After hearing from neighbors in favor or opposed to a hotly-contested zoning change in the historic Dignowity Hill neighborhood, the City’s Zoning Commission voted 5-2 in favor of the change – but zoning decisions require at least six votes in favor, so technically it becomes a vote of denial.

The zoning change would allow the property owners to build a two-story, two-car garage with three, small attached apartments in their large backyard. Most neighbors in support of the project say it would bring more housing options and diversity to the 1000 block of Nolan Street. Others said that it would bring too many people and cars to the area and cited the property owner’s use of short term rental platform Airbnb as cause for concern.

Property owners Chris and Lauren Mongeon now have six months to bring their case before City Council for a final vote. They would be bringing with them a recommendation of approval from the Office of Historic Preservation and a recommendation of denial, by default, from the Zoning Commission.

The project received overwhelming support from the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association Monday night when its membership voted 48-18 in favor of the project after hours of discussion.

A neighbor stands up to speak before the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association meeting's vote on the Mongeons' zoning case.
A neighbor stands up to speak before the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association meeting’s vote on the Mongeons’ zoning case. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The Mongeons haven’t decided whether to move forward in the next six months, Chris said after the meeting. “But we look forward to going to City Council.”

The zoning change is in line with the low density zoning goals outlined in the 2009 Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Master Plan, according to City staff.

“We do intend to proceed with our zoning case, we just need to figure out the timing personally,” he said. “It’s disappointing that we came out of [this meeting] with a default decision … the fact that there weren’t enough zoning commissioners here – I feel like if we had more we probably would have gotten over six.”

The Mongeons have submitted the design of the structure to the Historic Design and Review Commission. If approved, they’ll still need the zoning change, Council’s approval, to proceed.

“I am for personal property rights,” Councilman Alan Warrick (D2) told the Rivard Report on Monday. His district includes Dignowity Hill and he attended a portion of the neighborhood association’s meeting. “I will follow my guidance from them because they have the most robust process within the district.”

As more people move to San Antonio and to the neighborhood, residents and the City are looking for ways to manage and accommodate that growth, said Commissioner Ba’Ron Head (D2) on Tuesday. “Growth means change.”

He went back and forth on the issue, he said, but ultimately voted in favor of the project and plans to advocate for it to whomever represents District 2 on Council when it comes before them. Warrick and William “Cruz” Shaw are headed for a tight runoff election on June 10.

Some people, including Dignowity resident Chris Joyce, think more should be done to preserve the historic “fabric” of the neighborhood.

“This is not the fabric I invested my retirement in,” Joyce said. “I want to be in a neighborhood, not a business profile.”

The issue was complicated by the possibility of at least one of the apartments being listed on Airbnb. They currently rent three of the four rooms in their large, recently renovated historic home through Airbnb.

That issue, however, is currently outside the purview of Zoning Commission – for the next six months at least. The City is convening a task force and hosting public meetings to develop rules surrounding short-term rental properties.

The Mongeons would, of course, follow any regulations coming out of that process, Chris said.

Neighborhood associations across the city are wrestling with short-term rental conversations in the meantime. Some residents are concerned that allowing them to be built and to continue to operate sets a precedence.

Out of the 35 notices of the rezoning that went out to addresses within 200 feet of the property, as required when anyone requests a change, 12 letters came back in support and four in opposition of the change. The notices did not include information about possible short-term rental use.

“It’s in my backyard now,” Cullen Jones told the commission. “What happens when it’s in your backyard?”

Lorena Havill told her fellow Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association members to vote against her neighbor's request for a zoning change.
Lorena Havill told her fellow Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association members to vote against her neighbor’s request for a zoning change. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Jones and his wife, Lorena Havill, live right next to the Mongeons and they are the only adjacent neighbor opposed to the project. Havill asked that the vote be delayed until after the regulations on short-term rentals were developed to no avail.

Zoning Commission Chair Francine Romero assured the crowd that each case is considered individually according to neighborhood plans and other existing guides and restrictions.

“I don’t see this as a slippery slope [towards high density],” Romero said, adding that the abnormally large lot with alley access can accommodate more people than the smaller lots in the neighborhood.

Dignowity Hill resident Natasha Bakunda also cited property rights during the meeting on Monday before the DHNA’s vote.

Both sides can use the slippery slope argument, Bakunda said in support of the project and of short-term rentals. “My neighbors – who I love – shouldn’t dictate what I do.”

Longtime Eastside resident Walter Bowman echoed Head’s comments.

“Change is going to come … young people are coming,” he said. “Let us give them a chance.”

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