City Council on Thursday approved a zoning compromise by owners seeking to develop a parcel in Government Hill, essentially rejecting one that neighbors had offered.

The southern portion of 2 acres of land proposed for development in Government Hill was granted commercial zoning. The rest of the land, owned separately and still zoned residential, will be considered next month. Both owners had filed for “C-2” zoning designations, which would allow for gas station and other uses.

Several residents who had spoken out against the zoning change said the demolition of nine homes on the two properties will negatively impact the affordable housing stock and culture of the historic neighborhood. Some favored a Neighborhood Commercial designation but, as a compromise, suggested the property could be zoned as light commercial (“C-1”).

Instead, Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan, whose District 2 includes the Government Hill area, made a motion to approve “C-2 NA” – “NA” for “no alcohol” – allowing for higher-intensity commercial uses, on the condition that a gas station would not be built there.

The southern half (roughly 0.7 acres) of the properties is owned by the Cloma Jackson Living Trust (managed by Frost Bank). Robert Wynn of Frost Bank agreed to sign a deed restriction prohibiting the construction of any gasoline or refueling station, he said.

Council approved Andrews-Sullivan’s motion with a 9-1 vote. Councilman John Courage (D9) voted against the rezoning but did not offer any comments on the matter during the hearing.

It’s likely that Sara Martinez, who owns the northern portion of the project site (1.1 acres), will agree to the same no-alcohol, no-gas station terms but her final decision has not been made, said local attorney Matthew Badders, who represented Martinez and the Trust at Council on Thursday. While the zoning changes are being considered separately, Martinez and the Trust are attempting to work together on a deal.

The properties’ location at the northwest corner of North Walters Street and the Interstate 35 access road makes them prime commercial real estate, Badders said.

Steve Versteeg, who lives adjacent to Martinez’s property and opposed the rezoning, was surprised by Andrews-Sullivan’s motion. He said he was under the impression that C-1 was an acceptable compromise to her.

“This is [the] second time the councilwoman did not [make a] motion the way [her staff] specifically said her position would be just hours before,” Versteeg said in an email to her staff after the vote. Andrews-Sullivan had delayed a vote in January and called for the neighborhood and property owner to “unify” and come to a compromise. 

On Thursday, Andrews-Sullivan said C-2 NA and the deed restriction will allow for ”productive” commercial use of the property while restricting alcohol and gas stations.

The deed restriction is not good enough because those are not enforced by the City; someone would have to sue over plans for a gas station, Versteeg wrote.

Neighbors were strongly opposed to an earlier proposal to build a gas station there in January. QuikTrip backed out of purchasing the property in February after the Zoning Commission rejected its request.

Now, the property owners are working with Vaquero Ventures to broker a deal with a restaurant, convenience store, or other business to agree to a ground lease. Starbucks, one of the hundreds of companies Vaquero works with, has indicated that it won’t participate.

Council’s vote on Martinez’s property is scheduled for Sept. 17.

In a separate case, Council unanimously approved a zoning change that will allow for a 64-unit affordable housing development at 538 Everest St. near Alamo Heights. That property was previously commercial.

Area residents were concerned that the development would bring even more “transient” renters and increased traffic to the area. Others said the higher-income neighbors want to block low-income housing.

The project, called Vista at Everest, received a letter of support form City Council in February as it applied for state affordable housing tax credits.

“We all supported the idea that every resident should have access to housing options in our City without being restricted or cornered into a specific affordable part of town,” said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), whose district includes the near-Northside area. “I was saddened and disappointed to hear various members of the opposition group spew biases against working class and lower-income residents.”

Trevino said he received comments that these renters would attract crime and drive out businesses. Those claims are “unrealistic,” he said.

“Loud, classist arguments against the working class cannot guide our decisions as elected officials.”

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org