A rendering of West Cevallos apartments planned for 419 W. Cevallos St. and San Pedro Creek. Credit: Courtesy / Davies Collaborative

The Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) on Wednesday gave conceptual approval to a townhome development on a vacant lot in the River Road neighborhood and approved a separate plan for a 323-unit apartment complex in the Lone Star neighborhood.

Wednesday’s meeting was the third time in the last two months that the Trail Street Townhome project had gone before the commission. Several residents and some commissioners had expressed worry about the density, height, drainage, and parking for the townhomes, which Austin-based developer Site Identify seeks to build on Trail Street on the near North Side.

Some area residents also have been concerned that the project would be incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood, and that it could adversely impact a nearby historic acequia and the Zambrano House, an 18th-century historic landmark located at 104 Anastacia Place.

The commissioners appeared to be close to granting conceptual approval in December, but felt they needed time to further study site plan changes that the developer submitted just before that meeting.

Site Identify Chief Executive Officer David Morin and project architect Mari Michael of local firm Mark Odom Studio said they felt they had scaled down and modified the plan just enough to satisfy most if not all the questions posed by commissioners and neighbors.

River Road Neighborhood Association Chairman Richard Reed was one of five residents to question the project, saying any concessions the developer made were not sufficient.

Reed also said it was important to try and reduce the height of the proposed buildings, especially along Trail Street to make the development more compatible with its surroundings. He noted that single-family homes dominate the immediate area.

“This was originally requested of the developer to integrate into the neighborhood and to protect the Zambrano property,” Reed said.

Morin said it would be difficult to take out any additional units or further reduce heights without negatively affecting the business model for the development.

Commissioner Sandi Wolff commended Morin and his associates for reaching a concept more favorable to the commission and to many neighborhood residents: “[The plan] keeps getting better and better.”

The developer team said it agreed with City staff’s request to increase the setback on Buildings 1 and 2 along Huisache Avenue.

But the developers sought compromise with the City’s stipulations that the height of Building 5 be reduced from three to two stories and to eliminate units from Buildings 4 and 6 to increase the space between those structures and the neighborhood acequia.

The developers said they could increase the setback on Building 6 to match that of Building 5 in order to provide enough space for parking at the new construction along Trail Street.

After much discussion Wednesday with commissioners, the developers agreed to expand that setback to 18 feet. The development team and HDRC agreed that space between Building 4 and the acequia could be enlarged a bit.

Regarding the height stipulation for Building 5, Michael and Morin re-emphasized their feeling that reducing the height could jeopardize the amount of square footage the developer has committed to the project.

Michael added that the sloping roof design for Building 5 helps to give the appearance of a two-story structure, and not three stories.

“This project needs a little work, but I think the stipulations could get it there,” Commissioner Curtis Fish said before motioning to give conceptual approval. The vote was unanimous.

“I think the character and some of the elevations need some work, and I agree with comments from the neighborhood,” Fish said.

Morin later told the Rivard Report he was excited about the commission’s decision, saying the project will properly develop a vacant lot and add to the River Road community.

Planned features include communal picnic and seating areas, pedestrian pathways, and a pool. There also will be landscaping around the development, and crushed granite walking trail from Trail Street to the River Road Community Garden. Home sales would start around $380,000.

“We’re doing a project that’s going to be great for the neighborhood,” Morin said.

Resident John Hertz, who spoke against the current plan, called the HDRC’s decision “terrible,” adding that the commission seemingly dismissed neighbors’ concerns.

“[HDRC] is going to basically approve it as it’s designed, so you wonder what’s the point of coming over here,” Hertz said.

Cevallos Street Apartments

Meanwhile, HDRC gave unanimous conceptual approval to the façade arrangement and materials involved in NRP Group‘s plan to build five multifamily residential buildings at 419 W. Cevallos Street next to San Pedro Creek.

NRP Group received initial conceptual approval last September on the site plan, building locations, and massing for the project, which is called West Cevallos.

The approval granted Wednesday comes with five stipulations recommended by City staff:

  • The use of windows that feature a dark color and are recessed at least two inches within the walls,
  • Reducing the heights of the proposed hipped roof forms, and
  • Parapet walls be used to screen the proposed hipped roof forms from view at the public right of way.

Two three-story buildings will front San Pedro Creek. Two more three-story buildings will face West Cevallos. The fifth building, consisting of four stories, will encircle a common courtyard and pool. A dog park also is planned for the new development.

NRP Group design manager Ryan Reed told the HRDC the apartment buildings will be designed in such a way to complement the immediate neighborhood, which mainly has industrial structures.

“As far as specifics for the facade along the creek, we tried to break up the facade as much as possible to give the appearance of multiple buildings,” Reed said.

Commissioner Edward Garza said the project, which could start later this year, could transform its surroundings.

“This lends itself to a whole new vernacular for this site,” he said.

The developer is still working on an estimated project cost, Reed said. Potential rent prices were not immediately available.

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