The developer of a proposed multifamily project on Katherine Court in Alamo Heights put his plans on hold Wednesday following a contentious public meeting that pitted neighbors against neighbors and stretched for over five hours.
After more than two dozen Alamo Heights residents appeared in council chambers to speak against the development they see as unsuitable for their street, Trebes Sasser Jr., founder and president of Ridgemont Properties, asked the municipality’s board of adjustment to table a decision on his request for five code variances.
The board’s move to postpone the matter was the latest development in the first major application of the Alamo Heights codes passed in 2017 governing new multifamily developments.
Residents of a picturesque street of mostly single-family homes are against the proposed 34-unit development, fearing it will bring excessive traffic and attract mostly college students attending the nearby University of the Incarnate Word.
Multiple Katherine Court residents opposing the project raised their concerns — ranging from the use of on-street parking and the size of buffer zones to the height and massing of the building. The developer already has received permission to demolish four aging multifamily buildings to make way for the project.
Sasser and Kris Feldman of CREO Architects also said the proposed development that they envision would house young professionals and integrate with the street’s existing homes and neighbors.
“We felt like it is important to present the project that we feel is right, that has the most benefits to the Alamo Heights community in terms of offering an alternative solution to our amazing single-family neighborhoods,” Sasser said.
But when it came time for the board to vote on whether to approve or deny the five variances to the code as identified by city staff, Sasser requested consideration of each variance be tabled until a future meeting. The board agreed.
James Griffin, an attorney representing Sasser on the project, said the code has many conflicting provisions and complicated effects.
“We just want to take the time and make sure everyone — ourselves included — fully understand and appreciate the purpose and intent of the code provisions,” he said, citing the reason for requesting a postponement.
But, he added, “We firmly believe that our request meets the spirit and intent of the code. Variance approval will actually allow for [fewer] people and better parking ratios … than if strict compliance with the code is required.”
During the contentious meeting, the board was also asked to consider an administrative appeal filed by Katherine Court homeowner James Loyd, who requested an additional six variances be reviewed.
After impassioned arguments on both sides of the issue, and admonishments from the board chair to remain civil, the four-member board declined to uphold or consider all but one of those additional variances.
The remaining code variance — regarding the height of the proposed building — will be considered at the board’s next meeting, Feb. 2, according to Phil Laney, assistant city manager.
Katherine Court residents said they felt sure they were going to win both cases in the end and were disappointed to see the issue postponed.
“That was a tough meeting to be in,” said John Feitshans, whose home is across the street from the site of the proposed development, and who spoke against the increased number of cars and traffic the development could bring to Katherine Court.
“The goal is not to ‘get’ them [the developer],” he said. “The goal is to say we want to negotiate with them and we want to reduce the number of units and kind of get rid of the parking on the street and just have them be their own self-contained entity that is unobtrusive.”
He hopes the meeting outcome encourages the developer to work with residents to come up with a project that meets city code.
“That’s all we’ve ever wanted — for them to follow the rules,” said Feitshans’ spouse, Elizabeth Yust.