The undeveloped, narrow strip of land in northwest San Antonio has all the makings of a park — hiking trails, sweeping vistas, shade trees and native plants, critters and other wildlife.
There are fossils to be discovered, heritage oaks to behold, even a not-so-secret treehouse. Online, a detailed trail map shows how the well-worn trails connect to the 202-acre O.P. Schnabel Park and the Leon Creek Greenway.
But the 11-acre hilly and wooded parcel in the 7500 block of Prue Road north of Leon Valley is not a public park. It’s private land zoned for single-family residential homes.
In September, the owner, a corporation formed in January by Sankar Samineni and Vamsidhar Mukkamala as Parkview at Prue LLC, asked the City of San Antonio to rezone the property to allow for a townhome development.
The nearby residents of the Prue Bend and Oak Bluff neighborhoods who over the years grew accustomed to using the trails for recreation and to access the adjacent city parkland are fighting to stop it.
In addition to starting an online petition and rallying their neighbors on social media, several homeowners in the area have spoken against the rezoning at recent meetings of the city’s Historic and Design Review Commission, the Parks and Recreation Board, the Linear Creek Parks Advisory Board and the Zoning Commission.
They have called city departments, written a letter to the mayor and met with a representative from the District 8 City Council office. They posted their own signs alongside the official zoning notifications on the property letting passersby know what’s happening.
“The community has always wanted it to just remain a park and that’s how the community has been using it,” said Kristen Rothstein, who lives in the Prue Bend neighborhood. “It’s such an unusual terrain that I can’t even see how they can develop it with their plans.”
A site plan included with the rezoning request shows rows of townhomes, 60 units in all, or five per acre. A recently published website promoting the new neighborhood states there will be 56 units with the south section of the property close to the park left undeveloped.
The property currently is zoned R-6 (residential single-family district) which allows for the development of detached, single-family dwellings with a minimum lot size of 6,000 square feet and a minimum lot width of 50 feet.
The owner initally submitted a request to the Zoning Commission asking for a change to PUD R-4. PUD stands for Planned Unit Development and the requested zoning designation would allow for greater density than single-family zoning and reduced setbacks.
At the Sept. 20 commission meeting, the owners’ representative asked for a continuance to Oct. 18.
But on Monday, attorneys with Killen, Griffin and Farrimond, who represent the owners, told Rothstein in an email that the case was being postponed due to “a variety of factors,” including giving the owners more time to meet with the community and discuss the proposed development.
Those meetings will happen this week and next, said attorney Ashley Farrimond, in an email to the San Antonio Report on Wednesday.
The owners are also planning to amend the zoning request to PUD R-5, she said, “which has a lower maximum density per acre and is the same base zoning district as some of the neighborhoods nearby.” That change requires re-notifying the neighbors, per city ordinance.
Prue Bend homeowners say they hope the owners are flexible and open to their feedback in the meetings, but that they still want to see the area added to the city’s roster of green spaces.
“I wouldn’t be fighting it so hard if it wasn’t such a special piece of land,” Rothstein said. “Because when you go out there and you start imagining what they’re going to do, they’re just going to destroy something that is so unique.”
Rothstein moved into the area in February 2020 and, with access to the wooded tract of land through a gate at the end of her street, began hiking there daily during the pandemic, often seeing her neighbors there.
She’s now familiar with every bit of the terrain and its mossy timbers, where to find the bed of fossils, a babbling brook and the best views from atop massive boulders and steep cliffs. She recalls the day she spotted a monarch butterfly while on a walk.
It all makes her wonder why the city has not acquired the land for a park before now. “This is not a ‘not in my backyard’ [NIMBY] case, this is actually something special that the community stands to lose,” she said.
The city acquired 100 acres of land to expand O.P. Schnabel Park through the 2017 bond, but there are no plans to acquire more parcels, said Connie Swain, marketing manager for the Parks and Recreation Department. Funds from the 2022 bond will be used to build recreational amenities for the park expansion.
Prue Bend resident Andrew Craig told zoning commissioners in September that he worries the proposed development also could affect drainage.
“We’re concerned that development of additional asphalt and structure development is going to cause flooding concerns for our neighbors who live along that area,” he said.
Neighbors also have raised concerns about road safety, homeowner privacy and the environment — everything from the flora and fauna to the aquifer.
The property is rated as zone 2 by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as potential critical habitat for endangered karst invertebrates. Zone 2 means no actual karst invertebrates have been spotted but the land is favorable for the beetles and arachnids that are found in karst landscapes.
It could also be a habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler, said Clay Thompson, director of conservation and stewardship at the urban land trust Greenspaces Alliance.
“There are a couple of overlapping concerns with the property,” Thompson said. “There’s this NIMBY component — folks thought that this was a park but it’s not — and the private landowner has a need to see return on his investment.”
He said there is a question about whether the southern end of the property benefits the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone because the Edwards Aquifer Recharge is on O.P. Schnabel Park. He hopes to meet with the attorneys to discuss a conservation easement on part of the property.
If the owner agrees, the property might be eligible for the city’s Edwards Aquifer Protection Program, said Phillip Covington, special projects manager for the program, which acquires land over the sensitive aquifer recharge zone to protect the quality and quantity of the water recharging into the aquifer.
Under the program, owners maintain ownership of their land, but their development rights are bought at 50% to 60% of the fair market value. The 11.7-acre Prue Road property was last assessed at $624,060, according to tax records, up from $252,520 three years ago.
Covington visited the property in mid-September. “It definitely has potential certainly for recreation in the future and preservation of habitat and protection of the aquifer, too, I suspect,” he said, adding also that a geological study would need to be conducted.
“The landowner would have to be willing to consider selling the property or conserving it through an easement,” Covington said. “We don’t have eminent domain or anything like that.”
Farrimond said the owners’ plan is to develop the property as a residential community, “but we are happy to communicate with and listen to groups that reach out.”
On Sept. 28, Laura Garza, the district and zoning director in District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez’s office, also toured the property with neighbors.
Following that visit, a city spokeswoman told the San Antonio Report Pelaez can’t comment on the issue until the zoning commission makes a recommendation. (The area has been redistricted to City Council District 7, but the matter is being overseen by District 8 until May 2023.)
There are no defined boundaries between the trails in O.P. Schnabel and the Prue Road property and no signs warning against trespassing. Park visitors are likely unaware they have entered private property when using the trails to hike or bike.
About 60 miles of authorized mountain biking trails in San Antonio have been mapped by the mountain biking group STORM, which has an agreement with the Parks and Recreation Department to build and maintain bike trails in some parks and greenways.
The group’s president, Jeff Jordan, said he contacted the department director, Homer Garcia, to make him aware of the issues with the Prue Road property.
But this is not the first time trails that were created on private property have been lost to development, Jordan said.
Unauthorized trails once existed near Southside Lions Park and close to an elementary school and the Salado Creek Greenway on North Loop 1604. In both cases, the land became housing developments.
Jordan said it would be a shame to lose the trails on the Prue Road property because they are fun to ride and it’s a nicely secluded space in the middle of a developed area. But nobody got permission to build them.
“It is private property … and somebody purchased it to develop those townhomes,” he said. “So it’s kind of mixed feelings.”
Rothstein said it was only through the rezoning request and the posted signs that she learned the land was not part of the park or a neighborhood amenity. But anyone who sees it in person would think the same thing, in her view.
“If you look at Google Maps, it just seems like a field,” she said. “You don’t know that it’s actually like this incredible terrain and microclimate.”
On Tuesday, District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval announced that work will start this winter to redesign the entrance to O.P. Schnabel Park to improve safety and mobility.