Zoning Commission Rejects Large Southtown Apartment Complex

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Dean Steel at 931 S Flores St.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Dean Steel at 931 S Flores

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.

The John H. Dean Family Partners submitted a site plan to the City as part of its rezoning request.

Courtesy / Alamo Architects

The property owner, John H. Dean Family Partners, submitted a site plan to the City as part of its rezoning request.

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.

designed by preeminent architect Sir David Adjaye

Courtesy / Adjaye Associates

Ruby City was designed by preeminent architect Sir David Adjaye.

"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.

34 thoughts on “Zoning Commission Rejects Large Southtown Apartment Complex

  1. I am a San Antonio native, I have seen the city grow tremendously, I am an artist and also love Real Estate Development.

    I’m torn between neighborhood characteristics (I live in a Neighborhood Consevation District -NCD), and promoting more density in near the downtown area.

    It seems SA is beginning to halt developments all over the city for various reasons. Although I can understand the neighbors reasoning (I do not live in Southtown), what worries me is at what point do we actually APPROVE dense, urban housing. There is a housing shortage already across the nation, there are millennials coming from all over to live here; these new residents need housing.

    The density is high, but look at Big Tex, Cevallos, Southtown Flats, Agave. Those developments are large, and I think they add a level of density that is amazing to have in SA. Infill development is what will make SA a vibrant place to live. We should promote infill development, instead of building on land that is precious to our beautiful ecosystem.

    I understand why people should be critical of development, but it’s starting to look like the city will be it’s own enemy, like it has so many times in the past.

    Thoughts?

    • Art, I think many people agree with you. I love the changes San Antonio is making as it grows up.

      That said, you cite to Big Tex, Cevallos, and Agave as adding a level of density that is amazing to have in SA. Do you know what density those developments are? I can tell you: respectively, 45, 35 and 65 units per acre. The development proposed is anywhere from 2 to 4 times the density of those developments (130 units per acre). We are talking about 975 units added to an area of town in which the infrastructure (like roads) cannot be expanded to deal with additional traffic.

      If you read the article, the neighbors proposed a compromise that was on par with those surrounding developments. They would welcome having Big Tex next door. But that’s not what is being proposed. What is being proposed is likely one of the largest and most dense projects San Antonio has ever seen, and with very little planning or information. That’s the concern–no one, and I repeat, no one, is being “critical of development”. It’s about being critical of poor planning.

      • UM, this development is hardly as dense as all the fear mongering would lead you to believe. In fact, one of the densest developments in San Antonio already exists IN KING WILLIAM, where the most vehement opposition seems to be coming from. Those compact apartment buildings over at Madison & Beauregard are 165 units per acre if I recall correctly. That’s not even the best example…the old Maverick Building downtown is close to 400 units per acre. Thus, density cannot be the sole argument against the development.
        Let’s be real, all the pearl-clutching about traffic and overwhelming the city’s infrastructure are complete nonsense. This property is less than a mile from the core business district, which is easy to walk, bike, or ride the bus to. While I don’t know many specifics about the design of this project, which I’m sure could always be improved, 975 units on the edge of downtown seems a much better use of urban land than insisting that low-density detached housing is actually better for the city.

  2. The project at Big Tex was specifically mentioned as a density perfectly acceptable to the neighbors. The objection was to a project over twice as dense as Big Tex.

  3. I am beyond perplexed by this. The San Pedro Creek project has been dubbed a River Walk for locals, and yet we are letting folks who already got theirs be the gatekeepers for an industrial property that barely even qualifies as the same neighborhood? If we agree to let the county and partners spend untold millions to make the creek an amazing amenity for our city, why on earth would we stop folks from actually trying to make a home there? This property is downtown, like it or not, but treating it like the suburbs is no way to plan a city. If our zoning commission can’t see that, then it’s clear they care much more about appeasing so-called neighbors than they do about what’s actually appropriate for a property.
    What’s perhaps most baffling is that a representative of our own transit agency–a group who stands to actually benefit from having more housing on the edge of downtown–is succumbing to this NIMBY nonsense.
    If King William residents are trying to stop Millennials from calling downtown San Antonio home, with antics like this they just might succeed. Which is not good for our future, by the way.

    • But 975 residents seems like an awful lot of people to squeeze on to this property. It’s totally understandable that the current residents of the area would be hesitant about taking in nearly a thousand new neighbors. Most of the people in the story seem willing to work toward a compromise with the property owners. The proposal as it currently stands would stick out like a sore thumb.

      • There’s nothing to “squeeze” on this property. As I mentioned in another comment, there are compact apartment buildings over at Madison & Beauregard which have a density of 165 units per acre if I recall correctly. The old Maverick Building downtown is close to 400 units per acre. People are living happily in both those places and aren’t damaging anyone’s so-called quality of life. A thousand new neighbors should not only be welcomed in the greater downtown area, but should be just the beginning. If we really want San Antonio to thrive, economically, building a proverbial wall around our city isn’t the way to do it. Not only that, why should residents of King William get to decide what happens all the way across Flores. Last I checked, I didn’t have to get my neighbors’ permission to move into my neighborhood.

    • If this property were “downtown,” the city would have zoned it downtown, the land use plan (adopted in 2013) would say it’s “downtown” and there wouldn’t be a fight. No one (not neighbors in their presentations or the commissioners) has proposing that this be treated like the suburbs. Talk about twisting the argument and spreading fake news. You sound like their attorney: “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,” which was clearly never said. Of course traffic will increase and “views” will be inhibited, even with a high density of 40 or 65 (300 to 500 units total). Everyone knows the property will be developed. They’re just hoping for well-planned development.

      • Define well-planned development. It seems to me that if infrastructure can support 500 units or 975 units or 2000 units, and if we need the housing, it would be rather irresponsible to build much less than that just because someone’s worried about their views of I-35 from King William or of some glittery two-story museum.

        • So how do you know the infrastructure can handle that development? The owner hasn’t even done the studies to know if can. Maybe if they’d offered that information there wouldn’t be so much opposition? I’d define well-planned as, at the baseline, having minimal infrastructure and impact studies.

          • I’m not a developer, but what I do know is that a study of existing infrastructure and capacity is something you’d hire an engineer to do…something that comes at significant cost (I happen to have a friend who owns a civil engineering firm). But if the financial modeling for the project works only if the property is rezoned, then why would I spend the money on engineering if my rezoning is denied? Seems like a waste of money. The idea that developers should somehow know what’s underground in order to appease the neighborhood’s fears is nuts. Furthermore, I also know that if the sewer and electrical infrastructure are inadequate as built to handle the new residents, SAWS and CPS would require them to upgrade before proceeding.

          • Yet those are precisely the studies that most developments not in IDZ zoning (so every commercial and multi family rezoning) have to perform. It’s part of the deal. Also, the IDZ task force is proposing changes to IDZ to require projects to perform those very studies. That’s a group of real estate people in the know, and they recognize that these studies are vital to smart planning, even if it means the developers may have to spend a little more upfront when requesting a rezoning.

  4. Density is the progressive pro-environment approach. Those opposing density and instead calling for low-density low-rise development are contributing to the degradation of our environment.

    • And so that’s why developers and their prospective neighbors, who have a vested interest in what they deem a good quality-of-life while living on their property, need to be able to talk and compromise on future “mid-dense” (my term) development. Say, instead of 130 or 40-45 units per acre, split the difference (about 85-95 units per acre?)?

      • What is the point of splitting the difference? To what end? By throwing around such random density numbers, it is clear that no one actually knows what any of it even means. How does a resident from King William actually know that 975 units would make their life worse and not better? How does the councilman even know that?

        • “How does a resident from King William actually know that 975 units would make their life worse and not better? How does the councilman even know that?”

          It is called a study. And, um, common sense. When it was just Cevallos Lofts, it was nice, kinda humming. Then with Southtown Flats and Big Tex, it is an obvious negative impact, especially on businesses. If you cannot park, you aren’t going to hang around to spend money with the businesses in the area. More than once I have come to Southtown and then split because there was nowhere to park. I was disappointed that the Big Tex development didn’t take the opportunity to create more parking for the area – I see that as an obvious swing and miss. And let’s not get started with affordable. Because in the new construction, it really doesn’t exist.

      • ample parking and effective mass transit are almost mutually exclusive. the ridership needed for effective mass transit comes from having the population density being high enough to support it. less parking discourages driving (and by the way can make housing more affordable) and encourages transit use.

  5. This is a big loss for San Antonio, as this is a perfect development that builds more homes for people in a way that supports walkability, transit, green space and sustainability. We need to stop catering to car oriented development and start thinking of future generations and what legacy we want to leave for them!

  6. Seems like almost all in opposition to this outsized development are in favor of a compromise for appropriate density. Developers SHOULD have to address traffic impact and parking in the proposed area. Unfortunately, this is still an auto-based city, even if you do live near downtown. When are we going to start seriously discussing the funding of transit options? Around town and into the densely populated suburbs.
    When developing infill in our historic preservation hoods and NCDs, we must propose structures that are in keeping with the area. It can be done. San Antonio is a city that has kept its near downtown neighborhoods relatively intact. That is part of the attraction. Don’t overrun our neighborhoods with insensitive construction. We are willing to work toward solutions!

      • Insensitive Construction — I like to use the example of buying a seat for the symphony and someone with a Lincoln hat sits in front of me suggesting I move if I don’t like it. House hunters on HGTV consistently go for view and say it is so valuable and can’t be bought (if you don’t have it). Many surrounding downtown, including myself, were heavily influenced by the skyline view and would be sad if it were taken away by construction that did not at least consider that loss for their gain. In the symphony example, if a tuba player moved and blocked my view of say the trumpet player, I would understand and suck it up. That would relate to an expected high rise building closer to downtown versus in Southtown, Hays Street, Pearl or any other nearby community with a view to value and retain.

  7. Can’t believe someone from via opposed this project for traffic reasons…they, of all people, should understand the link between density and transit. Her position should be reconsidered, maybe via isn’t a good fit for her.

    • Well for starters VIA has its own issues regarding transit. For one, I cant even buy a single day bus pass on the app. Second, bus frequency is a problem and also fixing transit routes in the area and stops that are closer to neighborhoods where people live! As far as this development goes, density and building up is good for downtown SA but has to be incremental and balanced with less traffic and “good transit” and friendly to cyclists with bike lanes while reducing vehicle miles travelled and promoting transit-oriented development. Maybe fixing the zoning proposal to accomodate would help.

  8. Ms Romero states ““I can’t think of a clearer ‘no’ from the community on this one”
    Really? Do 15 people represent the whole community? City? People wanting to move to community? What was demographic makeup of those that testified? We’re they people with the resources and time to go to the meeting?
    True public participation takes many more formats that just listening to those that are fortunate enough to be informed (even though many of statements seem ill informed) and have time to attend. True democracy listens to view points of all ages and all incomes and all types of households. Stop basing decisions on the few, powerful tier 1 folks.

  9. Edmond – Can you post renderings showing how the proposed development would look, and how it would fit into the surroundings? I don’t know if such renderings were presented by the owner or developer, but that would be helpful for context.

  10. I sit on the zoning commission for district 9. and often the testimonies of those to speak against are a well-formed group from the same community. My concern for Dean Steel,the applicant, is his right of property and it’s ability to work for him economically. We all purchase property as an investment, either to sell at a higher rate or use for rental. This particular company Dean Steel has held onto this property since 1917 quite a long time. Now the neighbors around the site are residential this forces the hand of the company to sell and in my mind, they, Dean Steel, should have seniority rights on how they want to do that, and in the past this was a considering factor in zoning requests. This project addressed all concerns: traffic (it is in walkability) parking (all units have a parking space) height (views will be considered for existing buildings) design (a tiered building design) number of units (addressing our housing concern). Somewhere the commissioners heard only the complaints of those who are not the applicant nor the owner of the property and I felt were not serving Dean Steel under the rules of zoning and as a property owner with senior status. To have owned the land that long gives them more rights beyond what Camp Street residents who moved in 6 years ago have. Camp Street and PaceArt demand something out of a property that is not theirs to dictate, something we all should consider carefully when we want the long arm of government to punish one for our own gain…..it may one day be reversed on you. Neighbors should do more working together to develop the good for all parties, what this project will develop will improve and add value to all surrounding neighborhoods, if they would sit down with each other to discuss. I wish the Dean Steel project success as they seek the request they are asking.

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