Joey Cipriano was in elementary school when Kelly Air Force Base closed in 2001.

“I had tons of Air Force friends, and I remember that feeling of, well, this doesn’t really affect me much as a kid,” he said. “But growing up, I started watching the neighborhood change.”

Families moved away, development slowed, and the neighborhoods around the former military base lost their vibrancy, Cipriano recalls. Today, however, Kelly has been reinvented as Port San Antonio, a tech and manufacturing hub. Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland remains an active military installation. 

Those engines of economic development are central to planning for the future of the Port San Antonio Area Regional Center, an 8,900-acre area of industry, defense air traffic, neighborhoods, and commercial corridors along Highway 90 West. 

This regional center is one of 13 the city has identified as part of its overarching planning effort, SA Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2016. Regional center plans address housing, employment growth, and other issues, with a goal of retaining the unique character of each by building on existing assets and understanding community priorities.

Five regional center plans have been adopted thus far, with four, including Port SA, currently in the works. Another four are slated for future development. Though delayed by the pandemic and the challenges of inviting public comment, the Port SA Area Plan plan is nearing completion.

“These plans are our way of looking at more detailed parts of town [rather than citywide],” said Chris Ryerson, a planning administrator with the city’s Planning Department. “These plans allow us to get into that level of detail of saying [for example] ‘corridor X’ or ‘corridor Z’ needs to be improved in such a way to make it safer for pedestrians or to help with economic revitalization of local businesses.

“It’s basically the community’s sort of broad vision for the development patterns that they want to see in their area.”

Each plan is developed through a steering committee made up of community stakeholders and residents, with a series of public input sessions held to review the draft plan. A recent session for feedback on the draft Port SA Area Plan was held on June 30. 

Following those sessions, an administrative draft is created and submitted to the Planning Commission and ultimately City Council for approval. The Planning Department expects that to happen before the end of the year. 

Each plan includes a vision and goals unique to the region. For the Port SA Area Plan, goals include attracting and supporting business and talent; promoting the area’s military identity; increasing sustainable transportation; increasing housing options, including homeownership, and creating more amenities that make the area a destination. 

July 18 is the deadline for input to the Port SA Area Plan. Download and review the draft plan here.

Along with representatives from Port San Antonio and Lackland, which occupy large swaths of the region’s land area, Cipriano served on the Port SA Area Plan planning team, submitting opinions and ideas over the course of a year to create the document. He is vice president of the neighborhood association for Thompson, one of 15 housing areas in the region.

A U.S. Air Force C-5M Super Galaxy takes off from Kelly Air Field near Port SA on Monday.
A U.S. Air Force C-5M Super Galaxy based out of Lackland Air Force Base takes off near Port SA on Monday. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

It was his neighborhood’s historically close connection to Kelly and what was both gained and lost through that bond that informs Cipriano’s view of his neighborhood. Many veterans live in the area, he said, and longtime residents want to preserve its “peaceful dynamic.”

“Our main concern for our neighborhood was to make sure that a lot of the legacy homeowners and legacy business owners wouldn’t be greatly affected by any changes,” said Cipriano. 

While acknowledging that San Antonio is growing and needs more housing, homeowners pushed back against any more high-density residential developments in the neighborhood where there are already 16 apartment complexes, he said. 

“But beyond that, it was a matter of also not just being part of the process, and looking at the maps and making decisions on what is appropriate land use [but recalling] the history of the neighborhood, making sure that we’re preserving the history and the culture and making sure we’re adding in elements that remind people that, ‘hey this is not just any old neighborhood,’” Cipriano said of the area’s military history and middle-class character. 

He is also mindful of how Port San Antonio is attracting high-tech industry and talent to the area and believes the plan should fill in some long-standing “gaps” in the amenities available to current and future residents. 

One of those gaps is access to technology and libraries, he said. Another is a better working relationship among the neighborhoods, community leaders, and business owners. 

During the most recent public input session, one neighborhood representative asked how the regional center plan would affect zoning and if the land-use part of the plan allowed for the City to take control of an individual owner’s property.

“Nowhere within the plan does it recommend that — quite the opposite,” said Rudy Niño, an assistant director with the Planning Department. “This plan is about enhancing community, trying to connect communities, and build an area for the future that provides additional job opportunities and housing choices that also connect the center to the rest of San Antonio in a much better fashion.”

Rezoning in the area could follow adoption of the plan so that the “community’s vision matches with what can actually occur on the ground,” he added. But for the Port SA Area region, unlike others, Niño doesn’t expect to see much rezoning. 

Among the future improvements Cipriano hopes to see in the region are more parks and trails connecting to Port SA so as to “create one of those awesome neighborhoods that you see on television,” he said.

“At the end of the day, it’s just realizing the vision of what this neighborhood could be and it’s not going to take much work. But it’s going to take dedication from a lot of leaders who have their hands in this plan and who are leading the district.”

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...