A developer’s plan to upgrade and build on several properties in the Lavaca neighborhood received final approval from San Antonio’s Historic and Design Review Commission on Wednesday, but the fate of the project hinges on a City Council vote on new zoning rules for the properties.

The project – which involves preserving historic facades, building behind them, and erecting two new buildings – would bring up to 39 residential units to the area near Brackenridge High School and the San Antonio River just south of downtown.

City Council is slated to consider the zoning changes on Jan. 16.

After receiving conceptual approval from HDRC in November and listening to feedback from commissioners and the neighborhood, designers reduced the tallest structure from four stories to three and the building designs were altered to appear less modern.

However, Lavaca Neighborhood Association is opposed to a zoning change that would allow that many units and allow the complex to function as a hotel.

Aspire Multifamily, a company created by the California-based real estate investor Harris Bay, wants the property to be mixed-use but flexible, said local attorney Patrick Christensen, who is representing Aspire.

“It’s difficult to rehab old, abandoned warehouses,” Christensen told the Rivard Report. Most of the structures located at the northeast corner of South St. Mary’s and Jacobs streets are vacant, but there are some occupied residential units in one building. “It’s a tough site.”

Aspire would agree to a limitation that would allow for a maximum of eight short-term rental (STR) units at a time, he said. The current STR ordinance, which allows for 12.5 percent of housing per block to become short-term rentals, would allow for four units to essentially function as hotel rooms.

Cherise Rohr-Allegrini, president of the Lavaca Neighborhood Association, said the association board has not yet met to consider that proposal, but generally, the neighborhood is opposed to allowing more hotel uses in the area.

“I’d prefer no [STRs], but we would accept what they’re legally allowed to have,” Rohr-Allegrini said. “If they want more, they can go to the [Board of Adjustment to plead their case].”

As the project is developed in phases, Aspire will start working to develop the units from the “top down” and try to lease the ground floor to low-traffic commercial uses such as a coffee shop or yoga studio, Christensen said. If it can’t find a commercial tenant, Aspire will consider turning the ground floor into residential units.

The current zoning does not allow for that many residential units, but plans for the area call for high-density mixed-use, he said. “We’re not outside the boundaries [of those].”

City staff recommended approval of the zoning request and the Zoning Commission gave it the green light in October.

Rohr-Allegrini acknowledged that plans call for higher density housing in that area, but not that high – and STRs aren’t homes.

“We need housing, we don’t need more hotels,” said Rohr-Allegrini, who also sits on the City’s Planning Commission. “We are going to fight for slightly more moderate density and fewer hotel units.”

The Lavaca Neighborhood Association board was supportive of the project until it found out that it wanted hotel zoning, she said.

City Council was originally slated to vote on the zoning change last week, but Christensen asked for a continuance to allow for more time to negotiate with the neighborhood, he said.

Jefferson Bank Approved, Boutique Hotel Rejected

Christensen also represented two other clients on projects of note Wednesday. HDRC approved plans to demolish what is now Still Golden Social House on Broadway Street near the Pearl to construct a 10-story office building to house Jefferson Bank, but it rejected plans for an eight-story boutique hotel on a small sliver of land next to the River Walk.

The hotel at 151 Travis St. would have included an overhang of 3 feet to 11 feet out over the San Antonio River Walk, 24 feet above the sidewalk. HDRC unanimously rejected the encroachment of public right of way.

Christensen said the developers of the Artista Hotel are considering options; including whether to continue to pursue the project.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org