Site map for 114 acres near UTSA. Image courtesy of Steve Sanders.
Site map for 114 acres near UTSA. Image courtesy of Steve Sanders.

Developers took several pages out of an urban core design playbook for their plan to develop 114 acres of suburban greenfield land located just inside of Loop 1604 near the sprawling University of Texas at San Antonio main campus.

The City’s Planning Commission unanimously approved the plan on Wednesday. Ultimately it will require City Council’s approval and the development group is still looking for investors to fund the anticipated $320 million project.

The plan amendment approved on Wednesday will turn the acreage from “suburban tier” to  “urban core tier,” allowing for up to 995 multifamily housing units, 320,000 sq. ft. of Class A office space, and 120,000 sq. ft. of retail to be developed. Plans also include about 24 acres of open space. Exact amounts and final plans are yet to be determined, developer representatives told commissioners on Wednesday.

Whether it’s in or near downtown like the Pearl or 15 miles away, co-locating residential, retail, and office spaces in growing activity centers has benefits in terms of traffic mediation, sustainability, and quality of life as people can walk between different activities rather than having to get back in their cars. That’s why high-density regional and employment centers are one of many focus areas outlined in the City’s long-term comprehensive planning effort, SA Tomorrow.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to demonstrate the planning principles (of) SA Tomorrow,” Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) told the Rivard Report in a phone interview on Wednesday. Nirenberg’s district includes the tract of land that sits on one of the fastest-growing corridors in the country. IH-10 connects downtown to the growing Medical Center, USAA and Valero headquarters, and other institutions along the way to UTSA.  “(The project) achieves a vision of live-work-play that you’d typically see in a more urban location.”

Steve Sanders, a developer that lives in Austin but works in San Antonio, and his development partner California developer Robert J. Schumacher purchased the land in January 2016, Sanders said, to create a social, pedestrian-friendly place for residents and visitors – not unlike the Pearl.

“Anything south of 1604 now is an urban area,” he said. “It’s a chance to create something really neat. … Let’s redefine ‘suburb.’”

Density is driving that redefinition in many suburban communities. UTSA hosts nearly 28,000 students at its main campus almost every day – not including faculty and staff. It’s also surrounded largely by single-family neighborhoods, apartment complexes, chain restaurants, and stores.

“It’s a small city by itself,” Sanders said. “The plan is not to create another downtown, it’s to create the kind of spaces that an area that has 60,000 people would use – that’s more parks, more bars, more restaurants, more diverse places to live, and some resulting office space.”

Mixed developments don’t have to be amenities exclusively designed for the urban core.

While the successful Pearl development was built out of the long-vacant and deteriorating brewery and adjacent historic structures, Sanders’ project will be built from scratch on a rare, large tract of land.

Nirenberg said his and City staff has been working with the development group to encourage diverse housing types, connections to the nearby Leon Creek trail, consideration of surrounding architecture, and the use of low-impact design methods to manage storm water runoff.

“We seem to have a partner that wants to achieve the community benefit that we’ve asked for,” Nirenberg said.

The master planned community district would also include a street that would provide a connection between the highly-congested West Hausman Road and UTSA Boulevard, said local attorney Rob Killen who is representing the development group.

“It creates some connective fiber both for vehicular traffic and for the parks system,” Killen told commissioners, pointing to the Leon Creek trailhead that connects to the citywide Howard W. Peak Greenway Trails System.

There has been a lot of interest in this property, Nirenberg said, because of a lengthy bankruptcy case involving the previous owners. Luckily for the City, it was sold to a single owner – the developers paid $20.3 million for the land at auction – rather than parceled out, he added. “It’s a rare opportunity” to show other property owners in regional centers the benefits of planning out uses for multiple tracks of land as part of a broader pattern and the City’s comprehensive plan.

This story was originally published on July 13, 2016.

Top image: Site map for 114 acres  near UTSA.  Image courtesy of Steve Sanders.

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Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...