The initial stages of a development project hailed as San Antonio’s first new-urbanism neighborhood are complete and negotiations with builders are underway.
A group of local developers who met just over a year ago in the middle of a former cornfield and broke ground for the Vicinia development says they are in talks with at least four companies, each planning to build townhomes or apartments in the far West Side community.
The developers working together under the business name, PMI 2016, are Ed Cross, Christian Archer, and Micheal Westheimer.
Though no purchase agreements for the 60 developable acres within Vicinia have been signed yet, completion of the roads is a major step forward, Westheimer said.
“It alleviated a tremendous traffic burden on the surrounding arterial roads,” he said, and it now allows for development to begin.
And while the coronavirus pandemic may have briefly stalled progress toward the sale of parcels to potential builders, the City’s work on the roads and infrastructure that are key to the development was completed in September.
Before PMI 2016 acquired the property from VIA Transit in 2017 along with several adjacent tracts, it sat undeveloped with a “chicken and egg situation” other developers had not solved, Westheimer said. With limited acreage on which to build, putting in roads would cost more than an investor could make selling parcels of the land to housing developers.
“So, can’t develop it until you’ve got the roads and can’t get the roads until somebody agrees to pay for the roads,” Westheimer said. “That’s what left that property sort of swinging in the wind for so long.”
Westheimer and his partners gave to the City of San Antonio enough land for the roads along with over $1 million in engineering work so that the project was shovel-ready. In exchange, the City funded through the 2017-22 bond program $10 million in road work that connects Ingram Road and West Military Drive and relieves traffic congestion in the rapidly growing area.
In the era preceding SeaWorld’s opening off Highway 151 in 1988, there were few neighborhoods or commercial development in the area where Vicinia is planned. Daily traffic tie-ups along 151 through Loop 1604 and the Alamo Ranch Parkway demonstrate that has changed dramatically, and the Texas Department of Transportation has an expansion project underway on the seven-mile stretch of 151 between Interstate 410 and Loop 1604 to help alleviate congestion.
Vicinia also will be the first project developed under San Antonio’s Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) zoning code that encourages density near transit facilities. Plans call for the community to be built around a town square and mass transit facilities within the development connecting it to other nodes of the city.
Located at the intersection of West Military Drive and Potranco Road, less than a half-mile from Northwest Loop 410, Vicinia is only blocks from the National Security Agency/Central Security Service, which moved in 2007 to the former Sony chip plant on West Military.’
The master plan for Vicinia was created around a concept known as “new urbanism,” which is a kind of development like those in a downtown or urban setting, but located in the suburbs. New urbanism promotes healthy and environmentally friendly living, walkable neighborhoods with smaller blocks and narrow streets, a range of housing types and price points, and transit-oriented development.
“Vicinia is a modern revival of how neighborhoods used to be and should be – walkable to everything that’s needed but with the addition of vehicular and mass transit options,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff stated during the November 2019 groundbreaking.
As for the housing, Westheimer said Vicinia will serve a need in San Antonio for more modestly-priced homes. “Not everybody, especially in San Antonio, can afford a 4,000-square-foot, big suburban home and keep up with two cars and all that kind of stuff,” Westheimer said. “So this is an opportunity to have a single-family home and still walk through a bunch of great amenities.”
“It’s going to take a long time,” Westheimer said. “Our vision for this is a 10-year vision, so we’re patient. There are no bank loans; nobody is expecting to get rich overnight. We’re not merchant builders. We will likely sit ‘til we get the guys that we feel understand our development.”
Now that the uncertainty that rattled the real estate market early in the pandemic has subsided, Westheimer said interest in the development has picked up again.
“Everybody’s sort of shaken off that initial shock of COVID,” he said. “And there is still a tremendous appetite for real estate development because you have to if you’re managing money. You have to deploy the capital.”
Builders of townhomes are especially “aggressive” right now due to growing demand, Westheimer said, followed closely by apartment builders. The plan for Vicinia calls for a mix of housing types, styles, and price ranges, but all brand-new, a combination of aspects that part of town lacks, according to the developer.
In the meantime, the new roadways built in and around the Vicinia property have made a difference for area residents. Though the future of new urbanism in San Antonio may be a ways off, Westheimer sees the anticipated mixed-use development already providing added value to the area’s residents.
“That land was basically teed up for a semi-industrial use – not great for those neighbors,” Westheimer said. “This is going to be a community [where] there’s going to be a mix of uses in there that is completely and totally walkable and bikeable, a pleasant place to live.”