Jennilee Garza
- Marissa Rodriguez
- Stephanie Flores
- Steven Zumaran