The City’s Zoning Commission voted unanimously in favor of proposed zoning changes Tuesday that would allow for a major mixed-use development on 23 acres of land off Broadway Street across from the Pearl Brewery complex. City Council will likely make the final decision on the changes next month after it returns from its month-long July break.
Local development firm GrayStreet Partners has preliminary plans for apartments, condos, single family homes, restaurants, bars, retail, offices, parking, and greenspace to occupy the property in the Government Hill neighborhood, most of which – more than 13 acres – is currently owned by San Antonio Independent School District.
“Without disparaging the Pearl … this [development] will be more approachable,” GrayStreet Development Director Peter French told commissioners.
In other words, rent and retail prices will be below those of the Pearl, where many have noted that high-end retail, restaurants, and rents make it less accessible to many San Antonians.
“We want to be careful about how you create an authentic, approachable place,” French told the Rivard Report after the vote.
The details on pricing – as well as a final site plan that would include building heights – are still being developed. French said structures could be from two to eight stories tall.
Throughout the community engagement process developers were able to get a grasp of what the predominantly low-income surrounding neighborhood needs, he said. Property values continue to rise in the area that is sprinkled with historic homes in various conditions, from those as old as the neighborhood’s founding to other new housing projects.
Government Hill Neighborhood Alliance members recently voted unanimously in favor of the project, said Rose Hill, president of the alliance.
“There are a couple things that we do need to work out,” Hill told commissioners, “but [the neighborhood association] does support this project.”
Neighbors were invited to public meetings hosted by GrayStreet to provide input and let developers know what’s needed in the neighborhood and how to blur the lines between the development and the existing housing stock.
Neighborhood real estate is a “hot potato,” Hill said. “Everyone wants a little Government Hill.”
As they say, she added, “build it and they will come … well, they’s a-comin.’”
Most commissioners praised GrayStreet for its outreach efforts.
But not all neighbors are excited about the project. Teresa Galindo, who lives on East Grayson Street across from the projected development, told the commission that her main concerns regard late-night noise and other “problems that come with alcohol.”
She suggested that there should be a limit on how close bars can be to existing single family homes.
GrayStreet plans on putting higher intensity uses – retail spaces and restaurants – toward the center of the development, French said. Developers also plan on reaching out beyond property boundaries to improve the surrounding neighborhood.
GrayStreet is discussing the City’s recent Rehabarama in Denver Heights and other programs for Government Hill, French said.
“We could help spearhead working with other developers, or public or private entities that are doing projects in the neighborhood … maybe it’s providing materials or labor or capital – Something to help make sure that the benefit of the development spreads out.”
Such offerings are not legally part of zoning cases or decisions, but are aimed at showing City Council a sign of good faith that the surrounding area will not be forgotten once construction starts or after it stops. As of now, developers are solidifying such commitments, which they will then present to Council, French said.
Fears of gentrification also loom as the project and associated infrastructure improvement will increase surrounding property values, much like they have around the Pearl. Commissioner Siboney Diaz-Sánchez (D1) asked if GrayStreet had used or will use an “equity lens” when designing the project.
French acknowledged the reality of rising property values, but he said the goal was to create a “better place … affordable for existing residents [that is] part of the community and separate [from it].”
The project will take 10 years to complete, but construction – beginning with offices and retail near Broadway Street – could break ground as soon as this year.
Most existing buildings on the lot will be demolished; however, GrayStreet plans on rehabilitating and repurposing the former Ben Milam Elementary School. SAISD plans to move out of the existing bus depot and administrative buildings on North Alamo Street in two to three years. The district will use the revenue from the property sale to build its new headquarters.
The San Antonio Conservation Society sent a representative to the meeting to express its support of the project.
All this, of course, will only occur if the zoning change is approved and if various property owners agree to sell their parcels to GrayStreet, which currently owns only about eight acres within the project boundaries. SAISD’s acreage is under contract with GrayStreet, but Abington Holdings and Alamo & Grayson own almost one acre, and another half acre is owned and occupied by Project Mend, a nonprofit that provides refurbished medical equipment to people in need at minimal cost.
“That’s another open discussion,” French told the Rivard Report. It’s possible that GrayStreet will help them find another location, incorporate them into the plan, or they can reject the offer.
In that case, they may have to build around them, he said.