San Antonio’s Zoning Commission on Tuesday rejected two zoning requests aimed at bringing a Starbucks coffee shop to the Government Hill neighborhood.

The commission similarly rejected a request in January to bring a QuikTrip gas station to the same property, located at Interstate 35 and North Walters Street.

The zoning proposal to change the properties from residential to commercial has divided area residents and neighborhood groups. Some say the property located at a high-traffic corner is a better fit for a business; others say commercial interests are encroaching on the neighborhood.

Dozens testified during the videoconference meeting by email, voicemail, and phone calls. The issue was further complicated when landowners revealed late in the meeting that they intended to lease the combined 2-acre property to Starbucks.

City Council is slated to take the final vote on the matter next month. Even if the zoning change is approved, the deal with Starbucks is not set in stone, according to a landowner representative.

“This just feels like a gamble,” said Joy McGhee, who chairs the Zoning Commission and voted against both zoning changes.

The “C-2” commercial zoning requested would allow for higher-intensity uses than a coffee shop if the deal falls through, Commissioner John Bustamante said. “This is a pig in a poke.”

Seven commissioners voted against both zoning changes, while commissioners Patricia Gibbons, Marc Whyte, and Dr. Lillian Martin Jones voted in favor, citing the properties’ proximities to major thoroughfares.

“This case has been pretty confusing,” said Jones, who represents District 2, where the property is located. Learning that a specific business such as Starbucks has expressed intent to use the property quelled her concerns, she said.

The northern portion of the property is owned by Sarah Martinez, who has lived in the neighborhood for decades and plans to demolish the small rental homes there regardless of the zoning outcome, her attorney, Matt Badders, said.

She and her father immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico City when she was 17, Badders said. He worked as a painting contractor and over the years they slowly started buying the small homes on that block.

“We’re seeking to keep economic prosperity in District 2. … This property is not for sale, it is for lease,” said Badders, who said he is not charging Martinez – now in her 70s – for his services. The residents who lived on her property have found housing elsewhere, he added.

The previous zoning change request involved Martinez selling the property outright to QuikTrip. This new deal would benefit her and the Jackson Cloma Living Trust (managed by Frost Bank) long-term, Badders said.

The terms of the lease have not been finalized, he said, noting that Martinez would prefer a lease that gives Starbucks an option to buy the property in 30 years.

A representative for the Jackson Cloma Living Trust, which owns the vacant lot directly south of Martinez’s along I-35 frontage road, spoke first to the commission without the ability to reveal what plans were in the works. Later, Badders said he received emailed permission to share Starbucks’ intentions with the commission and the community.

Bustamante asked Badders why the zoning request was submitted before they could reveal their plans.

“Ms. Martinez is not 17 anymore,” Badders said, and Starbucks isn’t investing in engineering and design plans until it finds an appropriately zoned property.

Several neighbors and members of the broader Eastside community said they would be open to a C-1 or other lower-intensity zoning district applied to prevent multiple high-traffic businesses from locating there if the deal falls through or if Starbucks eventually sells the land.

Gibbons questioned the sincerity of the neighborhood’s willingness to compromise, pointing to signs that those opposed to rezoning have placed around the neighborhood that read, “Don’t Kill Gov Hill.”

“We’ve demonized C-2 way too much,” Gibbons said, noting that businesses such as restaurants and bars often serve as meeting places and entertainment for residents. “They never want [commercial zoning],” she said. “We fight them all the time.”

But McGhee said she saw a real commitment for dialogue before City Council votes next month.

“I think it’s worth it,” she said. “I hope there’s not closed doors on both sides”

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com