South San Antonio was at the center of two zoning decisions Thursday, as a new apartment complex – smaller than the developer wanted – will be built in Lavaca, and a property owner may face an uphill battle to demolish a former furniture store after it was granted a historic designation.

With a 9-1 vote Thursday, Council approved a zoning change that will allow a 36-unit mixed-use apartment complex in the Lavaca neighborhood near Brackenridge High School.

Originally the California-based developer Aspire Multifamily wanted to build a four-story, 41-unit building that incorporates the historic facades of the existing buildings, but plans changed – at the request of the Historic and Design Review Commission – to decrease the height to three stories. To make up for lost units, Aspire will now build two new structures.

The Lavaca Neighborhood Association said it would prefer 20 units but would accept a 35-unit project if the zoning was changed to a lower-density designation and added more off-street parking. As approved, the project located at the northeast corner of South St. Mary’s and Jacobs streets will have 30 parking spots; the minimum required for near-downtown housing projects.

Neighbors were concerned that the approved infill development zoning (IDZ-3) will allow for future increases to the density. Under IDZ-3, there is no limit to height and number of units, but the historic neighborhood has a height restriction of four stories.

However, rules for IDZ-3 properties require any future developments or major changes to the project to be reviewed by the Zoning Commission and approved by City Council, said Michael Shannon, director of the City’s Development Services Department.

“Any change has to come through us,” Shannon said.

Aspire removed portions of its request that would have allowed for additional short-term rentals (STR) and the sale of alcohol on the premises.

The City’s STR ordinance will allow four STR units on the property, and the developer would have to go through an appeals process to get more.

Councilman John Courage (D9), who cast the lone vote against the project, said he didn’t want to see the building become a “mini hotel.”

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), whose district includes Lavaca, said the developer had gone through “great lengths” to come to a compromise that maintains the look and feel of the historic neighborhood.

The mixed-use development at 1714 S. Saint Mary's St. was approved by the Historic and Design Review Commission on Dec. 18, 2019.
The mixed-use development in the 1700 block of South St. Mary’s Street was originally slated to be four stories tall. Credit: Courtesy / Creo

Later in the day, Council unanimously approved historic designation for the former Toudouze retail store, built in 1926 – against the wishes of property owner Mark Granados, who wants to demolish the two-story structure to build a carwash there.

Historic designation doesn’t preclude turning the building into a car wash or force Granados to develop the property, but it does make it more difficult to demolish. Now that the building is historic, redevelopment efforts are eligible to receive state and federal historic renovation tax credits.

Granados, who has argued that the building is not historic, would have to demonstrate an economic hardship to acquire a demolition permit.

Another option is to do nothing with it, he said. “What you see now is what [it] will be until the end of time.”

Granados declined to comment on his plans for the building after the meeting Thursday.

The former community center and retail store had been vacant for eight years when he purchased it in 2018.

Representatives from the Conservation Society of San Antonio spoke in support of the designation at previous Historic and Design Review Commission and Zoning Commission meetings. They renewed their support on Thursday.

The building is at a prominent commercial intersection near the Mission Historic District and San Antonio River in the Englewood neighborhood, said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), whose district includes the property.

“My office door is always open to developers and business owners who are open and willing to cooperatively work together,” Viagran said.

Patricia Fayadh, who lives in the neighborhood, told City Council she wants to see the buildings preserved.

“My mom and dad used to shop in the Toudouze building. … It means a lot to me to have this building preserved,” Fayadh said. “What I don’t want to see is another car wash.”

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com