This article has been updated.

A family’s reluctance to see a San Antonio Water System sewage station built onto their restaurant’s property appears to have given way to potentially bigger considerations.

Earlier in the process, the Rodriguez family worked hard to stop SAWS from building the lift station on their property. Now at least two people familiar with the situation say the family wants an even larger sewer system built, to support a potential apartment complex or other multi-use development on the property.

The City Council followed the SAWS board of trustees in unanimously approving the use of eminent domain on Thursday to build a lift station that will pump waste into a nearby sewage main in the back of Piedras Negras de Noche’s parking lot.

A lift station in the area is necessary to fulfill a federal order to upgrade its undersized and leaky sewage system, SAWS officials say. That includes abandoning a deteriorating sewage main underneath Interstate 35 and directing that sewage instead through a pipe along the frontage road next to Piedras Negras De Noche.

As the owners of Piedras Negras de Noche, a third-generation restaurant business started by John Rodriguez Sr. in the 1960s, members of the Rodriguez family have been vocal in their opposition to the roughly 10′ x 15′ station on a corner of the restaurant’s 2.2-acre property.

At the October and November SAWS board of trustees meetings, Rodriguez family members told trustees that Piedras Negras, which has survived both a severe fire and the coronavirus pandemic in its long history, would not survive the estimated six-month construction period; they also expressed concerns about potential sewage smells and spills right outside their eatery.

Claiming they would lose their livelihood with the loss of the restaurant, the Rodriguez family garnered community support from local officials including former District 1 Councilwoman Mary Alice Cisneros, who spoke to the trustees on the family’s behalf at SAWS’ November board meeting.

“Don’t make it so extra hard that the parking will not be available for their clients or their customers,” Cisneros said at the time. “My plea to you today is don’t use the front edge of that particular restaurant.”

For months, the Rodriguez family has been meeting with SAWS officials to come to an agreement about the lift station, to make sure as little damage is done to the property as possible, SAWS CEO and President Robert Puente told the San Antonio Report on Wednesday.

“We’d only take up about five [parking] spots, out of 100 plus parking spots,” during construction, Puente said. “[Lift stations are] small, and they keep the sewage moving, so they don’t smell.”

SAWS would also be willing to only allow construction during the restaurant’s closed hours, and has offered to pay the Rodriguez family a roughly $200,000 one-time fee for access to the 0.2079 acres needed for the lift station.

Over the past two years, SAWS has considered 16 different options to minimize disruption to the property, Puente said. Both parties tentatively agreed to several options, but ultimately the family backed out each time, Puente said.

According to multiple sources, Johnny Rodriguez Jr. has been asking third-party sources what size lift station would be needed to support say, an apartment complex on the property.

Puente said Rodriguez Jr. has asked about several options that could support such a structure.

“The [Rodriguez family] did hire — not just the lawyer — but a development lawyer,” Puente said.

Councilman Mario Bravo (D1), who has sat in on at least two meetings with SAWS officials and the family, also confirmed Rodriguez Jr. has inquired about “oversizing the [sewage] system for potential future development.”

“I don’t know why somebody would bring that up if that wasn’t part of their plan,” Bravo said.

Representing the family, David Earl of Earl & Associates said rumors that the family plans to sell the property in the near future are “absolutely not true.”

Earl, whose firm’s practice area includes ‘real estate development’ and ‘water,’ according to its website, said it was his own idea to oversize the sewage main, to prevent SAWS from having to redo the structure in a decade when the San Pedro Creek Area inevitably explodes with new growth.

“I am definitely looking out for the future for the family and saying, ‘Hey, if you’re going to put this here, make sure you … do it once, do it right, and don’t have to come back and do [more construction] again, and make sure there’s enough capacity for that whole area,'” Earl said.

Puente questioned Earl’s sudden concern for future growth in the area, saying the family has recently said it would agree to the lift station if it included the ability to bring water to at least 150 dwelling units on the property.

Bravo said he planned to vote in favor of the eminent domain request Thursday.

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Lindsey Carnett

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