City Council unanimously approved a zoning change Thursday that will allow commercial buildings to be built on previously residential blocks in Government Hill near Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.

Neighbors, property owner Sara Martinez, and Council members celebrated the hard-won compromise that took more than a year to achieve. Rather than the original request of C-2, or commercial zoning, Martinez requested C-1, light commercial zoning, which prohibits gas stations, gun shops, liquor stores, and other higher intensity uses.

Martinez’s 1.1-acre property will be combined in a ground lease with an adjacent .7-acre property managed by Frost Bank to create space for a small strip of potentially office space, retail, or a café. A masonry wall will line the property that faces the neighborhood and vehicular access will be restricted to the Interstate 35 access road and North Walters Street.

The tenants have yet to be selected. Former tenants of the nine homes currently on the properties have moved out.

Martinez, a retired painting contractor who was born in Acambay, Mexico, addressed Council directly for the first time on Thursday.

“I have turned 70 years old now and I cannot work with the same energy as I did before,” she said in Spanish (the City provided live translation). She started working for her father when she was 8 years old and her family immigrated to the U.S. in 1968.

“I can’t continue I don’t have the energy and I don’t have the money to continue with the business either,” she said. “I need this to be able to retire with dignity.”

Sara Martinez, property owner, speaks to council with the aid of an interpreter as her attorney, Matthew Badders, sits behind her Credit: Iris Dimmick / San Antonio Report

Andrews-Sullivan (D2), whose district includes the gentrifying Eastside neighborhood, and the Government Hill Alliance were ready to approve C-2NA zoning for the site in September, but ultimately Council voted to delay a vote until the property owners and neighborhoods found a compromise.

Neighbors wanted to keep both blocks residential, but proposed C-1 as a compromise months ago. Martinez formally agreed on Wednesday.

“This home, these neighbors, these streets, our elementary school, and our parks are a lot to fight for and have been worth every second,” said D’Ette Cole, who lives directly north of Martinez’s property on Reno Street. The neighbors who live within 200 feet led a small “Don’t Kill Gov’t Hill” campaign that included signs, block walking, and meetings with officials. “This process has been extremely intimidating and consistently disappointing.

“Despite it taking such a long time to get here, we look forward to a true C-1 compromise,” Cole said.

D’Ette Cole prepares to advocate for a C-1 zoning designation for the property adjacent to her home. Neighbors made custom “C 1” masks made in support of the long awaited compromise. Credit: Iris Dimmick / San Antonio Report

Dora Perez, who also lives within 200 feet of the property, warned of encroaching commercial interests into the historic neighborhood. 

C-1 zoning can bring jobs and services to the area without overpowering the neighborhood with traffic, Perez said. “We want the best for our neighborhood and our community because we are the ones that live in that neighborhood day-in and day-out. … [We] accept development, accept change, and accept a C-1 zoning.”

Andrews-Sullivan thanked Martinez, neighbors, and the Government Hill Alliance for coming together to agree on the compromise.

“This is the time we unite, we build together … [for] true economic development that fits our community,” she said.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org