About one year ago, Government Hill Neighborhood Association President Rose Hill, several neighbors, and the San Antonio Conservation Society fought to save an 1880s Victorian-style home at 825 E. Grayson Street. At a groundbreaking ceremony on Monday, Hill stood next to the property owner and developer to celebrate the 14, three-story townhomes that will occupy the now-vacant lot where the home stood.
The two- and three-bedroom homes will likely sell somewhere in the $300,000 range, said local realtor Tim Seeliger. The units will range between 1,480 and 1,700 sq. ft. and will be move-in ready in about 12 months, though Seeliger is taking offers now.
The home was demolished after “a little bit of a scuffle,” Councilman Alan Warrick (D2) said. “But cooler heads arose and we found a way to make this happen.
“This is the type of development we want to see,” he added, “more options that may spur more growth and more development in this community.”
Hill remembers the “scuffle” well, which involved asking the City to designate the long-vacant, dilapidated home as historic, but she declined to go into detail on Monday when asked by the Rivard Report.
“People were very upset about it,” she said.
She opted instead to look ahead at the future of Government Hill, an urban core neighborhood that’s attracting more and more attention from local and out of town developers for its proximity to the dozens of restaurants, shopping, and residential opportunities at the Pearl, the burgeoning Broadway corridor, and the greater downtown.
“That’s behind us,” Hill said of the passionate fight. “Change is coming … we’re trying to get things going. As long as we know what’s happening we’re okay with it. This is going to bring new families to the neighborhood. We want to have a working relationship with everyone, we’re just very skeptical about tearing houses down.”
The neighborhood association is already quite active, she said, adding that it has helped restore nine historic homes in the past two years, but it needs to play a larger role in coming developments.
“We don’t want to see vacant lots,” Hill said. “That’s what we’re focusing on now.”
A $300,000 townhome would have been unheard of in the long-neglected neighborhood as few as five years ago, but the Pearl has inspired more developers to cast a wider net in the area. Further inspiration comes from the City’s center city housing development incentive packages. The Live 825 project, as it’s called, will receive $217,000 in incentives from the City. The incentive policy and its structure are currently under review and amendments will be considered by City Council by the end of June.
Terramark Urban Homes, which has several projects in the center city, recently received approval to build 12 townhomes just blocks away on Hackberry Street and other major multi-family projects are under development in the near Eastside. The San Antonio Independent School District has plans to sell several properties, including a large building at 1702 North Alamo St. in Government Hill that currently houses facilities, technology, district police, and several other departments. Local developer GreyStreet Partners acquired several blocks across Broadway Street from the Pearl to “establish a dominant market position in this sub-market.”
Patrick Biernacki is managing partner of 825 Grayson LLC, which owns the Live 825 townhome site and is a syndicate of the development group that also owns the two multi-family complexes on either side. The Native Apartments and East Azul Boutique Apartments have been recently renovated inside, but have largely kept their mid-century modern exteriors. The development group is working on other investments in San Antonio, he said.
“We would have been able to do this development (without the incentive package), but it would have required a much higher price point,” said Biernacki, who is originally from Chicago but lives in an apartment in the East Azul complex at 831 East Grayson St. “By doing that, we would have removed a big segment of the market that wants to live down and around the Pearl” like young professionals and empty-nesters.
After touring 30 different cities in less than three months, he found San Antonio had the best opportunity for growth.
“A big reason was that incentive program and the SA2020 (initiatives) and just a lot of good juju,” Biernacki said. This general sense of appreciation for urban core revitalization told him that “despite any headwinds, we’re still going to get through it. And that’s what we experienced (at Live 825).”
Biernacki hopes that the City revisits its Unified Development Code to see if its laws are “really benefiting the greater good.” He declined to elaborate on specific revisions he’d like to see or the total cost of the Live 825 project.
“Everyone deserves to live in a walkable neighborhood,” he said.
Warrick agrees that the City should simplify and streamline the process developers have to go through to get shovels in the ground more quickly in vacant lots all over San Antonio, he said, especially in Government Hill, Dignowity Hill, and neighborhoods deeper into the Eastside.
“This has really taken a long time to get done and we have to work harder at the City to make development happen,” Warrick said. “We have so many vacant lots … they’re screaming for development.”
Top image: Street level view of the 14-townhome complex at 825 East Grayson St. Rendering courtesy of Live 825.