City staff has developed nearly 20 new and revised land use categories as part of the effort to enact consistent yet flexible elements of the SA Tomorrow comprehensive plan. A subgroup of the Planning Commission on Friday received an overview of the categories, which is the first official step in a long journey to City Council consideration.

The associated changes to the City’s Unified Development Code (UDC) are expected to affect developers, architects, and neighborhoods citywide over the next decades and help better plan for the anticipated 1 million additional people coming to San Antonio by 2040.

Assistant Planning Director Rudy Nino said the categories would allow the City to better regulate an array of new development trends and maintain consistency throughout activity centers and regional centers, which are areas of increased growth identified in SA Tomorrow. The new system aims to address the mishmash of community plans that apply different land uses.

The City has 16 land use categories that define what kind of development can be built in certain areas: low density residential estate, low density residential, medium density residential, high density residential, very high density residential, office, neighborhood commercial, community commercial, regional commercial, mixed-use, business/office park, light industrial, heavy industrial, agricultural, public/instructional, and parks/open space.

Over the past 25 years, the City has adopted more than 40 different land use plans that cover different parts of town, but only one dozen or so of these plans have been recently updated.

“We need to make sure the land uses that are applied in these geographies actually implement goals and policies in the comprehensive plan,” Nino said.

The proposed land uses under SA Tomorrow would be: residential estate, low density residential, urban low density residential, medium density residential, high density residential, neighborhood commercial, community commercial, regional commercial, neighborhood mixed-use, urban center mixed-use, regional center mixed-use, employment/flex mixed-use, business/innovation mixed-use, light industrial, heavy industrial, agricultural, institutional, parks/open space, and federal and state land.

Nino showed an example of inconsistency among land use categories and related zoning districts in the same geographic area. The Nogalitos/South Zarzamora Community Plan adopted in 2004 has three residential categories, mixed-use, neighborhood commercial, regional commercial, industrial, public/institutional, and parks/open space.

The Lone Star Community Plan adopted in 2013 contains two residential categories, two levels of mixed-use, neighborhood commercial, community commercial, regional commercial, business park, public/institutional, and parks/open space.

Once in place, these categories will lead to more consistent planning and zoning land uses, Nino said.

The new urban low density residential category would “distinguish between a standard residential subdivision and some of the more dense, single-family residential subdivisions that we have in San Antonio and particularly within the (Loop) 410 area,” Nino explained.

Some of the other new categories would expand flexibility for single-family residential in fast-growing areas that also expect to see more commercial or mixed-use development.

As for mixed-use, Nino said the City would like to add adaptability to the definition of that term, and “what future business parks and innovation districts will look like.”

Employment/flex mixed-use would provide “a flexible live/work environment with an urban mix of residential and service industrial uses,” according to Nino’s presentation. Uses here would include small-scale office, retail, art studio warehouses, art-oriented fabrication, creative businesses and work spaces, and cottage industrial and fabrication uses.

Business/innovation mixed-use would be used to “foster flexible districts that can accommodate light or small-scale industrial uses with office and commercial uses, all within a cohesive setting,” according to the presentation. Applicable uses here would include industrial arts workshops, and high-tech fabrication, processing and assembly.

City staff plans to further tweak the proposals and bring them back to the technical advisory committee in a month or so, Nino said, to give the panel time to study the draft document before giving a recommendation to the Planning Commission. The changes will also be heard by the Zoning Commission before it goes to City Council.

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.