Local developer Stephen Yndo won final approval for 14, three-floor townhomes in Southtown’s King William Historic District from the City of San Antonio’s Historic and Design Review Commission on Wednesday.
Yndo estimates the units, which vary in size from 1,800 to 2,500 square feet, will cost between $400,000 and $600,000 in one of San Antonio’s most walkable inner city neighborhoods.
The commission’s approval essentially clears the way for work to begin on the multi-structure project; once the project’s landscaping plan is approved, permits will be issued for the demolition of the former Children’s Shelter at 113 Cedar St. which was built in the 1970s and is not considered a historic structure. Ten of the 14 townhomes will be built in its place. The remaining four will be built across the street, which is currently a small parking lot. If all goes as planned, construction could begin in mid-2016, Yndo said, with a possible move-in dates by the end of 2017.
The project, designed by local firm Alamo Architects, received design and site plan approval in July last year but Yndo and his team have been working with neighbors and the King William Neighborhood Association for more almost two years on the project, fine tuning details.
Initial plans called for 19-21 smaller townhomes but those site plans were too dense for comfort for neighbors.
“Some of the people who were most vociferous in their opposition initially have (since) come around,”said Jim Bailey, associate principal at Alamo Architects who attended formal and informal meetings in the neighborhood and worked with Yndo on altering scale and other details to find a compromise.
Yndo, a long time resident of King William himself, was hoping to appeal to a wider buyer market with smaller, more affordable townhomes selling closer to $300,000.
“There was a period at the very beginning where I was a little afraid of going with as large (of a unit) as we went,” he said. “But there are a number of older folks who have been in the neighborhood for a long time who want to stay in the neighborhood. (They) can’t handle the upkeep of a historic home, but would want a larger unit.
“In order to get anything that’s affordable, we’ve got to have density,” he added. “So people have to kind of get over that deal in order to keep things affordable in the inner city.”
On Wednesday they received approval of fencing and railing materials, color scheme, and other details. Yndo will be coming back to HDRC with a landscape plan soon.
“There is still a little bit of ongoing negotiation with the King William Association about specific little details,” Bailey said. “We’ve committed to making several minor changes as part of our 100% construction documents.”
KWA Executive Director Cherise Bell spoke in favor of the project on Wednesday.
As part of Yndo’s compromise with neighborhood stakeholders, the plan also calls for the relocation and sale of the historic Solon Steward House currently at 114 Cedar St., owned by the San Antonio Independent School District. Once its picked up and moved – easier said than done – to a new lot adjacent to the 10-unit structure on Perieda Street, the expanding Bonham Academy can take advantage of the soon-to-be vacant lot off of Cedar Street for its own purposes.
SAISD purchased the home several years ago with plans to demolish it to expand its playground at the elementary school, but the HDRC ruled that its historic status precludes demolition.
While relocation is not the preferred treatment of historic homes, HDRC Chair Michael Guarino said, the circumstances around this case make it one of the most logical choices. The home will be sold to a third party for renovation.
Not everyone is pleased with the project’s design or concept of townhomes moving into the historically single-family residential neighborhood and Christina Garcia, is one such neighbor. She spoke in opposition of the project on Wednesday.
“It’s taking away and it’s compromising the historical district with these cookie-cutter homes,” Garcia said.
She called the design “boxy.”
The historic homes at 145 and 143 Cedar St., south of the now-vacant and non-contributing Children’s Shelter, are not included in this project, Yndo said.
“I don’t understand why anyone has cause to be upset,” Bailey said. “We’re taking an institutional use, we’re returning it to single family ownership – these are not rentals, these are tax paying neighbors – and putting historic homes back into residential use.”
Some people are afraid that this is the start of an “avalanche” of similar, higher density housing in King William, Yndo said. “The reality is that this is one of the last few sites in King William where you can actually do infill development. They are very few and far between.”
Larger projects are underway or anticipated further south, outside the historic district and across the San Antonio River next to Blue Star (Big Tex), on Cevallos Street (across from La Tuna), and in the Lone Star neighborhood.
“Folks just need to get accustomed to the idea that we’ve got a million people coming to San Antonio over the next 30 years,” Bailey said. “And we have this drive to move back into the inner city. We need to come up with an equitable, sustainable method of dealing with that and part of that solution, unfortunately, is going to be increased density in every neighborhood. We’re going to have to be really careful and sensitive about how we do that in our historic districts. I think this is (Cedar Street project) a case study for how to go about doing that.”
*Top image: A rendering of the 10-unit structure part of the Cedar Street townhome project looking northeast. Courtesy of Alamo Architects.