Zoning Commission Denies Residential Use for Southtown Industrial Lot

Print Share on LinkedIn Comments More
400 Probandt Street sits across the railroad tracks from the Big Tex apartments.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The property at 400 Probandt St. sits across the railroad tracks from the Big Tex apartments.

The City's Zoning Commission voted 4-3 on Tuesday against a request that would change the zoning of a Southtown industrial site to residential use, citing concerns over growing density in the area.

Developer Oden Hughes applied for the change in order to develop a four- to five-story, 400-unit multifamily apartment complex at 400 Probandt St., currently the site of the BFI-Acco Recycling Center. In denying the request, zoning commissioners voted against a staff recommendation to approve the change and against approval of the change by the Lone Star Neighborhood Association.

"I know this isn't going to be popular, but I can't support this," said Commission Chair Francine Romero. "I'm not going to support 400 units without knowing more about it, without more discussion about it."

Romero said that she had spoken to Southtown residents who expressed concern over the impact of growing density in the area. She said the growth seemed to occur without discussion or consideration of potential impact on nearby residents' quality of life.

Ashley Farrimond, an attorney representing Oden Hughes, briefed the commissioners on conceptual plans for the complex. She addressed concerns that the site would lack green space and create additional parking problems along Probandt Street.

Farrimond pointed out that the conceptual plans for the apartment complex called for two outdoor spaces surrounded by the complex, each with a pool. She also said a parking garage would accommodate all guests and tenants so there would not be additional parking along Probandt Street.

"We believe that this [infill development] zoning is consistent with other multifamily projects in the area," Farrimond said during the meeting. "It's also ... consistent with the Lone Star community plan."

She declined to comment after the meeting.

A map of the property at 400 Probandt Street.

Courtesy / City of San Antonio

A map of the property at 400 Probandt Street.

The four-acre Probandt property sits near the Blue Star Arts Complex and other large apartment complexes such as Flats at Big TexCevallos Lofts and Southtown Flats.

Susan Powers, president of the Lone Star Neighborhood Association, told the Rivard Report on Monday that while parking had become an issue in the area, she liked the idea of the site changing from industrial to residential. Powers did not attend the meeting, and no citizen spoke either in favor of or opposition to the proposal.

"I just think they need to provide enough parking for the residents and their guests," Powers said. "We just have way too much on-street parking now."

Commissioners Glenda Gayle McDaniel, Joe Nix, and Suren Kamath voted to approve the change. Commissioners Oscar Rosalez, Robert Sipes, Patricia Gibbons, and Romero voted against it.

In April, Zoning Commissioners voted against changing zoning for a South Flores Street industrial site to mixed use, which would have allowed for the development of an apartment complex with as many as 975 units. More than 15 residents spoke against the proposal, expressing concerns over parking, density, and the height associated with the proposed project.

The 11-member Zoning Commission will reconsider the proposal for 400 Probandt St. on June 5. Commission approval is gained only if six members vote in favor of a change. On Tuesday, four members were absent, including Commissioner Ricardo Briones who represents District 5, where the property is located. City Council is the final authority on zoning cases and has indicated it will take up the South Flores Street case at a future meeting.

27 thoughts on “Zoning Commission Denies Residential Use for Southtown Industrial Lot

  1. Have the commission members even gone to the neighborhood?. 4 to 5 stories is high density??!! It would be laughable if not seriously sad. San Antonio will never have a sustainable future if the suburban low density of downtown doesnt change with increase in population. A walkable city means there are things local residents can walk to. It doesnt mean people are so poor they can’t drive.

  2. The discussion and community conversation is mostly supposed to have happened already when the community plan was made. I think zoning commission is supposed to stick to the approval criteria and the community plan in making their decision, rather than erratically responding to and amplifying vague concerns from a handful of people. They are real people, with feelings that are real, but the plan was already done and all the people that participated in the plan are real too. and so are the 400 households that could live there.

  3. San Antonio will never be a dense, urban, walkable city if developments like these keep being rejected.

    Lets keep the recycling plant in a beautiful sought-after neighborhood…that makes more sense.

  4. You know something is completely wrong with these folks when they’re more concerned about residents being added to a neighborhood than they are about a heavy industrial use. Zoning was literally created to keep polluting land uses away from non-polluting ones and, yet, here we are.

  5. I don’t get it. Why would the zoning commission reject this proposed change to develop the underutilized industrial lot into housing? The property sits on the edge of Southtown, on a wide traffic corridor outside of the historic neighborhoods, and represents precisely the kind of project we need to encourage. If San Antonio is serious about affordable housing, smart growth, livable communities, and alternative forms of transportation, we need to stop allowing a handful of selfish people block projects that are consistent with our broader goals and vision.

  6. Extremely disappointing! Have these zoning commissioner’s not been to any other major city in the country. Our density in downtown is laughable. Every other city in the country thrives with more density. Most other cities have more density in their suburbs then we have in our downtown.

    Get over having to have a parking garage for your vehicles. You don’t half to pull into a driveway in front of your two car garage. That is a suburban attitude. Get used to walking or biking to your destination.

    I’m getting very frustrated with all of the fantastic housing plans that have been rejected recently.

  7. Let me get this straight. The proposal is in alignment with the neighborhood plan and supported by the neighborhood yet it was rejected? I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around this one…

  8. Would the developer be responsible for remediating the chemicals and hazards present at the current site? This article doesn’t speak to that. How does this proposed development ensure affordable housing for those with lower incomes. I know a concern of my downtown neighborhood is affordability for workers in the area. So many restaurants and small retail shops, but their workers have a hard time being able to live and work close together. Other than that, we are very welcoming in southtown to urban growth.

      • ….bingo! And the reason the workers who work in the area can’t afford to live there now is because inventory is low, creating a price surge. Once this commission gets some common sense and appreciates that up and coming quality safe multi family developments can be priced competitively in order to attract tenants everyone wins! Or just keep the warehouse with 5 employees there as an eyesore forever?…

    • Citywide demand for accessible housing is much higher than supply. People who use wheelchairs, for instance, often stay in apartments that are not well-maintained or close to where they work because they cannot find better quality accessible housing.
      New development that includes only the minimum number of accessible units (and, on Probandt Street, has steps on most exterior entrances) will never equalize the situation.
      New complexes that do not have 100% accessibility are setting San Antonio up to be segregated for another century.

  9. “Romero said that she had spoken to Southtown residents who expressed concern over the impact of growing density in the area. She said the growth seemed to occur without discussion or consideration of potential impact on nearby residents’ quality of life.”

    How many residents did she speak to? Impact on quality of life? So living near heavy industrial uses, lacking walkability and transit, and a shortage of homes w/ high demand that leads to an increase in housing costs for everyone doesn’t impact quality of life? The denials of multi-family developments (or homes for people) by commission, hdrc and council is getting old quickly.

    “concerns that the site would lack green space and create additional parking problems along Probandt Street.” concerns over lack of green space? A high industrial use sits at the site currently in which no one has access to any green space on that lot – there will be accessible green space added! This is ridiculous. Parking? density is needed to support good transit, if we don’t support it, SA will always be behind with transit opportunities. With good transit comes less use of vehicles and less need for parking. Should we just keep the status quo?

    SANE will be there on the 5th to advocate for this zoning change, it makes sense for the city and for the area. http://www.sane-satx.org

  10. First, it would be helpful if the reporters actually stated what the specific zoning requests are; e.g. “the applicant is requesting a change from Zoning Code xxx, to Zoning Code yyy…that request was denied.”

    In that context, it may be more clear what the zoning commission is specifically rejecting or objecting to. Here, for example, Commission Chair Romero appears to object to the absence of details about the project, not the project itself. Why is this relevant? Because the zoning request is seeking IDZ (Infill Development Zone) designation.

    If you look at City Code, you will see that IDZ exempts developers from certain planning documents and requirements. Verbal assurances and conceptual drawings at a zoning change hearing do not carry the weight of law. Commission Chair Romero may simply want those details in writing before approving the change.

    If the attorney “believes” the conceptual plans address the need for parking and green space, then back that up with the requisite studies that support the formation of that belief, and skip the request for being exempt from those studies via a zoning change request.

    A recent article had already stated that one Council member had already inquired about why so many developers were seeking IDZ designations. It is entirely possible that the Zoning Commission is reacting to that line of inquiry: “Why does this development need IDZ if the developers are assuring the Commission [and eventually the Council] that all requirements are met? Why doesn’t the developer simply comply with the requirements and skip the request for IDZ?”

    • Even a conceptual plan on an IDZ zoned property is better than an existing industrial use that actively pollutes land and groundwater near our river. Anyone who doesn’t see that is simply playing politics.

    • Joe, you have it right! Developers spend time and money every day figuring how to thwart Zoning and Land Use regulations. They see it as their right to make money no matter the impact on neighbors. That time and money is a cost of business to be written off like other costs.
      Residents have little recourse except to their elected and appointed representatives.
      Residents spend their days and nights working to support their families, pay for the houses they live in, in their neighborhoods. Most have no money for high priced (or low priced) attorneys and architects to represent them.
      Residents need strong zoning regulations and strong commissions and strong City Council representatives to protect their lives (yes, their daily lives in their homes.)

      • Obviously “FR” must stand for Francine Romero, and since you’re reading this, please help us understand how you think a conversion from heavy industrial to urban residential–in an urban neighborhood–is something neighbors need protection from? If you truly believe a recycling facility is more appropriate for Southtown than a few hundred new residents, then it’s not the developers that are the problem.

        • Golly, in the course of just a few comments the Recycling Center has become an active source of groundwater pollution and a heavy industrial site.

          If you are aware that the current site is a) actively polluting; and/or b) performing “heavy industrial” functions (I-2 Zoned) in an area zoned at I-1, please contact the Code Compliance office and/or the EPA, TCEQ, and SARA.

          The zoning change request was most definitely not from “Heavy Industrial to Urban Residential.” That would have been “I-2 to MF-65.”

          The request was: “I-1 RIO-4 AHOD” General Industrial River Improvement Overlay Airport Hazard Overlay District to “IDZ RIO-4 AHOD” Infill Development Zone River Improvement Overlay Airport Hazard Overlay District with Multi-Family uses not to exceed 95 units per acre.

          The developer isn’t asking for Multi-Family Residential (MF-xx), he is asking for IDZ so that he can avoid the rules associated with parking, green-space, traffic, sidewalks, etc. If he wants to build multi-family residential, then simply ask for that – and then follow the rules.

          From the Code: “An “MF-65″ district designation may be applied to a use in a centrally located area near supporting transportation and commercial areas, an area adjacent to the central business district or a major institutional or employment center, or an area for which very high density multi-family use is desired.”

          That sounds like what you want, doesn’t it?

  11. Rejecting this development is not necessarily a bad thing as long as all they are doing is having the developer tweak it so it’ll be a better type of development. I do agree that there needs to be enough parking because that’s the way San Antonio is right now. When the improvements to the plans are done, approval would be wise as it cannot be ignored that growing density near the urban core is a natural (although not painless) progression of urban development. As the core becomes denser and spreads outward, commissions, boards and city council need to keep all this in mind. This particular property’s future thousand or so voters would probably further agree with these types of developments. This would snowball, making developments like what had been proposed at the Lone Star Brewery and Varga Endeavor’s proposed Essex Modern City possible nearby – there would be more amenities, more shops, more voters and hopefully more linear parks and bike lanes as San Antonio transitions into the city it is destined to be.

  12. One can see this as growing pains as redevelopment in the City gathers steam. While it used to be the case that the City was desperate for any development and anyone willing to put money into the inner city, the market has shifted. While prior redevelopment took place in areas largely devoid of residents, there is now more friction to deal with neighbors.

    I think this is another example of many recently that really underscores the need for more of a clear vision and leadership from the city. Instead of letting developers duke it out with citizens, the city should be leading the conversation. The city should already know how much density this pocket of San Antonio can accommodate and have the figures to support that conclusion. The old ways of doing business will not work. Change is needed.

  13. San Antonio’s leaders are on a mission to make sure San Antonio remains a poor city. Anti-business, anti-development, anti-everything will keep this city the poor cousin to Austin, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, El Paso.

    • You’re being hyperbolic, right? You can’t really believe that, can you? Just because some city leaders have are willing to prioritize the wants and needs of individual residents over wealthy real estate developers does not mean that they want San Antonio to be the worst city in Texas. I believe that the zoning commission made the wrong call here, but I also believe that they want to see our city grow and thrive. Conscientious growth will allow San Antonio to flourish without becoming victim to the worst aspects of urban sprawl like Houston, Dallas, and Austin.

  14. Yet another non elected, non political body, decides it’s in the business of playing politics. If these bodies continue to behave in these ways and deem it as part of their charter to be responsive to even a handful of citizens in the community, I want the opportunity to evaluate their bonafides and vote on their appointment to the board. If they want to be politicians let’s make them subject to the hazards of the job.

  15. Can these new proposed housing developments (S. Flores, 400 Probant) be created as “No Car Required” housing?? Many people want to get rid of their burdensome car payment and live downtown. Rents however are too high for many who also have to live with a $300-$500 monthly car payment. Can reduced rent rates be offered to people who don’t need a parking space??? The tired argument that these projects will increase traffic and cause parking problems highlight how the almighty CAR has to be accommodated. Bring people IN and push PARKING out of downtown ( I consider South Town part of DT).

    • Excellent point, MAG. I have heard some cities do that. Decoupling the rent from parking charge will give residents an incentive and an opportunity to get rid off their motor vehicle(s). This means lower rent for the resident, increased income for the developer (less parking means more apartment units), more participation to walk/bike/bus system. It would be an absolute win-win situation. But I am not hopeful that a city like us, making cars higher priority than people, can make such a bold decision.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *