After months of challenges by residents, the Alamo Heights City Council voted Monday to grant final approval for a multifamily development on Katherine Court.
The Council gave the green light to Ridgemont Properties for a three-story apartment complex with 27 units near the University of the Incarnate Word; the Alamo Heights Board of Adjustment denied the developer’s request in February to build 35 units.
Ridgemont founder and CEO Trebes Sasser Jr. first presented plans for the development last summer in a request to demolish existing structures on four lots.
In January, the Board of Adjustment approved three of the five variances to the building code that the developer had requested, allowing it to move forward for architectural review on March 15. Voting three in favor and one against, the City’s Architectural Review Board did not recommend approval.
Katherine Court residents rejected the project out of concern it would attract college students and contribute to traffic on their quiet street. “Save Katherine Court” signs went up in their yards. Neighbors organized to speak at various hearings as the developer sought variances to the city’s building code.
A group of neighbors filed a lawsuit in January appealing the ruling by the Board of Adjustment, alleging the board did not properly apply requirements of the building code and that additional variances were needed.
Katherine Court residents met behind closed doors with the developer prior to the City Council meeting Monday afternoon. During the meeting, seven residents again stated their concerns about the project, requested a delay in the decision and chided city officials over the process.
“I still think a huge apartment complex is not compatible, I still think condos would be a better choice,” said resident Elizabeth Yust. “It’s not compatible with Katherine Court.”
Yust asked the council to table the discussion until the developer and residents can meet and agree on proposed changes to the project.
“It does sound like we at least are moving forward finally after a year of begging for some sort of discussions,” Yust said. “But as a skeptical person, I would like to see things in writing before I say for sure that any of these things are going to happen.”
The latest plans outlined by the developer and architect to address neighbors’ concerns include creating a “refuge” between the driveway and the adjacent neighbor’s property, installing a fence that is finished out on both sides and eliminating on-street parking in front of the complex. A bioswale and landscaping could be added to manage drainage.
Sasser said that after almost a year of challenges, the two sides seem to have made progress in agreeing to changes in the project.
“I’ve given the neighbors my word and my commitment to making good on their concerns,” he said. “They’re very doable — some of them we’ve already incorporated into plans and I’m committed to that. And I’m excited about moving forward together.”
Katherine Court residents who addressed City Council on Tuesday also said they were disappointed in the city’s handling of the issue and how they were treated during meetings, with Mike Wargovich calling it “condescending.”
Mayor Bobby Rosenthal said city officials have “talked internally” about those issues. “It needs to be a user-friendly process and so we’re working on that with our city manager and the boards and commissions,” he said.
Council members briefly discussed the pending lawsuit residents filed against the city, viewing it as leverage the residents have to hold the developer to his word that changes will be made to the project. In the end, the council voted 4-0 to approve the project.
“Receiving unanimous support affirms the quality of the project and further endorses the City’s appetite for high-quality multifamily development,” Sasser said. “I’m committed to working with the neighbors on a few remaining tweaks to the project. In the past days, they have shared reasonable concerns, and I’m hopeful all can be accommodated.”
The developer is required to submit for approval any substantial changes that result from ongoing discussions with Katherine Court residents and city departments.
Demolition of the existing structures on the property is being scheduled, Sasser said, with construction to start in the coming months.