A local developer asking to exceed height limits for a planned apartment complex near Mission Concepción said its proposed roofing redesign would help address foundation and drainage issues.

The 210 Development Group pulled the St. John’s Seminary redevelopment item from the City’s Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) meeting on Wednesday.

Company spokeswoman Holly Thoman told the Rivard Report that the project’s civil engineers and architects informed 210 Development about the foundation and drainage issues about one month ago.

“We pulled the agenda item because we wanted to give the Office of Historic Preservation and the HDRC time to review the roof modifications,” Thoman explained.”[The City] wanted to see more visual exhibits of the changes we’re proposing.”

Commissioners expect to hear the case on June 21.

Last summer, HDRC unanimously approved the firm’s plan to renovate three historic buildings at the former seminary site and build seven new structures. The plan includes a 228-unit, mixed-income apartment complex, and new office and public meeting space for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, which owns the 11.1-acre tract.

The plan has proven controversial to Southsiders. Some think the project will enhance the blighted seminary campus and provide new market rate residential space to the World Heritage Missions area. Others think the project is too close to the historic mission, is an example of gentrification, and that the plan disrespects the community’s cultural heritage and environmental makeup.

On June 2, the developer announced in a press release it was seeking HDRC’s approval of a “new mansard-style” roof design in place of the ridged, hipped roofs that the commission approved in 2016.

The redesign is necessary because the foundations must be raised to help the Spanish-style interior courtyards drain properly, the press release states. This, in turn, necessitates a structural offset.

“In order to offset the increase in height that would result from raising the foundations, the developer is proposing the lower ‘mansard-style’ roof design as a way to limit overlap with the [Mission Protection Overlay District] view cones,” the release continues.

Updated site plans were submitted to the city by 210 Development Group.
Updated site plans were submitted to the city by 210 Development Group.

“The view of the new construction will continue to be obstructed by the existing, historic buildings when viewed from Mission Concepción.”

Addressing concerns from the City and neighbors, 210 Development had already revised and downsized its initial designs before gaining final approval from HDRC last year. Those previous revamps included scaling down the project to meet height restrictions, which were enacted after the plan received HDRC’s conceptual approval.

As word about a proposed roof redesign spread, some neighbors voiced concern that the developer wants to increase the project’s size and scale.

“We have heard concern in the community that we’re trying to add to the building, make it bigger. That is categorically false,” Thoman said.

The company’s press release states the apartment complex would stay at 228 units with heights varying from one to three stories with step-down massing. No changes are being proposed to the pedestrian access and design along Felisa Street.

City staff currently does not recommend approval of the proposed design revisions. According to Wednesday’s HDRC agenda item, the existing design meets historic design guidelines and height rules.

However, the proposed revision would “diminish the quality of the overall proposal and renew concerns regarding overall building height, scale, and site design,” City staff wrote.

Although there was no hearing Wednesday, two residents spoke out against 210 Development’s plan in the citizens to be heard part of the HDRC meeting.

Brady Alexander, an Alliance for San Antonio Missions leader, said he and other community members are concerned that HDRC would set a precedent if it approves any redesign that imposes on height requirements.

Alexander said he and other project critics believe the redevelopment of the St. John’s Seminary property is about making money.

“But [210 Development’s] profit margin shouldn’t be our concern,” he added.

Lance Aaron said the project threatens both the sanctity and the history of the Mission Concepción neighborhood, and of indigenous people and colonial Spaniards in the area.

“What we should be talking about today is what is the City doing to protect one of the most significant World Heritage sites?” he asked.

Thoman said 210 Development is not dismissive of criticism of the project, adding that the redevelopment of the seminary campus would improve a site that has been an eyesore and a hot spot for squatters and vandals in recent years.

“We know there are concerns people have and we share them. We want to redevelop the site responsibly and respectfully,” she added.

The developer noted other stakeholders who are supportive of their project.

“Mission Concepción parish is very pleased with the continued responsiveness, flexibility, and sensitivity exhibited by 210 Development Group throughout this process,” said Fr. David Garcia, Mission Concepción’s administrator, in the company’s press release.

“We are very excited to see this project move forward, transforming this site into something unique and positive that will facilitate growth and benefit the community.

“We can definitely see an improvement to the vacant properties, since (the) site manager has moved in,” neighbor Norma Olivarri-Hernandez added in the release.

Frost Tower’s Plans Approved

By consent agenda, HDRC approved a plan for landscaping, street level lighting, and signage for wayfinding and building identification at the new Frost Bank Tower.

The project broke ground in late March  at 111 W. Houston St., where Cullen/Frost Bankers Inc. will establish its new headquarters. Upon completion, the office building will sport a glass curtain wall façade. It will be the first major addition to the downtown skyline in 25 years.

Landscaping will be made up of shrubs ground covers, bulbs, river rock, preserved live oaks, transplanted cedar elms, concrete tile, limestone, brick and concrete. The lighting system will involve catenary lighting, and tree moon, pole and bollard lights.

There will be parking garage identification signs on Camaron and West Travis streets, as well as a monument sign 20 feet in length and 8 feet in height.

Nolan Street Case Pushed Back

HDRC will wait until July 5 to hear the case of an Eastside couple vying to build a two-story, two-car garage with three small attached apartments in their backyard.

Last month, the City’s Zoning Commission voted 5-2 to rezone the property in the 1000 block of Nolan Street. But because zoning decisions needs at least six votes in favor of an action, the commission’s vote was technically a denial.

Several Dignowity Hill residents have sounded off for and against the zoning proposal.

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.