The City’s Historic and Design Review Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a revised design for an apartment complex next to Mission Concepción.

Four buildings at the project site would still exceed by the City’s overlay height limit up to 11 feet, according to the latest plan by the 210 Development Group.

The project, which was approved by the HDRC last summer but required amendments that were approved Thursday, would involve renovations of three historic structures at the former St. John’s Seminary site and construction of seven new buildings.

This would include a 228-unit, mixed-income apartment complex, as well as new office and public meeting space for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, which owns the 12.5-acre property surrounding the Mission.

Commissioners said they were satisfied with the developer’s pledge that individuals at the Spanish colonial mission would have an obscured view of new construction thanks to foliage and the existing historic structures.

Unlike Planning or Zoning commission decisions, those made by HDRC do not require City Council approval. New construction and rehabilitation of the former St. John’s Seminary school, abandoned since 2011, is expected to take 18 months.

The developer has revamped its design a few times, heeding concerns previously expressed by commission members, and by neighboring residents who are worried the project may harm the World Heritage preservation area.

Other neighbors have said the project would help to provide market-rate apartments to the community, and improve the former seminary property that has attracted crime and vagrancy.

The site plan at Mission Concepción that was approved by HDRC in 2015. Credit: Courtesy / B&A Architects.

In a recently revised design, the developer said a redesign was needed because foundations must be raised to address drainage issues on the site of the planned apartment complex.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Brady Alexander, an Alliance for San Antonio Missions leader, reiterated concern that the new construction would still be visible to an extent.

He added that a variance in the height requirement in the Mission Protection Overlay District (MPOD)“has potential to set a very bad precedent.”

Another neighbor, Lance Aaron, said he and others are worried that the developer’s current archaeological dig on the project site would negatively affect a historically and culturally significant yet sensitive area.

Aaron also said the project represented “a monument to grave ignorance.”

Michael Wibracht, 210 Development president, said the current design shows new construction will be well hidden, at a certain viewpoint, by foliage, and the historical structures that the developer intends to restore as part of the project.

210 Development Group President Michael Wibracht (center) talks with associates on the Mission Concepción apartment project following the Historic and Design Review Commission meeting on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. Photo by Edmond Ortiz
210 Development Group President Michael Wibracht (center) talks with associates on the Mission Concepción apartment project following the Historic and Design Review Commission meeting. Credit: Edmond Ortiz / San Antonio Report

City staff tasked with reviewing the project recommended that new construction comply with the height requirements of the MPOD, according to their documentation. Staff added that the HDRC could recommend an exception if the design kept the overall spirit of the overlay district.

“The applicant has demonstrated that the existing vegetation and historic buildings on the site would mitigate any negative visual impacts to Mission Concepción,” City staff wrote in the project file.

Wibracht also said Terracon, a local environmental testing firm doing the archaeological investigation, has complied with local and state rules related to pre-site preparation on archaeologically sensitive land.

“There’s been 100% transparency with everyone involved,” Wibracht added.

Patti Zaiontz, a vice president of the San Antonio Conservation Society board, said her organization had been supporting the project in general.

However, Zaiontz said there was worry that the latest design shows an apparent reversal in the ratio between board and batten siding and stucco, the materials for the exterior of the apartment buildings.

Zaiontz said the conservation society would like to see the exterior return to a higher level of stucco in the design.

Following some discussion among commission members, Commissioner John Bustamante (D5) moved to approve the amended design so long as the developer returns a majority-stucco exterior design to OHP staff.

Wibracht said that would not be a problem, adding that it could be a quick fix. Commissioner Tim Cone (D1) said the 210 Development Group and its partners have been diligent in trying to comply with various requirements in designing a highly scrutinized project.

“The applicants have been willing to work with (City) staff and hear from the community. They’ve presented a good project,” Cone added.

Wibracht, following the meeting, was happy with the commission’s decision.

“We’re excited. We’re very happy not only for the project, but for the (Archdiocese) and the community,” he added. “We can’t wait to get started.”

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.