Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The City's Zoning Commission voted 7-4 on Tuesday to deny a zoning change for a South Flores Street industrial site where the longtime property owner wants to build a multi-story, possibly 975-unit, apartment complex.
More than 15 people, nearly all of them neighbors, spoke out against changing the designation of 7.5 acres at 931 South Flores St. from a category that permits industrial and commercial use to one that would allow for a mixed-use development. They were concerned about parking, density, and height associated with the developer's plans for the lot.
Most commission members agreed that zoning in the area, where downtown transitions into Southtown neighborhoods, should take into account the already-strained parking capacity of nearby streets. However, City Council makes the final call on zoning requests and will take the rezoning case up at a future meeting.
Neighbors also said the development would impact views of and from Ruby City, a two-story contemporary art center that the Linda Pace Foundation is developing across West Rische Street from the property.
Local attorney Patrick Christensen is representing the property owner, John H. Dean Family Partners. Dean is president of Deansteel Manufacturing Co. According to documents submitted to the City, the requested Infill Development Zone (IDZ) overlay would allow commercial use on the property and "no more than 150 units per acre.” That's a maximum of 1,125 residential units in addition to ground-floor retail space.
A preliminary site plan, designed by Alamo Architects, was presented at Tuesday's meeting. It showed several multi-story structures, but height of those buildings have not yet been determined by designers.
The structures could vary in height, Christensen said, adding Dean has ability to ask the City's Board of Adjustment for additional height.
The site plan also includes surface parking, with an undetermined amount of spaces, and an extension of West Guenther Street across South Flores Street that would bisect the property. That could help regulate traffic around the property, Christensen said, adding that the Guenther extension would be a public street.
Residents and the public will have access to the enhanced San Pedro Creek through the project, Christensen said. City staff recommended approval of the zoning change, saying the current site plan was consistent with existing land use rules for the neighborhood.
"Great living spaces is what we're trying to do here," Christensen said.
Christensen said he and his clients have tried working out a compromise with neighbors, but 130 units per acre, a maximum of 975 units, is a key goal of the project.
Many neighbors said they would not mind seeing the Deansteel property redeveloped into something complementary of the neighborhood, but not at the risk of compounding traffic and parking issues between Southtown and the central business district.
"We ask the Zoning Commission to consider the potential negative impact it could have on the neighborhood," said Tracy Moon, King William Association executive director.
Representatives from the Camp Street Residences Condominium Association, Judson Candy Factory Lofts, and the Rangel family together crafted a compromise plan. They asked Dean's group to downsize the concept to 40-45 units per acre.
Christensen said that was "not appropriate" for the property. However, he said the owner has been considering other proposed concessions, including a fence and landscape buffer, for the site.
Representing the Camp Street group, local attorney Summer Greathouse told Commissioners the development, as presented, is more suitable for the central business district downtown. "We ask that you carefully to consider the location of this property, the fact that it's not in downtown, and is not appropriate," Greathouse said.
Orlando Rangel owns the last remaining single-family home on Camp Street. He said he likes his current neighbors, and looks forward to the opening of the now under-construction Ruby City complex. He also looks forward to the San Pedro Creek improvements project. Ruby City sits on the second phase of the planned linear park, which is still in the design stage. The first, downtown phase opens in early May.
"These jewels are an enormous benefit to us and to the city," Rangel said. "The increase in small shops and restaurants in the immediate area have been consistent with the neighborhood size and scale."
Rangel said multi-family development is generally welcomed in the area, but that "unfortunate projections we have seen [in the proposed site plan] forces us to oppose the rezoning."
Christine Viña, urban design project manager for VIA Metropolitan Transit, spoke as a resident. She said hundreds of more residents means more cars and bicycles on South Flores, which she added is already over-burdened with vehicular traffic between downtown and Southtown at certain times.
"The [project's entrance and exit] will create continuous safety and congestion issues for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists," she added.
After opponents finished speaking, Christensen quipped, "All these people who've spoken – maybe not all of them – are clearly of the opinion that they're here now and no one else should come in and inhibit their views or increase traffic." The crowd jeered the comments.
The high-density development that Dean and his partners envision for the site is a better fit for the urban core than in the suburbs, Christensen said.
"If this commission isn't going to allow high-density, multi-family in downtown, where is it supposed to go?" he asked rhetorically.
Commissioner Sofia Lopez said she, too, was concerned about the proposed project's density.
She said the Lone Star Community Plan, adopted in 2013, and the River Improvement Overlay (RIO) District-7 both should guide the formation a revised, downsized site plan on which both sides could agree.
"I think there's still a lot of opportunity for it to be modified and changed," Lopez said.
Commission Chair Francine Romero said she was concerned that the commission was trying to revise or recommend alternatives to an unpopular site plan on the spot.
"I can't think of a clearer 'no' from the community on this one and I don't see why we really are trying to figure out how to make it work," she added. "I think on this one we have to start all over again."
A few commissioners said the basic site plan had enough of a compromise to proceed. Commissioner Patricia Gibbons said Dean, as the owner, has a right to decide how his property is redeveloped.
"Someone like Deansteel has owned the property for quite a long time and they have rights there, and I want to protect those, not just for them but for all of us," Gibbons added.
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), whose district includes downtown, pledged to continue working with both sides.
"We will continue to work toward finding a compromise and bringing people together," he told the Rivard Report after the meeting.