Efraim Varga, proprietor of Varga Endeavors LLC, is bullish on development of new housing projects in Southtown. Not rentals, but new homes and townhomes for sale. That now includes Sunglo and Lotus Urban Homes, two new residential complexes on South Presa Street.
The new projects follow Varga's first "endeavor" in the neighborhood, a housing project on the site of the former Rolling Home Trailer Courts at 519 Roosevelt Ave. where he is constructing 28 affordable townhouses called The Park at Lonestar Homes.
Two years after launching that project Varga now is developing two new sets of townhouses half a mile north of The Park at Lonestar Homes.
Sunglo Urban Homes, a $2.46 million investment, will be located at the site of a former gas station. The 10-unit complex at 1519 S. Presa St. consists of stand-alone residential units that will be priced between $300-$350,000.
The second complex, Lotus Urban Homes, a $3.35 million investment, will be 17 attached units smaller in size than the Sunglo homes, ranging in price from $285-400,000. The Lotus complex at 1603 S. Presa St. consists of three different floor plans. The first two options are two bedroom, two and a half bath units. One is 1,107 sq. ft. and the other is 1,375 sq. ft and includes a one-car garage. The third unit is 1,425 sq. ft. and has three bedrooms and two and a half baths, a two-car garage, and a rooftop terrace on the third floor. Both developments are slated for completion in the fall of 2016.
South St. Mary's Street south of Brackenridge High School at Lonestar Boulevard, turns into Roosevelt Avenue and with the name change comes an urban landscape less visibly touched by change, even as real estate values and sales continue to climb. It is here, among the bars, taquerías, motels, and machine shops that Varga sees opportunity.
The Sunglo and Lotus Urban Homes will be walking distance from the Mission Reach, the eight mile linear park and wildscape close to the four Spanish colonial Missions, which were designated a World Heritage site in July and will likely spark more urban renewal and economic activity in the near-Southside.
"I think it is a perfect time (to develop this area). Everybody feels the change coming, and they see the change coming," Varga said. "These are some of the first few steps. South Presa is going to change with these units, and I think it is also going to be a trickle effect. People are going to start buying (in this area) and doing the same things."
Varga, along with a group of city, political, and public figures, on Friday broke ground on the two developments situated adjacent to one another on South Presa Street.
Joan Carabin, a member of the Lavaca Neighborhood Association, praised Varga for his ability to "see through the brokenness" in her neighborhood.
"The people who live (in this neighborhood) have a great spirit. They have a great desire to see things improve and to help their children to be able to advance. When investors come and build something that is in harmony that is already here ... that is a plus for us," Carabin said. "It is not going to be 12 stories high or 700 units, it is going to be on a very human scale. ... It's built to look and feel like the neighborhood."
The groundbreaking took place at the future location of Sunglo, and the former location of a CITGO gas station. Sunglo Service Stations are the food stores attached to some CITGO stations across San Antonio, sparking the name for Varga's 10-unit development. Varga demolished the gas station to rid the neighborhood of toxins and replenish the neighborhood with a residential complex that will be certified by Build San Antonio Green.
"We believe this project is going to be certified at our level two program level, which is 25% more energy efficient than a brand new building built to code," said Anita Ledbetter, the executive director of Build San Antonio Green.
Varga will install energy-efficient windows, water and lighting fixtures, and will insulate the building to meet the Build San Antonio Green certificate.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-35) saluted Varga for his efforts to keep the developments eco-friendly environments.
"How appropriate it is that we will have Sunglo here in a place that was once an old service station that really didn't – in it's deteriorated form – add anything to the neighborhood...And we will add an asset that will set an example for the community that we need to be moving away from our over-dependence on fossil fuels," Doggett said.
The Sunglo development is located in the Inner City Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ), which means Varga will qualify for a $500,000 tax break. The Lotus project is eligible for more than $100,000 in incentives from City and SAWS fee waivers.
Varga was born in Hungary and moved to Sacramento, CA, at the age of six, where he lived until five years ago when he moved to San Antonio. While in California, Varga was a general contractor for an investment agency that flipped houses. Varga took what he learned in California and began flipping houses in San Antonio after his arrival. He primarily focused his attention on the King William neighborhood.
"I loved the character of these old 100-year-old houses," he said. "They're fun projects to go in and work with what you have – keeping the original look, but adding the modern amenities that people are looking for."
After about three years of buying, upgrading and then selling houses, Varga has shifted his focus to become a developer building new housing with the support of investors.
"That was always my goal," he said.
"It is something I love doing. Sometimes I'll wake up at four in the morning and my mind is running with these projects. This is what I love to do. I wake up every morning excited to build development and buy and sell. I just love every part of it. It’s a hobby and at the same time it is my business."
*Top image: A rendering of the Lotus Urban Homes. Image courtesy of Varga Endeavors.