Viewshed Proliferation Leaves Little Room for Infill Development

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Downtown San Antonio as seen from a vacant lot north of the Hays Street Bridge.

Robert Rivard / Rivard Report

Downtown San Antonio's skyline as seen from the vacant lot north of the Hays Street Bridge.

I am all for preserving San Antonio’s history, but not when it puts the brakes on San Antonio’s future. With a restrictive new viewshed ordinance gaining momentum within the City’s Office of Historic Preservation and the City Council’s Arts, Culture and Heritage Committee, the important balance between the city’s past and present is tilting toward the wrong direction.

San Antonio risks becoming a city where infill developers, recruited to the urban core by the rhetoric of public officials, find so many obstacles to sensible development that they simply stop trying. San Antonio has long protected its history, but it could reach a tipping point where just about anything and everything is accorded historic status. In a world where everything is historic, nothing is historic.

Five Viewshed Protection Districts preserve the Alamo and the four Spanish-colonial Missions, collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. No one would want to see those viewsheds altered or lifted. Arguments can certainly be made to extend that protection to San Fernando Cathedral on Main Plaza and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower on the city’s Westside.

But City Council members Ana Sandoval (D7) and Cruz Shaw (D2) want to extend such protections and create viewsheds around the Hays Street Bridge on the near-Eastside and the Tower Life Building downtown. They also want to give consideration to several other sites cited by community members, including the Arneson River Theatre on the River Walk; Mission Marquee Plaza near Mission San José; Woodlawn Lake; the Japanese Tea Garden at Brackenridge Park; and the Tower of the Americas.

As the photos I took last week and published here show, the view downtown from the Hays Street Bridge, while of definite value, will change with each tower or other edifice added to the downtown skyline. Frankly, that panorama reveals more empty space than skyline, yet every new building inevitably will block somebody’s view of something.

The views of the bridge itself from the surrounding streets show blight, vacancy, standing storm water, and desolation. I like a project that leaves the mass of the bridge in view, but not something that protects 100 percent of it, including its enormous footings, from every angle.

The light industrial buildings and handful of single family residences that border the vacant property north of the bridge underscore how problematic imposing more viewsheds can be: Will we protect the views of a few factory workers during the day and a handful of residents of an already well-preserved railroad bridge to the exclusion of serious urban renewal and developing new housing stock in and around Dignowity Hill?

Where do we draw the line?

H-E-B’s Arsenal headquarters would have never been expanded years ago if every individual resident living nearby had a sacrosanct right to a view of the Tower of Americas. There would be no Weston Centre if the Milam Building had been accorded viewshed protection. The Tower Life Building holds an important place in the city’s downtown development history, but does that mean that anything visible from the building’s front door should be out-of-bounds for future developers?

If every period gas station, automobile dealership, and family diner or dancehall evokes a wave of public nostalgia met with acquiescence by elected officials, we will become a museum, a city caught in time with an obsessive focus on the past and no sense of the future.

The impetus for this debate began last year when Shaw and Sandoval submitted an official request for City staff to investigate expanded regulations after the Historic and Design Review Commission delayed the muchdebated multi-family and mixed-use project adjacent to the Hays Street Bridge. HDRC denied a redesigned version of the project on March 9, but City Manager Sheryl Sculley, with ultimate authority over commission rulings, approved the project with stipulations two weeks later. It remains to be seen whether it will be built.

The viewshed ordinance likely will come to a vote before City Council, perhaps by the time we celebrate Commemorative Week in early May. As I’ve written before, the Tricentennial should focus as much on the city’s future as its past.

With the current debate over expanding the city’s viewshed protections of places and structures of real or perceived historical importance or interest, we risk bringing to a screeching halt the Decade of Downtown, and allowing a new ordinance, however well-intentioned, to contradict our rhetoric about becoming a city with a future, a city with a vibrant urban core.


44 thoughts on “Viewshed Proliferation Leaves Little Room for Infill Development

  1. The “flooded street” appears to show a flooded section of the Lamar Street rail crossing. The flooding is probably caused by poor drainage and impervious cover from the parking lot put in place by the Alamo Brewing company – one of the partners in the apartment complex.

    Did the builder consider the effects of his parking lot for City residents? Apparently not. But let’s support him as he paves more and builds more, anyway.

    Also, your photo is comical. “Here’s a picture I took without the bridge in it. See, you can’t even see the bridge from here, just empty sky. Do not turn 45 degrees to the south, or you’d see this view of the skyline, silhouetted through the bridge. Do not imagine this spot as a park, with minimal flood-enhancing impervious cover.”,-98.4766607,3a,75y,180h,90t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1s4EMeiJVbwQv38KKb2cjGuQ!2e0!!7i13312!8i6656

    • * except sidewalks.

      Maybe CoSA taxpayers can do something about that, because the developers surely won’t.

      The Alamo Brewery (and apartment complex partner) didn’t put any paved sidewalks or a bike path on Lamar, next to his giant, impervious, asphalt, flood-enhancing parking lot; but he did hang a sign for “Guest parking” on his attractive, barbed-wire, chain-link fence.

      Driving is okay, just don’t try to walk or ride here; it’s flooded.

      • The street has flooded like that long before the parking lot was there. There are multiple sets of train tracks, the one you see is no longer in use. Community members pushed hard to add drainage and sidewalks in the last bond issue and were supported by the brewery as we were with a project on Cherry Street a few years ago.

        • The point of my comment is that Rivard captioned his photo: “the street…next to an empty lot, remains flooded.”

          The implication is that the empty lot is somehow part of the urban blight he cites and could be better used for new construction, when in fact, that “empty lot” is really brand new and was placed there by the same developer who is a partner in The Bridge.

          The brewery’s new empty lot contributes to Rivard’s propagandist images of “blight, vacancy, standing storm water, and desolation.”

          That self-same “empty lot” he cites replaced a vacant lot that was about 60/40 – permeable/impervious cover that previously had some scrubby vegetation that absorbed/slowed down water flowing across the lot.

          As you state, the street flooded before the lot was paved in 2016. But I’m confident in saying that the flooding is now worse and more frequent due to the expanded and “improved” parking lot, with its drainage cut-outs funneling water to the west and onto the street.

          Rather than an image of “blight and desolation” his captioned photo could equally state “poorly executed development can induce undesired consequences, like increased flooding – seen here next to a new asphalt parking lot.”

      • As Will stated, the flooding on Lamar near the tracks has long been problematic, as well as a source of social media lampooning several years ago (“Lake Lamar”). The flooding occurred long before the arrival of Alamo Brewery, and such standing water is not exclusive to Lamar: Burleson, Hays, Burnet, Dawson, Crockett, Center all trap water, but none like Burleson, which is arguably in the worst condition of any of these streets. The east side topography grades downward toward the city center; the tracks are elevated, causing water to build up behind them at crossings. Also, prior to the lot’s recent asphalting, it was dirt–very penetrable to rainwater. Bike paths? Not the developer’s responsibility–those are for city streets, and the most biked street in that neighborhood designated as a bike route is Austin, which has no designated bike lane. Sidewalks? There are few if any sidewalks on any street in that area. The city began sidewalk construction on Lamar only within the last four months–and as most anyone will agree, the sidewalks being installed are laughable, meeting minimum construction standards and poorly addressing obstacles like trees, utility poles street signs. Don’t blame Alamo Brewery for a lack of suitable investment or planning in the Near East Side over the last century.

        • The owner of the parking lot put in a drainage system just for the parking lot. It was designed to handle all drainage from the lot and connects directly to the storm water . It was designed, permitted, and installed to me city code.

      • City told parking lot owner not to build sidewalks as new sidewalk and curb had been designed and included in the street improvements of the bond package.

  2. One thing that needs to enter the discussion is the total amount of potential property tax valuation that would be eliminated If a viewshed is implemented. It would be fairly easy to create a massing model based upon allowable building under the zoning and building code and then apply some estimate of realistic building….even just 50% of the potential. Once the school dostrict, Bexar County and other property tax recipients see how much they will be “paying” for a particular viewshed protection, I suspect a lot of support for such protection will evaporate. In the grand scheme of all the urban challenges we face as a community, setting up a big potential cost to the public to preserve some existing viewshed should be way down on the priority list.

  3. The viewshed protection plans seem to me to be an effort to go back to the San Antonio of the 1930s through the 1950s–to a city that decides it wants to stand still and show off what it has rather than being a city that continues to grow and remain progressive. So many people complain that downtown looks so dull with all of its beige skyscrapers; well this plan would probably freeze all of that in place. It will be difficult for any skyscrapers to be built because they will interfere with someone’s view of something protected in the area. I moved here because San Antonio finally made a turnaround to start being a newer, exciting city–slowly in the 1960s and more rapidly in the last 15-20 years. These regulations will put a halt to almost anyone wanting to move here except for retirees on fixed incomes looking for places cheaper than Austin, Phoenix, etc., and remembering the San Antonio they visited in their youth rather than a modern city.

  4. There has to be a balance that accomplishes both growth and preserves the unique character of SA. I personally am not enamored of the Austin, Dallas or Houston skylines where it’s becoming difficult to distinguish them. They are monolithic. A good plan can accommodate growth and preserve our views of uniquely San Antonio structures. Views of the Tower of the Americas definitely need to be preserved as much as possible.

  5. The view shed discussion sounds like one of those government things that proposes to eliminate future controversies by having a “policy” rather than the revolutionary notion of deciding on projects on a case by case basis. I totally agree with the Rivard assessment. I am a San Antonian from Germany. After World War II we rebuilt our cities. Some, like Nuremberg, are museums to the past. Every little triangular lot from the middle ages was reconstructed in stone to make sure that memory was erased so that recent history would not interfere with the local identity. Frankfurt was of the opposite notion. It combined new construction with historical artifact. The combination of the two doesn’t make for nostalgic tourism, but wow does the interplay of the modern and the historic make for a vibrant, interesting, and dynamic place. San Antonio is kind of like that. Maybe that’s why it appeals to me. I hope that the city will continue to be a combination of old and new that grows more organically. What happened to the mayor’s focus on movement and transit? Let’s get back to the important elements of government.

  6. Our city planning focus needs a broader view ,not one limited to viewsheds.

    San Antonio seems to hop from one development hot button to the next.

    It is alarming , that the Alamo plaza closure debate has been usurped by a
    view-shed to /from a bridge.

    Thoroughfares, especially Alamo and Broadway need to remain our pivotal circulation arteries.Disconnecting Broadway from Alamo further disrupts the linkage of SouthTown to RiverNorth and “NorthTown”.

    The City is expending millions of dollars to upgrade Alamo and Broadway …yet the closure of Alamo permanently disconnects our primary north to south cultural and historic boulevard .

    Viewsheds are not as pivotal to the success of a thriving city center than the continued improvement of our streetscapes, plazas , and open space .

    • Alamo between Commerce and Travis is one-way northbound. I hardly think that counts as a north to south connector. Have you noticed the speed of traffic on Alamo Plaza? Hardly a boulevard.

    • I too reject the idea of closing off Alamo Plaza to through traffic. I resent the whole “downtown for is for tourists” mantra that seems to be driving the re-imagining of the Alamo area. That Alamo is mine too. I like to think of the Alamo as a sort of my honorary grandma. I don’t make long visits to her very often but I do drive by to say a quick hello whenever I’m in the neighborhood. I am going to hate not being able to see the Alamo any time I want to but only when I have to make a specific trip to drive downtown, park, and then walk over. Going to miss my Grandma Alamo.

  7. San Antonio has been a stagnant city for decades, this viewshed ordinance will ensure it stays that way. We have momentum moving forward, let’s keep it going.

  8. Gee, whiz! Every time a new infill project is proposed it seems we have a major conflict on our hands. The year of downtown was a great idea, but the small mindedness of our “NIMBY” neighborhoods seems determined to keep us as a crumbling town with no place to go. Life is dynamic. We either grow and improve or we decline and die. Which will it be?

  9. There have been a number of articles on this view-shed issue and reasonable people on either side of the debate. The truth is, there are some people who are legitimately concerned that there will be harm done to the view if Simor develops HIS LAND. On the other side, you have a bunch of people that think that a view is more important than more housing, more residents, improved facilities and attention, and most of all, jobs and income to an area that has been neglected for ever because sad to say, the right colored people didn’t live here. We know this.
    To the latter, please go away. This is OUR CITY TOO!
    And to Cruz Shaw and Ron Nirenberg, How about you PAVE LAMAR? I haven’t been down my own street in 6 years!
    Giving myself pressure on Sunday and I just came back from Church… ARGH!

  10. History continually expands…it is not simply some period “decades ago”; we are building a future history today. It is important to respect and protect our heritage, but it must be done in a way that allows the continuation of San Antonio’s story as reflected in ongoing growth. We honor our landmarks by supporting and encouraging life and energy around them, not by driving people to the far edges of town by creating obstacles to reasonable infill development; I for one have no interest in seeing downtown return to the abandoned status of the 80s and 90s. View corridors are a very restrictive tool that should be considered only with great caution.

  11. We have spent a lot of time in Chattanooga. They restored an old railroad bridge called Walnut Street Bridge. There is tons of development on both ends of the bridge. It is a well done project, and was central to the start of transforming downtown. Yes like most bridges it is across a river, but the “viewshed” from either end is clearly impacted by condos, apartments, retail. It is vibrant. We understand the concept, and can’t speak about parking lots and permeable surfaces, but I can say that the view from the bridge of beer and liquor bottles on building roofs, of homeless people living on the West ramp, the views of questionable living quarters from the bridge never seems to come up in these discussions. I am concerned that we aren’t really concerned about viewsheds, we just don’t want them to build anything there. Forget viewsheds and focus on improving infrastructure, reducing crime and open drug use in our parks, shutting down crack houses.

  12. The truth is that viewshed protection would create more space for infill development on an expanded boundary surrounding the protected landmarks — rather than suffocate, strangle and disfigure the very spaces that give our unique city its beauty and charm. Ethical and smart development. There are many reasons to reject the models of explosive mediocrities of cookie-cutter boom cities like Dallas or Austin (which is all but ruined). Furthermore, neither of those examples have reduced homelessness and poverty which have both increased. The very title of this piece is misleading by design and reveals the consistency of the Rivard Reports pro-corporate at-all-cost agenda promoting elite developer interests above all others. San Antonio has a strong history of fighting this type of raw greed and developer entitlement for the larger good of the people who love and call it home. Prime example is the River Walk, which the same type of visionless and greedy developers wanted to pave over to squeeze in more retail space — and look at it now! We can thank the concerned and determined preservation activists for fighting and winning then as now. #nettiehintonpark

  13. There is no way that protecting these views that define San Antonio is a threat to infill… there is plenty of room for infill. When all is said and done we will have more than enough boring glass towers. Ugly glass towers can take care of themselves. All of these powerful developers will be just fine. I strongly support this view shed ordinance.

  14. The Capitol of the State of Texas got a view corridor. It is amazing. This bridge simply does not rate one, ever, period.

  15. The Hays Street Bridge was built in 1881, long before the Texas State Capitol or even the Eiffel Tower. It became a Texas Historical Civil engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The City of San Antonio, the Texas Historic Commission and the Historic Bridge Foundation also lists the bridge as a Historic Structure. It is also listed on the Federal Register of Historic Places. As such, historical landmarks such the Hays Street Bridge definitely rate view shed status — always, absolutely yes.

    • Restoring the bridge is fine. Protecting the bridge is fine. It is not as important as the State capitol building, and never will be.

      • Shadows, sparkle, and sight-lines.
        Isn’t it amazing?
        My building sparkles so DON’T build anything which might dilute the sunlight.

        San Antonio needs and wants new development.
        It’s nice that you can see downtown from the bridge. It’s nice that you can see downtown from M’Anyplaces.

        It’s interesting that much time, money, and energy was spent saving the Bridge. Now~really save the Bridge. Put it to use. Simor’s idea for a restaurant is a much higher use than the difficulties it suffers now. How about beauteous dancing coloured lights like the I-37 underpasses downtown?

        I understand that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Over the years I have spent hours walking the Bridge, viewing the Bridge, and wondering about the Bridge. One thing I am sure about: it is quite ugly and has had way too much time, attention, and press.

      • What is your obsession with the Texas State Capitol building? Nobody is saying that it is “as important” except you. Besides, it’s a false dichotomy — apples and oranges. In it’s context, the bridge is a visual icon — historical at that (older than the Texas State Capitol building). As such, just like the missions, and other local landmarks, it deserves protection regardless on how any of us think they compare to the Texas State Capitol building. Forget Austin. This is San Antonio. We already lost the Stock Yards to visionless city leaders and developers. Ft. Worth did a wonderful preservation of theirs (San Antonio is the older stock yard having been the starting point of the Chisolm Trail which is now I35, serious Texas History wiped out for a couple of rickety industrial storage units.

  16. Oh gosh, where does one begin to weigh in on this?

    A property owner affected by this knee jerk ordinance is having the value of their property taken away. In legal terms, it’s called a “taking”. It’s a form of eminent domain which creates an ugly mess for the city. Texas has iron clad property rights laws in which no sovereignty can devalue or prevent a property owner from developing a site without compensation. So unless the city is prepared to pay for these view shed protections it should stop pursuing it.

    The Hays Street Bridge sat neglected for decades and at one point was going to be torn down, now it’s being treated like the Statue of Liberty. It does not merit view shed status even though it has an interesting history. Has anyone considered that the Bridge Apartments and the Hays Street Bridge might work together and actually amplify each other? I think the Bridge Apartments will make the Hays Street Bridge a better place and most certainly improve the area in general. I think of the bridge being the axle or hub that serves as the center to radiate out to the area around it. The focus on view shed is misdirected and should be redirected to views “from” the bridge not “of” the bridge. A perfect example is New York’s High Line where all the emphasis is “from” the elevated track not “of” it. The High Line is an interactive masterpiece where buildings interact with and touch the elevated rail. It’s important to note that the vision for the highly successful High Line was created by Robert Hammond, a San Antonio architect.

    • I was just on the High Line last month – it was a great walk along the buildings.
      The apartments and the brewery will serve to start more development in the area. I find it interesting also, that the residents do not realize the apartment building will give them a little insulation from the noise of the trains going by.
      I am totally a property rights person – if you own you should be able to do with it as you wish as long as you follow the existing rules. If someone does like what you are going to do with the property – then buy it and do what you want to do with it.
      The view shed policy looks to be a slippery slope that will slow down the advancement the city is making.

      • I hope Cruz and Sandoval are reading all this. These are two idealistic council members who cave in to a few noisy constituents without a thought of the bigger picture. It’s a complete lack of leadership and direction. Hopefully the voters will remove them if they run for office again.

        • I hope if Cruz and Sandoval are reading all this, that they will see these comments for what they are, entitled corporate bully’s who think that their “bigger picture” is the correct one…as if you are entitled to the truth itself. The only lack of leadership is not voiding the entire deal and taking the land back to create a public park as it was donated for the express purpose from the original land purchaser and owner. It was never supposed to be this in the first place. The complete lack of leadership and direction was the illegal transfer of this property to private hands in the first place. And speaking of voting, Ivy Taylor, who orchestrated that — is gone…back in line at the unemployment benefit office. Which is where the others should go if they can’t do the right thing and shut this project down and take the land back.

  17. Mitch Meyer– “Who will help me bake the bread? said the little red hen.” The story goes that none of the other animals wanted to, but when it was time to eat the bread, they all showed up. The moral of this story is that those who make no contribution to producing a product do not deserve to enjoy the product (in your case to PROFIT privately from stolen land in a totally unethical privatization of donated land — land donated by the family that purchased the land legitimately and deeded it to the people of San Antonio with specific terms for a community park).

    In 2000, a diverse group of community members, working together as the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group, began collaborating with the City of San Antonio to restore the Hays Street Bridge, which is included on the National Register of Historic Places. As part of their work on the restoration project, the Group entered into a contract with the City in 2002. According to the terms of this contract, the Group would raise almost $200,000 in local funds, which would be matched with the federal funding required to restore the bridge. This contract also required the city to use the funding solely for the restoration project, which would include facilities for public access to the site and historical education.

    In the context of this contractual agreement, the Restoration Group solicited and received the land near the bridge, for the purpose of developing it as a park that would allow community and educational use of the restored bridge as a historic landmark. This land was given to the Restoration Group.

    Mitch Meyer, where where you during the painful grass-roots, decades long struggle to salvage the bridge? Did you volunteer countless hours of your life to it’s preservation? Did you donate a single dime? Did you support or contribute in any way to the extraordinary and commendable energy and outreach to restore the Hays Street Bridge? And if it was such a piece of crap — WHY DO YOU WANT IT NOW? It seems that once that bread has been faithfully and laboriously baked you are more than willing to shove those who did so aside, steal it and slather it up with cheap margarine and sell it for exorbitant private profits.

  18. Thank you for this much needed article. Landmarks certainly deserve their place within any community. The Hays Bridge or a portion thereof is potentially a great “design feature” and landmark for the east side community.
    This next sentence is hard for all of to process emotionally. No one is entitled to a view. I’ve been told the Supreme Court even ruled on a case to that effect.

    Design guidelines serve a purpose. To be effective and efficient for property owners, builders and developers, they must be reasonable and adaptive. If we’re not evolving, we are dying. This is true for people, business and communities of all sizes.

    Keep writing sir! Discussion and dialogue are key to the prevention of “digging in our heels” and closing our minds.

    • This isn’t about whether one is “entitled” to a view. It’s about whether view shed should be designated based on factors such as cultural importance. Hence, no further development on the Alamo Plaza, no hideous 5 story overpriced tenements slammed up 5 feet away from the Mission San Jose (or any of them). Even the Texas state Capitol has a view corridor. These are put in place for obvious reasons. While it may be true that no one is “entitled” to a view, why is it that certain wealthy developers are entitled to stolen public land? I disagree with both of those statements. The pro-developer supporters on this page conveniently side-step the question of the ill-gotten gains due to the corrupt back-door deals at City Hall. This land was purchased and maintained for years by the original owners who participated faithfully in the Hays Street Bridge Restoration and donated the land for a park. Those in the community that worked tirelessly towards manifesting that goal have had it hijacked in the most brazen Great Gatsby theft and now have insult to injury with capitalist cronies cooing about their “private property” owner rights. As if the land was purchased at all, much less legitimately. This bridge is older than the Texas State Capitol and the Eiffel Tower. It is an icon landmark for our city. It deserves to be framed out with a green park. Infill development can start on the expanded edges of the park — perhaps single-story, single family dwellings the first square block in each direction, moving slowly to two story after and so forth. I suspect that get-rich-quick developers won’t want to waste their time or money creating a human scale slow and smart development when they can just usurp stolen public land and cram as many shoe-box single dwellings that can fit the computer models for the footprint as high as possible and charge exorbitant/extortionist prices. Blacking out the view of or from the bridge is not evolution, it is raw greed and complete disrespect to the community and the history of the city. A much needed green space with amenities is responsible civic and urban planning.

          • How was that reply in any way “cronyism?” The rhetoric is getting ridiculous. If you want to make a real impact, stop the name-calling and take the high road. You had some valid points in your own argument, unfortunately negated by the knee-jerk emotionality.
            By the way, there are many, many other angles from which to view this bridge. The bridge itself is not going away, it will remain there forever to be viewed and enjoyed by everyone, becoming a centerpiece of San Antonio culture while a surrounding impoverished, blighted neighborhood receives a much-needed economic injection. Also…Responsible urban planning, which you mentioned, includes urban infill and inreasing population density, not more ‘single family dwellings’ in the middle of the urban core. This project can be done right, and if so, a new responsible gentrification in this area could be a reality: businesses run by locals, new jobs for local residents, mixed income development, all while preserving the identity of the neighborhood (i.e. this bridge).

          • CG—Cronyism is the unfair practice by a powerful person (such as a politician) of giving jobs and other favors (in this case public land) to friends (in this case Simor/Meyer). That is the point of this whole conversation, the cronyism that culminated in this disaster. At no point should the San Antonio city council privately and behind the back of the public have given the land to an insider wealthy developer who gave it to another. That — and the defense of such actions is the text book example of cronyism. It’s not name calling, just a fact. Any defensiveness and fragility in regards to the facts are your own responsibility. Nor are the keys to the kingdom to the high road yours to give as long as someone coddles you with sweet talk. Why not take an exception to the term NIMBY ism rather than give it a pass and instead zero in on cronyism? Valid points are immutable regardless of tone policing (tone policing: detracting from the validity of a statement by attacking the tone in which it was presented rather than the message itself). The term “impoverished, blighted neighborhood” is so obviously classist and elitist in nature and render any social justice concerns as totally disingenuous at best. Do you know any of the residents currently living in the immediate vicinity? They take pride in their houses, homes and families. They don’t see themselves through the lens of a greedy land speculator that reduces them to “blighted and impoverished.” Even if a fraction does, do we really think a viable remedy is a privatized high-dollar real-estate speculation which will somehow magically solve all of the systemic social justice issues? Or does it just move them along elsewhere to be somebody else’s problem as long as the developers get theirs? Might it create more problems for those who already have more than their fair share without having to face the prospects of massive property inflation, financial instability and collapse, displacement and even the prospects of some being thrown into homelessness as a result? Will the city or the developers create a fund to help the imminently disenfranchised residents as much as they helped themselves? That is part of responsible urban planning and it is totally lacking in this nightmarish scheme of developer greed gone amok (Simor/Meyer squat on stolen public land, Skully rubber stamps it and gets a $100k bonus on top of an already obscene salary and salary hike). Responsible urban planning isn’t a zero sum game. It’s not either high density infill or single family homes, it’s both. In the case of the Hays Street Bridge, responsible urban planning absolutely could benefit by placing single story, single family dwellings directly on the expanded borders of the park (as opposed to a crush of high-dollar tenements right on the bridge). The high rises and glitzy shopping malls can gradually increase square blocks off the Bridge and park. As we discussed before, the park would expand the possibility of infill development that is sensitive to the site-specific nature of the area, including the issue of view shed as well as create a beautiful shady and green community park as the centerpiece of a smart, slow, sensitive and responsible urban renewal.

          • Suki, once again, you are indeed giving a correct definition of what cronyism is, however my point was you calling someone’s response ‘cronyism,’ which is a tad ridiculous, as a person commenting their mere opinion on your post does not meet the criteria of a person in power playing favorites with insiders. It’s name-calling, and despite any good intentions, that kind of behavior stops any progress in any discussion as it naturally causes people to become defensive, and never works in your favor.. This will only serve to further polarize people. If people bash you, make your points without pushing others away. (Think Gloria Steinem in the 70s who was extremely effective).
            Also, I am sorry but you mentioned that “the term ‘impoverished, blighted neighborhood’ is so obviously classist and elitist in nature,” and this is also just profoundly untrue. Those are facts from a sociological standpoint. It has absolutely NOTHING a to do with the character, work ethic, culture, family values etc. of the individuals in the neighborhood. I do know some who live here. The neighborhood IS blighted (i.e. has been a victim of white flight, urban decay, disrepair and economic decline for decades), and it is largely impoverished (many residents in this zip code live below the poverty line). They have been trapped in a cycle of poverty for a long time, many of them have been unable to access the resources available to other San Antonians. In fact, this neighborhood is mostly in the shape it’s in because of past classism and elitism…middle class residents leaving for other zip codes, buying houses in suburban areas, contributing to urban sprawl, while the city systematically aligned funds to benefit those individuals unfairly while ignoring the near east side. That’s deplorable, and should rightly be condemned. Regardless of this particular developer or how you feel about it, to imply that anyone wanting to improve the lives of those in one of the poorest zip codes in a city of 1.4 million is “classist and elitist” is just myopic. There are many reasons that gentrification can indeed be harmful in situations like this one, and you mentioned a few. Sometimes it’s not done well and citizens become displaced due to rising property taxes, etc and the distinct character of a once intimate neighborhood dwindles away. But sometimes it’s done really well, such as certain areas of Brooklyn (not all areas unfortunately) where you can see the new life in a once neglected community, all while the original residents run and own the shops, restauratnts and other businesses and benefit from much needed change. No chain stores, mostly just locally run businesses. Change like that is remarkable, and could be a reality in parts of San Antionio, such as the near east side. I understand many including yourself are upset by some of the shady politics that may have been involved in acquiring this land, but aside from that, would you be open to any high density development on this property? Even if the developer protected the bridge view and incorporated a park? Row homes? Ground level retail? I’m asking because I’ve noticed a similar pattern in San Antionio for a long time…that many, many times residents of older neighborhoods throughout the city seem to resist any change whatsoever. It seems to plague our city more than most. Change can be scary, especially in a city that did not change much in decades. People get used to the way things are. But it’s the 21st century and San Antonio has catching up to do. Everyone should be able to not only enjoy their enclaves and have them rightfully preserved, but also reap the economic benefits no matter where they live. I’m a proud liberal, but I believe economic development and social justice can be compatible, and aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s not classist or elitist to want to change the status quo.

          • CG– Systems of injustice can’t rely on violence alone to reproduce themselves, they need the willing participation of both oppressors and the oppressed to keep going. They do this through the institutions of ideology, and ideology’s basic mechanism is to simply repeat the same wrong thing over and over again until it becomes background noise and everyone just accepts it as a fact of life.

            The USA is the freest country in the world. If you work hard you are guaranteed to get ahead. You can throw things “away” and they disappear forever. Each is demonstrably false, but we’ve heard them all so much we get uncomfortable when someone challenges them.

            One myth still in the early stages of its perpetual repetition: housing prices are going up because there isn’t enough supply, and local land use regulation is to blame. This is likewise totally false in almost every instance, but contesting this idea really pisses people off. Regardless, we need to challenge supply-side housing economics if we aren’t going to make our current gentrification and displacement crisis even worse.

            Generally speaking, if you look at the property values that are spiking so sharply you’ll see that their land values are soaring even while the values of the structures on those lands decline. Nobody contests this.

            If the problem right now is demand for housing, however, then why would the structures be declining in value while land prices climb? Empty land offers no satisfaction for that housing need, but the structures that would satisfy the demand are losing value. The housing there may not be great but if there’s an overwhelming demand that no supply is able to meet because of the damned NIMBYs, then shouldn’t it at least maintain its value?

            The clear implication here is that the rising prices for housing aren’t driven by a demand for housing, the demand is for property, not housing, as an investment vehicle. The best way to capitalize the value of these investments is by transforming them into high price housing or commercial spaces or better yet both, a mixed-use development.

            The supply-side argument convinces policy-makers that packing as many people and businesses into as many properties of this sort is an urgent need that will benefit everybody. In truth, only the developers, speculators, and landlords profit from it. If the need was for housing we’d see pressures to maintain existing stock so we don’t lose any ground while we build much needed supply, but instead the pressure is all towards tearing down what we have and replacing it with something more luxurious.

            All of the messages we repeat over and over all have a common thread uniting them. They all insist upon a world that reflects the interests of our present ruling elite, and they all demand that the rest of us stand down.

            The result is that we can’t even imagine solutions or scenarios not approved by that class. Ask 10 average municipal policy wonks for supply-side solutions on housing and they’ll have 15–20 dream projects for helping developers build more stuff. Ask them for demand-side solutions instead and you’ll get silence, incredulity, or bad faith suggestions that demonstrate just how impossible they imagine it all to be.

            So we end up with two basic choices: we can either stay silent and let the big property-owners bulldoze our communities or we can make a whole lot of people — including ourselves — really uncomfortable. We can repeat the myth or we can start to deal in reality.

            Obviously, I counsel the latter choices, and the important thing to remember as it gets tough is that If we don’t play along, the game can’t go on. The demand for that sort of change has never been greater, and it’s one we ought to be eager to supply. –Andrew Dobbs

  19. As the Highline has served as eco-gentrification in West Chelsea something similar is happening in SA with the San Pedro Linear Creek Park. None of the projects in this town are happening in a vacuum. They are feeding into each other to change this city that standing of top 2 in the nation for income segregation. The bridge and public space on it and around it is being commodified. The shrinking of the public sphere is not amenable to democracy or economic equity. Those representatives at city hall who espouse “progressive” views and who are allowing this theft of public land seem to be blissfully unaware of these affects, bought, willfully ignorance or all the above. What that means for the common good is that we have representatives but no representation in this. They might take the threat to sue for “takings” and avail themselves of that as an offer. Pay again and own it, and put the land in a Land Trust. If they are looking for broad community progress. Or just jam this and other problematic projects thru and let those most vulnerable deal with it and drop the equity façade already. We all know 1000 per apt. is not affordable. Cookie cutter, low quality, ugly apartments that have retail that does not pay living wage does not do anything but protect the status quo and promote displacement of current communities. Be careful what you are cheerleading as you to maybe priced out of your home eventually, as the hyper gentrifiers of tomorrow even displace the middling gentrifiers of today.

  20. Okay, these comments are going into various directions ranging from the Bridge to the proposed policy of Viewsheds to historic marker status to greedy capitalists pigs who happen to be developers to a stagnated city core. Wow.

    I think first and foremost that Viewshed proliferation in the form of vague codification is problematic. A few have previously underscored that such a policy could hinder, if not out right preclude, new skyscrapers. HEB’s recent construction may have been impossible. I could go on with examples but one gets the point.

    I understand the emotion behind preserve every aspect to view and access a historic iconic site. The Bridge certainly has a unique history that I do not think anyone would dispute. This site should be protected well into the future. Access to it should be protected. However, the view of it or of downtown is less certain.

    When you talk about developing a city, you’ll inevitably compare the significance of a possible development site against its relative cultural, historical, economical, and sociological value (among others). The operative word here is “relative.” It is a debatable term. Individuals determine for themselves what said value is.

    Returning to the site in question, I think development should proceed provided current residents have a reasonable view and access to the bridge. Why do I think this? Namely, I have valued the Hays Street Bridge’s historic significance against our urban development trajectory and downtown revitalization plan(s) and believe a compromise can be reached. Completely saying no to a reasonable and qualified developer, and completely saying no to local neighborhood is unnecessary and both sides can get what they want.

    Let address what I “feel” might be going on, our political climate is one of extremes and polarization. Those who disagree today often “feel” compelled to shout the loudest for their way unyielding. No compromise. Zero-sum game. However, I recall another era when politics could be discussed and reasoned and consistent – while avoiding the extremes. With that said, I feel the proponents of a Viewshed ordinance are on the extreme. Cities grow. That does not mean we remove elements from our past, but we can learn grow among them.

    I believe in the specific case of Hays Street Bridge there is great potential for compromise and fairness to both parties.

    To the greater extent, I believe the emerging Viewshed policy proposal is problematic if it leaves too many restrictions or exceptions, or if it leaves little to no room for compromise for dissenting parties.

    Reasonable minds can disagree. Persons of good will can compromise.

  21. Objections to Viewshed policies are deeply problematic. This is not about “compromise,” it is about railroading. The bridge was painstakingly restored by the local community without any help from any developers. As a result of countless hard work, the original owners of the land donated to to the City of San Antonio to be designated a park. This isn’t about “compromise,” it’s about stolen land. This isn’t about “compromise,” this is about corruption at city hall. This isn’t about “compromise,” this is about hyper-gentrifying developers with out any concern about anything except maximum profit off of a public land grab that they paid nothing for. This isn’t about “compromise,” it’s about the continuation of social injustice. This property is currently tangled in a legal case concerning the unethical (and most likely illegal) transfer of donated public lands to private hands — corporate welfare, taking from the people and giving to the wealthy developers.

    Now, if you don’t have a problem with any of that Mr. Compromise, then let’s return to the site in question. In no way should development proceed. After many more qualified individuals and institutions than you have valued the Hay’s Street Bridge’s historic significance against the urban development trajectory (which is artificial, unjust and unrealistic) and downtown revitalization plan(s) the obvious conclusion from most is that the only compromise to be reached is for the final part of the communities conservation efforts to be realized and for the park to be actualized in it’s original entirety. Infill development with mandatory and required view shied compliance can begin two square blocks off the park. That way, it’s a win -win situation for both local neighborhood and larger community as well as qualified developers (qualified being relative term — especially in this particular case).

    Mr. Compromise, in regards to the social critique and what you “feel” may be going on, I for one, totally disagree. Feelings are emotional by nature – and are our own to bear without projecting them onto others — especially in an attempt to solicit pity or sympathy because other people simply won’t allow us to feel good about something we know we shouldn’t. Feelings are not facts. You are entitled to your own, but do not expect others to share in them and then lecture them once they don’t. The old days of polite oppression are over. Justice demands action. The communities of San Antonio are proud and don’t need a amoral moralist lecture. With that said, I feel the opponents of Viewshed ordinance are not only beyond extreme, but very dangerous as well. Erasure and displacement equivocates entitlement to land seizures in the name of bettering (whitening) the community — just like manifest destiny. You don’t want to remove “elements” of history — just the people. And if you’re not savvy enough to connect the dots between this development and the impact it will have on this particular community and the others in the work in the near future, that’s on you. Others are progressing, but this one has caught the ire of the community because it’s just so egregious. It’s beyond egregious. You’re even complicit by cheerleading and reinforcing systems of colonialism and oppression. The larger struggle is to decolonize our communities. Intentions and impact are two different things, but they are tied together by results.

    Compromise is not possible when there are absolute values and morals at stake. You will not condescend us into submission.

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