San Antonio City Hall. Photo by Scott Ball.
San Antonio City Hall. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The City of San Antonio is poised to clarify several sections of its Unified Development Code (UDC) with about 200 proposed amendments affecting a range of City processes from land use to street safety.

City Council spent part of Wednesday reviewing the proposed UDC amendments, and will meet Dec. 17 to render a final decision on almost all of them.

The City adopted the UDC in May 2001. The code, which acts like a guide to development citywide, allows for an update every five years.

Reviews of the existing UDC began in May by several City commissions, boards, and committees. Most revisions are made by City staff, but public/external agencies, private organizations, and businesses were able to request their own potential UDC changes for consideration. In all, the City received 260 recommended amendments.

City staff and the commissions and committees vetted all submitted amendments to determine which ones met criteria for final Council consideration.

The City’s Planning and Zoning commissions, Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and staff all approved each amendment that made it through the vetting process, save for a handful of proposals (more on those later).
You can view all proposed amendments here.

One, for example, is the King William Association’s request to add a new subcategory of commercial district to restrict external sound systems and live music. The Food Policy Council of San Antonio made several urban farm-related requests, including modifying single-family home provisions to allow on?premise retail sales of cottage foods and produce.

This is a sample of the 200-plus proposed amendments to San Antonio's Unified Development Code. Courtesy/City of San Antonio.
This is a sample of the 200-plus proposed amendments to San Antonio’s Unified Development Code. Courtesy/City of San Antonio.

Three proposals either did not garner unanimous approval or warranted discussion at the Council level. One was from the Office of Historic Preservation to allow the City to place a lien on historic properties to recoup funds spent to correct violations.

A second, from the Transportation and Capital Improvements department, would require bike lanes on all collector, secondary, and primary arterial roads.

A third proposal on the table is to create a definition of “ambulatory surgical center” for zoning purposes, which could have implications for local abortion clinics in the future. A state law being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court requires abortion clinics to meet the requirements of an ambulatory surgical center. Only nine of Texas’ 19 abortion clinics would be allowed to operate should the Supreme Court side against medical professionals that have called the requirements medically unnecessary.

Robert Barry and Timothy Barker – who live near Planned Parenthood’s new ambulatory surgical center in District 8 that, among countless other services, provides abortions – submitted a request aimed at restricting abortion clinics from neighborhood commercial zones. Ambulatory surgical center, clinics, offices, and other low-impact commercial uses are generally allowed in C-1. Barker and Barry want ambulatory surgical centers, which are not currently defined by the UDC, to be defined and classified as C-2, typically reserved for more intensive uses like gas stations and pawn shops that substantially increase traffic.

(Read more: Code Change: New Strategy for Anti-Abortionists in San Antonio)

The Zoning commission agreed that the centers should be defined in the code, but did not move forward on reclassifying them as C-2 as that would constitute a major change. This round of UDC amendments is intended for minor changes.

Councilman Mike Gallagher (D10) said more input from residents who live near an ambulatory surgical center would be needed to make a decision.

“One of the things we have to be always concerned about is input from those neighborhoods, and they’re saying those centers have an impact,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher also asked if residents near an ambulatory surgical center have had enough time to provide the City with input on the potential change. Roderick Sanchez, Development Services department director, said residents may make comments now online or at the Dec. 17 Council meeting.

Regardless of the outcome, the new Planned Parenthood facility, would not be effected by any change. UDC amendments are not retroactive.

Councilman Alan Warrick (D2) asked about the amendments that could help make it easier for residents to grow and sell their own produce, adding that, more than 2,000 vacant lots in his district’s EastPoint Promise Zone could accommodate contributions to area urban farms.

Sanchez replied that most of the lots are too small and that pedestrian and vehicular traffic might increase, impeding traffic flow. But Sanchez added that if the Council and Zoning Commission feel differently, accommodations could be made on a case-by-case basis.

Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) addressed a request to make it more flexible for a small business to get public relief for its part of a sidewalk if it spends a specific amount of money on property improvements.
“Since we’re talking multimodal and SA Tomorrow, we want to make sure to fill gaps in all of our sidewalks and give relief to our small businesses,” she added.

The Council will decide in February 2016 on a few more remaining UDC amendments affecting low impact development and conservation subdivision.

*Top image: San Antonio City Hall.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.