Following weeks of vocal opposition from environmental advocates, the City of San Antonio has postponed seeking approval to remove several heritage trees at Brackenridge Park.

City officials announced via a press release Tuesday that it would delay its request to the Historic and Design Review Commission to remove the trees while the city and its consultants complete the design work for the park’s approved 2017 Bond Project.

“No one wants to remove heritage trees, especially from a historic city park, but if the removal ultimately remains necessary to protect the public and historic structures at Brackenridge, I want the community to understand the full context of the project,” City Manager Erik Walsh said in the release.

“So I have directed staff to pause consideration by the HDRC, which has dominated the conversation and distracted from the broader benefits of the restoration work, while we complete the design and work with our partners and stakeholders.”

During this time, city staff will also work with the Texas Historical Commission and reengage a committee of Brackenridge Park stakeholders to “ensure that historic structures in the park are adequately protected and the removal of heritage trees is minimized,” the city stated in the press release.

Environmental advocates who are pressing for the trees to remain are calling the city’s decision to postpone the HDRC decision a “temporary win.”

“The city has lost public trust on this issue,” said environmental advocate Alesia Garlock.

Protesters show up to speak about the proposal to remove 104 trees — including nine heritage trees — within Brackenridge Park during the Historic and Design Review Commission meeting on Wednesday.
Residents show up to speak against the proposal to remove 104 trees — including several heritage trees — within Brackenridge Park during the HDRC meeting last week. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

City Councilmen Mario Bravo (D1) and Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) told the San Antonio Report they feel this decision is a win for their constituents. Bravo said the city’s decision follows private meetings he and McKee-Rodriguez had with Walsh Monday evening and Tuesday morning.

“I’m grateful to the city manager for taking this into consideration, and going back and trying to make sure that we follow the normal process for designing these projects and hold off until we get more public input,” Bravo said. “This is going to slow the process down and give people the opportunity to weigh in before the design is finalized and before it goes back to HDRC.”

Last month the San Antonio Planning Commission approved changes to the Brackenridge Park 2017 Bond Project that would allow for the removal of 104 trees — including 10 heritage trees — that city staff say are threatening protected historic structures within the park.

In 2017, voters approved $7.75 million for improvements to Brackenridge Park, including restoration of those historic river walls and structures, including the 1920s river walls on Lambert Beach, rehabilitation of the historic acequia and 1776 Upper Labor Diversion Dam and stabilization of the 1870s pump house and waterworks channel.

Because Brackenridge Park is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a designated State Antiquities Landmark and City of San Antonio Historic Landmark, the restoration project is subject to review by the Texas Historical Commission and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for environmental impacts, including impacts to designated cultural resources, the city said in its press release.

Prior to the Planning Commission’s vote in January, Jamaal Moreno, an employee with the city’s Public Works department and a project manager on the bond project, said in order for the project to meet THC and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requirements, trees threatening the historic structures would need to be removed since the more than 100-year-old structures have to be rehabilitated in place.

“If we continue to allow those trees to remain there, eventually they’re going to disintegrate the cultural resources that we have within the park,” Moreno said at the time.

Last week, following two hours of public comment from environmental advocates and following another two hours of discussion by commissioners, the HDRC delayed a decision and said they would reconsider the proposal during a meeting this Friday.

Now, the project team will seek HDRC approval this spring or summer for the final design of Lambert Beach and conceptual design of the pump house and dam, the city release said. The Parks and Recreation Department will reconvene a committee that included park tenants, adjacent neighborhood associations and regulatory agencies to “create a forum for guiding park development and information sharing,” the city stated in its release.

As a precautionary measure, Lambert Beach, on the western side of the river, will be fenced off to restrict public access “due to degrading conditions in this area of the park, which includes the historic river walls,” staff said.

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.