A homebuilder’s plan for 12 residences within the Dignowity Hill Historic District received conditional approval Wednesday.

The Historic and Design Review Commission approved a site plan proposal from Terramark Urban Homes for a cluster of single-family houses at 914 and 918 N. Olive St., on vacant lots situated near another of the builder’s developments, Pine at Hays.

Though City staff did not recommend approval of the request, commissioners said the project could move forward as long as the builder met certain stipulations and returned to HDRC at a later date for another round of approvals.

Those stipulations included revising the plan to increase setbacks for at least two of the homes facing Olive Street and possibly reducing the footprint of the nine structures on the 1.25-acre site.

But one commissioner commended the builder’s plan, saying that its density promotes affordability, which is a problem in historic districts, especially those, like Dignowity Hill, that are undergoing aggressive gentrification.

“The language that’s used by this applicant clearly sends a message that they think that it’s important that people have access into these communities,” said Gabriel Quintero Velasquez.

He cited the City Council’s passing in August of a resolution declaring racism as a public health crisis and said that the development of neighborhoods and housing in the city’s history was “void of participation” from Black and Mexican American people.

“As we ignore the affordability issue, we push people of color not only in a direction that forces them to promote a culture that they did not share in, but [it] also gives credibility to what I believe is an outdated process of historic designation,” Velasquez said.

In recent years, Terramark has built other home developments in the historic San Antonio neighborhood east of downtown, including City Center Lofts, East Meadow, and Urban at Olive, which is sold out.

Four homes have been built on the Pine at Hays site, which is connected to the proposed Olive Court development site by a public driveway. In 2016, the developer was granted more than $200,000 in tax and fee waivers for the projects through the City’s Center City Housing Incentive Policy initiative.

The home design plans for Olive Court – six standalone houses and three duplex structures with carports – are similar to those in the builder’s existing developments. “Many of these homes we’ve actually already built in historic neighborhoods with great success,” said Ricardo Turrubiates, vice president of development for Terramark. “All houses have sold, and we plan on repeating that success in this project.”

The Olive Court and Pine at Hays site consists of 1.25 acres of land developable for housing. Per rezoning in 2016, the property is limited to 16 units per acre.

Both the Conservation Society of San Antonio and a group of neighbors submitted written comments to the commission stating they did not support the project plan. The nine two-story residences are “incompatible with historic development patterns” in the Dignowity Hill historic district, stated Conservation Society representatives.

Turrubiates showed commissioners that setback distances of 19 feet for the proposed homes on Olive Street were in the median range of existing homes on the street, which sit between 15 and 40 feet from the roadway. The existing homes also range in both square footage and height, with some smaller and some larger than the Terramark dwellings.

He said the builder also could revise the plan to allow for greater setbacks for the two homes facing Olive Street.

Following a lengthy discussion between commissioners and Turrubiates, and a failed motion to approve by Velasquez, Commissioner Curtis Fish moved to approve the request with staff stipulations and further study needed. Commissioner Anne-Marie Grube seconded the motion, and all commissioners voted in favor. Scott Carpenter recused himself.

Prior to a vote, however, Velasquez told commissioners he felt that the builder had met the City’s expectations and asked them to consider racial equity when evaluating the project.

“Anything other than taking equity into consideration furthers the very reason why the city is the most economically segregated city in the United States,” he said.

“So I implore the commission to understand the ramifications of our decision-making processes. Because the situation that the city of San Antonio is in is not an accident, and it takes courage to step beyond the past practices of an out-of-control system that enabled redlining to continue all the way into today.”

Fish said that when commissioners apply historic-design guidelines to requests, the development pattern of a neighborhood matters.

“I think this is an application of the guidelines to the best of our best ability in this case,” Fish said. “I don’t think that stipulation [about massing], which is supported by the neighborhood, is going to be that big of a challenge.”

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...