Hundreds called to voice an opinion about design plans for a proposed Southtown restaurant that a neighboring restaurant owner said is so large it will block his open-air patio. Several thousand signed a petition against it.
On Wednesday, the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) voted 6-2 in favor of a request by Rosario’s owner Lisa Wong, allowing the project to move forward despite the objections of Maverick Texas Brasserie owner Pete Selig and those who signed the petition.
“While I have an understanding of the impacts to the Maverick – I think it will dramatically change the character of that outdoor dining – I don’t think it necessarily kills it,” said commissioner Scott Carpenter.
“I think there are plenty of examples of tight urban courtyards … that can be very delightful. And had this come before us in an earlier phase … I think that could have been a time that we could reasonably … ask you all to make modifications.”
Wong sought conceptual approval late last year to demolish much of the former El Mirador restaurant at 722 S. St. Mary’s St. and build a new structure to house her popular Tex-Mex restaurant. Commissioners approved the plan with stipulations that included creating a greater setback for fencing along South St. Mary’s and submitting both a final landscaping design and mural design.
Wong purchased the property in 2018 and closed El Mirador the same year. Selig opened Maverick in 2017 in a former retail space adjacent El Mirador and created a patio space within the footprint of the building where it faced a parking lot.
Selig complained to the HDRC in a March 3 meeting that a 20-foot-tall wall of the planned Rosario’s restaurant will abut Maverick’s patio, blocking natural light and air, making half the restaurant’s seating unusable. Commissioners delayed consideration of the request until its March 17 meeting.
In the meantime, Selig started an online petition to persuade Wong to change her plans. He met with her design team to suggest a compromise. But both Selig and Wong, business partners in the River Walk restaurant Acenar, told the San Antonio Report that an agreement couldn’t be reached.
Selig’s petition grew to include 2,500 names, and more than 200 called the Office of Historic Preservation to voice opposition to Wong’s proposal. Another 375 called in support, according to City staff.
“The neighborhood has been a major part of my success with Rosario’s,” Wong told commissioners. “When I started my plans for a new home, never in my wildest imagination did I think I would be the center of a social media war.”
Wong said her restaurant plan addressed many issues raised by the neighborhood, commissioners, and preservationists who wished to see the historic caliche walls within the El Mirador structure saved. She agreed to preserve the “kiva room,” but that left her with “pinch points” in the design of the restaurant and made it difficult to create the buffer zone Selig wanted.
“His building extends to the edge of the property line with no setback, but I still offered new solutions, ways my neighbor could solve his own problem … none of which were accepted,” she said.
Selig said he met with the design team, Douglas Architects, and asked them to increase the buffer from 6 inches to a minimum of 3 feet between the restaurant wall and the Maverick patio. He also asked that the finish on the walls be similar to that of the other walls, “not as a back-alley finish.” But the architects could increase the spacing for only half the length of the patio, he said.
Selig asked commissioners for a continuance to allow time for more study and discussion.
“We stand for building bridges, not walls, with our neighbors,” Selig said, adding that he is advocating as much for his restaurant as the Lavaca and King William neighborhoods. “We seek dialogue, reason, compromise as we extend a bridge to our neighbor and ask to reduce the wall’s negative impact.”
After hearing from the architect, commissioners discussed the proposal for about 30 minutes before voting to approve the plan as long as the applicant agreed to meet City staff’s stipulations involving a landscaping plan and a preservation contingency plan.
Prior to the final vote, however, commissioners noted additional concerns and addressed comments submitted by neighbors. Commissioner Gabriel Velasquez asked to remove a stipulation requiring Wong to present to HDRC a final plan for an art mural proposed for the wall facing South Presa Street.
Saying Wong has been a community leader in supporting the arts, commissioner Gabriel Velasquez asked for the condition to be removed. “I do find it very inappropriate for the Office of Historic Preservation to have any say-so in what could be deemed appropriate or inappropriate.”
Commissioner Anne-Marie Grube said she listened to several of the voicemails and read the letters provided as public comment on the issue, and appreciated the community input.
“I just want to say that this is probably the case that has more controversy than the Alamo,” Grube said. “Even though there may be some neighborhood and some part of the community that is against this project, I think our purview is the design.”
The decision might lead to Selig choosing to expand the Maverick patio or adding a second-story terrace, she said. “I do think that it’s important to know that there are resources beyond this decision.”