Theresa Licea has lived in the Lavaca neighborhood most of her life and now resides in a 104-year-old cottage on Carolina Street that once belonged to her in-laws.
Last week, she joined dozens of her neighbors in signing a petition against a developer’s plans to buy a vacant lot between her home and Interstate 37 and build a convenience store and gas station.
Licea’s home is adjacent to the property slated for a gas station, which would sit between narrow, one-way streets, Florida and Carolina, in one of the oldest neighborhoods in San Antonio.
But the 1-acre lot is located along the Interstate 37 access road and zoned for commercial use. Until about five years ago, it was home to a Fleet vehicle fueling station that presented its own host of problems for homeowners in the area.
“I have always had trouble with that property there,” Licea said. “We had 18-wheelers come in and city and company trucks come in and fill up with gas.”
Truck drivers used the area to repair their vehicles, she said, leading to oil runoff in neighboring yards, and the area was often strewn with trash.
Even after the fueling station closed, Licea kept an eye out for what might come next.
In late 2019, downtown developers GrayStreet Partners acquired the property, which is assessed at $451,000, according to county tax records.
During a recent Lavaca Neighborhood Association meeting, residents learned GrayStreet plans to sell the property to a Southlake, Texas-based company that develops 7-Eleven stores throughout the country.
“GrayStreet is known for doing a lot of great, interesting projects in the urban core so most people were very hopeful that it would be something reasonable,” said Cherise Rohr-Allegrini, president of the Lavaca Neighborhood Association.
In early April, attorneys for Verdad contacted the neighborhood association and described the convenience store and gas station it planned to build, and during a May 3 meeting, residents pushed back.
“Everybody was strongly opposed,” Rohr-Allegrini said. “It was still relatively polite, but people are pretty up in arms about it.”
Melissa Stendahl and other Lavaca residents started a petition against the store, which they said “will invite loitering, noise, littering, and cater to highway traffic.”
“When we went door to door, absolutely nobody was in support of it, really,” Stendahl said. “Everybody signed,” including longtime renters who she said are also passionate about the quality of life in Lavaca.
Stendahl and her family moved to Lavaca more than a year ago, eager for an urban lifestyle in a walkable neighborhood. Her home, which sits near the vacant lot, is 120 years old. “I didn’t buy this special home and a historic district downtown to live across from a highway rest stop, and the neighbors generally feel the same,” she said.
Lavaca residents are concerned about the added traffic, she said, and the dangers that poses for pedestrians and cyclists. Carolina Street is a walking route used by many students attending Brackenridge High School, she said.
Representatives for Verdad told residents the store would bring value to the neighborhood, Rohr-Allegrini said. Verdad did not respond to a request for more information.
Design plans showing the store backing up to Florida Street and the gas pumps along Carolina Street make her think otherwise. Gas refueling trucks would be routed behind both structures behind the homes in the block. “This development is 100% focused on highway traffic,” she said. “It’s not at all conducive to pedestrian-ism.”
Stendahl pointed out there are already numerous convenience stores in the area supporting the neighborhood. A search using Google maps results in at least seven other gas stations within 1.5 miles of the property.
The former Fleet station didn’t attract much traffic into the neighborhood, Rohr-Allegrini said.
“Yes, it was a gas station before, but it should never have been,” she said. “That’s a function of the 1960s in a poor neighborhood with no political clout to redirect the highway.”
In 1959, the Texas Transportation Commission approved construction of a new highway through some of the city’s most historic residential areas, including St. Paul Square and Lavaca, effectively splitting those neighborhoods in two.
The entire block where Licea lives was once full of homes. A 1951 Sanborn map shows several homes situated along the former Peach Street before they were razed for construction of the interstate.
Licea’s in-laws considered themselves lucky their home wasn’t demolished. “Back in those days, people did not question anything – they just accepted it as long as they weren’t bothered,” she said.
But times have changed, Rohr-Allegrini said. “This is a community that’s pretty savvy and not going to put up with that stuff.”
The recommended use for the property, according to the City’s guide for future growth and development, SA Tomorrow, is “urban low-density residential” with improved pedestrian crossing under the highway.
Residents aren’t completely opposed to commercial development but hoped GrayStreet would sell the property to a buyer that understands the historic nature of the neighborhood, Rohr-Allegrini said.
“So even though it’s on the highway, it has to adhere to strict district guidelines,” she said.
GrayStreet did not respond to a request for comment.
The representative for Verdad who met with the neighborhood association, attorney Ashley Farrimond, responded to a request for more information from the San Antonio Report by stating only that the owner has not yet submitted an application to the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) and does not have a timeline to do so. She also said Verdad has not closed on the property.
District 1 Councilman Roberto Trevino said in a statement he would work with the district’s HDRC appointee to ensure the neighborhood’s concerns are acknowledged. “Our goal is to bring neighborhoods and developers together to work toward realizing projects that harmonize with the communities in which they are located,” he stated.
“In my dreams, it would be a nice little park,” Licea said. “I mean the highway’s right there so you’re getting those fumes from that, so more trees and plants in the area.”