City Council unanimously approved new zoning rules Thursday that are designed to bring clarity to proposed developments and ease tensions between residents and developers of building projects as the San Antonio area braces for one million more residents by 2040.
Infill development – development that occurs among existing buildings – is regulated with unique zoning rules inside San Antonio’s Loop 410. The new rules require more schematic detail for developments planned for properties applying for a zoning change to infill development zone (IDZ). Council also approved adjustments to Mixed Use District (MXD) zoning and created new zoning designations for smaller, single-family lots.
Tobin Hill Community Association board member Frederica Kushner said the changes are “a long time coming,” especially for neighborhoods such as hers where infill development has often sparked clashes between developers and existing residents.
“They are necessary in order to control development in inner- and mid-city neighborhoods,” she said. “… Although they are not perfect, they are much better and less unpredictable than what we have now.”
Several other neighborhood association leaders told City Council they supported the changes while acknowledging the rules were imperfect.
Previously, an IDZ designation tended to be unpredictable in terms of what the neighborhood could expect, said Michael Shannon, director of the City’s Development Services Department. Now developers will be required to lay out a basic site plan for the parcel they want to zone as IDZ.
The new rules create three different IDZ categories for projects of varying sizes that have different height, parking, and other requirements.
“Having that discussion of what you’re doing [early on] and having different options,” Shannon said, “will improve the communication between the neighbor and developers and also city staff.”
As developers of more modern, higher-density housing projects continue to eye inner city real estate, neighborhood groups have protested against projects that they feel are too dense or are designed without regard to the neighborhood aesthetic.
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), whose district includes downtown and near Northside neighborhoods where infill development is most prevalent, said the new rules will provide clarity for neighbors without overburdening developers.
“You don’t have to hire an architect to get [the required site plan],” Treviño said, and now the MXD can provide another option for infill development outside of Loop 410.
A 15-member task force comprising neighborhood advocates, developers, and other stakeholders was formed last year to develop the new rules called for by Treviño and neighborhood advocates.
The ordinance also gives developers the ability to make slight adjustments to plans without having to resubmit zoning applications.
Click here to download a copy of the draft ordinance, which does not include amendments to it proposed by Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) and approved by Council.
The amendments adjusted the language regarding “R-1” and “R-2” single-family district, which created zoning designations for homes smaller than 3,000 square feet that did not previously exist. Saldaña and others had concerns that a developer could use this zoning to create large-scale projects on 10 acres “when really it’s designed to help support smaller properties and infill,” he said.
Treviño agreed to the amendment because it “keeps the spirit of what we’ve attempted to do.”
Shawn Price, co-founder of West End Hope in Action, said the new designations give legitimacy to small lot owners and historically low-income owners after years of “discrimination written into the zoning code.”
Instead of going through a costly rezoning to IDZ, these single-family lots can now have their own unique designation, Price said.
“These codes are very imperative to the West End and other communities like it where constituents … work paycheck to paycheck,” he said.
Christine Drennon, director of Trinity University’s Urban Studies program, said her research showed more than 2,000 lots that are smaller than 4,000 square feet in San Antonio and nearly 60 are vacant.
“These small lots that are currently vacant are not eligible for development given the zoning restriction,” Drennon said. “Those that have a house are likely vulnerable due to inappropriate zoning.”
IDZ zoning has been used as a “wild card” for zoning, Treviño told the Rivard Report after the vote. “Without this [new] tool in the tool box, we’re basically flying blind. … We’re just trying to provide some clarity.”
This connects to the SA Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan for San Antonio and ideas for smart growth and affordability, he said. “It’s not any one policy, it’s a combination of these policies.”
Treviño also is working with neighborhood groups on finalizing a land-use category for an urban low density. There are large areas of District 1 that are classified as “medium density” because R1 and R2 did not exist. Now that they, do, he said, “we’re able to go to urban low density. … Therefore the neighborhoods themselves are not threatened with MF-33 [higher-density zoning].”
That change will be reviewed by the Zoning and Planning commissions before a final vote by City Council in the coming months.