A conceptual rendering of the "brownstone" townhomes proposed for the near Eastside on Center Street.
A conceptual rendering of the "brownstone" townhomes proposed for the near Eastside on Center Street. Credit: Courtesy / Terramark

Terramark Urban Homes wants to build a $7 million brownstone-style townhome complex on the near Eastside. The local development firm has purchased two adjacent lots to expand the original footprint of the 24-unit project, but neighborhood leaders question if the design and density fit into growth plans for the nearby Dignowity Hill and St. Paul Square historic districts.

Original site plans for the City Center Lofts were approved by the commission in early 2016. Terramark wanted to build 24 units in three rows of townhomes on both sides of Swiss Street, south of Center Street. It still wants to build 24 units, but has since dropped the “Lofts” modifier and is now asking HDRC for conceptual approval for six rows of townhomes that are more spread out on larger lots (see map below). The parking plan has also been updated to include two-car garages – which means less off-site parking for residents and their visitors.

John Cooley, Terramark chief operating officer, describes City Center as a community of brownstones, a style of housing more typical of New York and Boston.

But technically, Terramark is only asking for initial approval of the locations of each row of townhomes – not the size of the buildings, their design, or materials used.

While Office of Historic Preservation staff found the placement “appropriate,” they had concerns about “massing [or size] and architectural treatment of the units,” according to their published recommendations. In other words, they would rather not approve the building location without further design information.

Still, Cooley said he is optimistic the current plan will pass muster with the HDRC.

“Many of the concerns are architectural, so those things will be developed and addressed as time goes along,” he said.

Cooley said he understands designing what could be an atypical, unique community in a historic district is a challenge.

“Those are the things you just have to work through,” he said. “If you stand on this property and look around, so much of it is underutilized industrial ground. It’d be a shot in the arm in the attempt to activate that part of East Commerce.”

Terramark Urban Homes' City Center development is inspired by urban brownstones often seen in the Northeast.
Terramark Urban Homes’ City Center development is inspired by urban brownstones often seen in the Northeast. This collage was included in the development firm’s submission to HDRC. Credit: Courtesy / Terramark Urban Homes

Terramark President Charles Turner and project manager Ricardo Turrubiates met with three HDRC members to address initial questions about the project with the commission’s subcommittee on design last week.

According to documentation of the Dec. 12 meeting, Design Review Committee members had questions about setback depths, facade orientation, and whether units on Center Street should have stoops like the townhomes on North Swiss and Cherry do.

Staffers also recommended Terramark continue with further design revisions, including:

  • That units facing North Swiss feature architectural elements to accommodate a secondary entrance or porch;
  • That the overall width of each unit be reduced to no more than three window bays;
  • That all sidewalks around the development intersecting at Center feature a width and profile consistent with those found historically around the district.

Click here to download Terramark’s proposal and City staff’s review and recommendations.

Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association leaders also have concerns about the concept, parking, project size, and architectural design – which are roughly the same since the project was originally presented to them in 2016.

“Terramark never got anything back to us that was different from what we saw last time, so our opposition remains the same,” said Brian Dillard, president of the association.

The association’s Architectural Review Committee wants to see higher density – apartments, mixed-use, or even work/live units – on the property, so long as it’s reflective of nearby commercial, industrial, and residential elements in the historic neighborhood.

Committee Chair Monica Savino criticized the project for “down-zoning to a single-use, low density, cookie-cutter residential development that [prioritizes] two-car garages in each house, and long driveways through the lots to access each garage,” she wrote in a letter to Councilman Cruz Shaw (D2). The 2009 neighborhood plan calls for some form of low-density, mixed-use, transit-oriented development in that area. “As advocates for the neighborhood, our goals are longer term in scope,” she wrote.

The association also called for:

  • Some parking spaces to be separate from the townhomes and not be integrated in each unit in an effort to provide what the association calls “diverse parking solutions” in the neighborhood;
  • An open space within the project site;
  • An overall design that is “responsive to the existing historic structures clearly within the range of this project,” Savino wrote.

Seven townhouses south of North Swiss would be built in the first three phases, according to Terramark’s plan. The second phase would see another 10 townhomes in a larger lot north of North Swiss. The final phase of seven units would go in north of Phase 2, facing North Cherry Street. The City has approved zoning for the initial project lot.

The proposed site plan for City Center, a townhome community, in Dignowity Hill.
The proposed site plan for City Center, a townhome community in Dignowity Hill. Credit: Courtesy / Terramark Urban Homes
Previously approved site plan for City Center Lofts.
Previously approved site plan for City Center Lofts. Credit: Courtesy / Terramark Urban Homes

The Eastside is home to some of the poorest zip codes in the city, but Dignowity Hill on the near-Eastside has experienced some of the most dramatic property value increases over the last decade, according to Bexar County appraisal data.

Sale prices likely will range from $290,000 to $310,000, Cooley said, for 1,500 to 1,600 square-foot units. The estimated $7 million project will take seven months to build.

“These would be brownstones that people could buy, own and build up equity in,” Cooley said, adding that the project would complement other projects in the area.

Now under new majority ownership, St.Paul Square could soon see new tenants for vacant store fronts and more activity at Sunset Station blocks away from the proposed townhomes. NRP Group and Zachry are partnering on the 268-unit Baldwin apartment building at 239 Center St. that will include 150 public parking spots. The Merchant Ice and Storage complex on East Houston Street is slated to bring tech workers and downtown denizens as the Texas Research and Technology Foundation redevelops it into an integrated live, work, and play location.

The townhomes would also be across Center Street from the G.J. Sutton State Office Complex, once slated for redevelopment by the state, but vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Terramark is so confident of development potential on the near-Eastside that it is moving its offices to the corner of North Pine and Hays streets.

“That little corridor of East Commerce Street is opening up,” Cooley said. “All of the continued growth on the Eastside gives us a chance to offer something at market rate with these urban brownstones. We think there’s a market for this.”

Managing Editor Iris Dimmick contributed to this report. 

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.