The Camp Street residence sits 5 stories tall over the Dean Steel property in Southtown
The Camp Street Residences stand five stories stories tall over the Deansteel property in Southtown Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

When I moved to the Camp Street Residences in Southtown in January 2017, a neon sign greeted me in the lobby. Linda Pace was my friend, and though she’s dead, the sign spoke to me in her voice. It said, “Be Amazing.”

I laughed inside. Easier said than done, Linda. We’re not all as amazing as you.

Linda gave our city so many gifts. One of them is Artpace, a space where artists experiment and take risks through their work. Artists come from all over the world to San Antonio to share locally with us a global view that says, We’re all connected, and we have a responsibility to look out for one another.

When Linda’s son died, she cultivated an unusual park in his honor for all San Antonians to enjoy. I see young people at CHRISpark every week, posing for graduation and bridal photos in anticipation of bright futures, families exploring the grounds, reading words etched into limestone benches that proclaim, “Today a puppy licked me,” or, “I marveled a mountain.” At night, lights illuminate the park in the actual pattern the constellations were in on the night Linda’s son was born – all reminders of how life is, and how we can be amazing.

And now Ruby City, the museum Linda had the forethought to hire world-renowned architect David Adjaye to create so she could share her extraordinary art collection with the world, is coming to life. Even after her death, Linda continues to breathe vital energy into San Antonio. She planned ahead, and she didn’t settle. 

Last week, the City’s Zoning Commission denied a developer’s request to rezone a property near Ruby City, slated to become a high-density, multi-story apartment complex. The vote fell fittingly on Linda’s birthday, April 17. She’s still giving us gifts today – on her own birthday, no less

designed by preeminent architect Sir David Adjaye
Sir David Adjaye’s design for Ruby City is based on one of Linda Pace’s dreams. Credit: Courtesy / Adjaye Associates

With the Deansteel project looming, a proposed viewshed ordinance could help protect areas around local landmarks such as the Pioneer Flour Mill, Confluence Park, and Ruby City.

The team behind the proposed development, however, is rushing to rezone the seven-acre property next to Ruby City to build 130 units per acre, essentially adding to the area 1,000 families, 1,000 cars, a multi-story parking garage, and three apartment towers that would be six to 10 stories tall. 

Developers have requested an Infill Development Zone (IDZ) designation, which would allow construction of more than 900 residential units and up to 10 stories in height – They’re asking for way more than they want so they can get way more than they need. The average density for the area is 33 units per acre. Deansteel should not be allowed more than that. 

Due to past issues with IDZ zoning, City Council at the request of Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) created a task force that is currently reviewing the designation and will present recommendations in May – likely why developers are so desperate to gain the IDZ designation.

Longtime neighbors with single-family homes in the area need protection, too, because with 1,000 more cars in the area, traffic will clog up Rische, Daniel, Guenther, and Sweet streets, as well as Camp and Flores streets. Extending Guenther Street across South Flores Street, as developers have proposed, won’t solve the traffic problem either.

The neighborhood cannot support this type of traffic and density. Looming buildings belong downtown, which officially begins north of Arsenal. Even at four stories with a parking garage, the Deansteel project would block views of Ruby City from the surrounding area.      

This project fits neither the zoning criteria for approval in the section on “Consistency, Adverse Impacts of Neighboring Lands or Suitability as Presently Zoned” nor the careful, unique vision the neighborhood and City have deployed in the past, with small retail and art venues popping up in support of our strong artist community. That’s why the City’s Zoning Commission denied Deansteel’s request.

Ruby City promises to put the King William/Southtown area – and the entire city of San Antonio – on the map as a globally recognized destination for the arts, thanks to Linda Pace’s vision and generosity and careful collaboration with city planners. But now the developer will try to persuade City Council to override the decision, as it makes the final call on zoning requests.

The nearby San Pedro Creek has enormous potential, but allowing developers to rezone and run with their projects could transform a jewel into an eyesore by blocking the view of what is certain to become an international landmark. I commend Treviño, whose district is home to Ruby City, for initially voicing opposition to the development. (On April 17, he committed to working with both sides for an acceptable compromise.)

Deansteel’s project is not appropriate for the area. It is a slap in the face of the people who, over many years, had a hand in shaping our city into one of the most unique, vibrant communities in the United States.

I hope other architectural firms and more thoughtful developers step up to propose a more compatible, exciting plan to Deansteel President John Dean, whom I would encourage to forego the current design.

I implore City Council to heed the Infill Development Zone task force’s recommendations and see what innovative ventures bloom out of the proposed viewshed ordinance. To citizens, I say: Speak up. Your voice matters.

For Linda Pace’s legacy, and for our city’s sake: Be amazing.

Georgia Erck is a writer from San Antonio. She won Pitchapalooza at the San Antonio Book Festival in 2015 and participated in Listen to Your Mother | San Antonio 2017 and Texas Public Radio’s Worth Repeating....