A controversial apartment complex in Alamo Heights will get built, but with fewer units and more on-site parking than the developer wanted, leading nearby homeowners who fought for those aspects of the project to declare victory.

Plans for the three-story development on Katherine Court will move forward, a representative for developer Ridgemont Properties said, following the Feb. 2 decision from the city’s board of adjustment denying the developer’s request to build 35 units instead of 27 and decrease parking spaces on the property.

The project’s footprint will remain the same, said attorney James Griffin, but the fewer apartments will be larger, with more bedrooms.

Katherine Court residents John Feitshans and his wife Elizabeth Yust said after the meeting that they felt the neighborhood’s campaign to restrict the development was a success. 

“I think it was the correct outcome,” Yust said. “Our whole thing was, if you don’t have a hardship, you shouldn’t get the variance, because those are what the rules are, and that’s what everyone else has to live by. So it felt just, it felt fair.”

The battle between residents and the developer began last summer, after Ridgemont sought a demolition order for the existing structures on four adjoining parcels, then code variances that would permit him to build a 35-unit, three-story apartment complex. 

Residents banded together against the project they saw as attracting college students and contributing to traffic on their quiet street. They planted “Save Katherine Court” signs in their yards and later filed a lawsuit against the board of adjustment alleging the board is not properly applying requirements of the city’s building code.

They were not against new development, they said, and welcomed change to the neglected parcels on the street, which has a mix of single-family homes and houses converted to apartments. But as proposed by Ridgemont founder and CEO Trebes Sasser Jr., the project didn’t fit with the character of Katherine Court, they said. 

A fellow resident of Alamo Heights, Sasser said he wanted to work with the neighborhood to satisfy neighbors’ concerns. But because certain city building codes would “result in harm to the project,” he said, Sasser filed for variances that would allow him to increase the units allowed on a lot of that size, change the required parking ratios, reduce the size of a landscaping buffer, build a taller site wall and a more narrow aisle width in the parking lot.

The first two variances were most critical to the project, Sasser told the board of adjustment during the most recent meeting. “What we’re looking to do here today is to accomplish a project that moves forward as designed, but with less impact on the site, on the street and on the community — negative impact, that is,” he said. 

Using occupancy data from the Magnolia Heights development at Broadway and Austin Highway, Sasser argued that 35 one- and two-bedroom units would bring less density within the development, and fit better with market demand, than a 27-unit complex of larger units. The board, however, did not view his argument as a “hardship” requiring a variance to the code.

“The project is beautiful,” said Bill Orr, chairman of the board of adjustment, at the Feb. 2 meeting. But the developer should have designed a project that fits within the existing code and limitations of the property, he said.

The board did ultimately grant approval for the three other variances Ridgemont Properties initially requested during a January meeting. That means the apartment complex could have a reduced landscaping buffer at the back of the property, a slightly higher planter wall in front and a narrower parking aisle than the code usually allows.

Following the vote, the board of adjustment also considered an administrative appeal filed by Katherine Court homeowner James Loyd, who asked for an additional six variances to be reviewed, including one allowing the height of the building to exceed code. The board voted to uphold city staff’s method for measuring height restrictions and its other recommendations.

As for the lawsuit a group of Katherine Court residents filed against the board of adjustment in January, Feitshans said they have not yet had a neighborhood meeting to determine if they will pursue legal action now that the board has voted.

“But we would still love to work with the developer. We still support development across the street,” he said, as long it’s not intrusive. “My big word is self-contained.”

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.