Plans by Oklahoma-based QuikTrip Corp. to open a convenience store and gas station at a busy intersection on San Antonio’s East Side is facing significant opposition from residents of Government Hill.
The company wants to rezone 2 acres of residential property to commercial use to build the store and eight gasoline pumps at the intersection of North Walters Street and the Interstate 35 access road.
Some neighbors fear the gas station will lower their property values, attract crime, and have a negative impact on the area’s health and safety. But the Tulsa-based company, which has 11 gas stations in San Antonio and plans to add more, believes it will be an asset to the neighborhood.
“People are usually ecstatic when they see we’re coming,” said Truitt Priddy, QuikTrip real estate manager for the region. “[Local residents] really don’t know who we are yet … we aren’t just a gas station.”
On that point, D’Ette Cole and Steve Versteeg, who live directly north of the property, can agree; it’s more than a gas station.
“It’s a disruption of the neighborhood,” Cole said, noting that nine 1930s- to 1940s-era bungalows would be demolished on the property to make room for the store and gas station in a City already experiencing a shortage of affordable housing.
Under the proposed plan, the store would be 150 feet from the couple’s front door, Cole said. A proposed masonry wall and landscaping buffer would be 60 feet to 80 feet away.
“Who wants to live behind a gas station? We don’t,” Cole said. She and Versteeg purchased their home about three years ago. Nearly all the other neighbors near the project are opposed to the gas station, she said.
Pershing Elementary School is nearby and attracts young pedestrians who already have to navigate traffic coming from Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston and Interstate 35, Cole said, adding that gas stations can attract panhandlers and crime.
“We’re not saying that QuikTrip is evil or anything,” Versteeg said. “This is just the wrong place [for a gas station].”
If anything, the gas station would help slow traffic at the intersection as cars approach to enter and exit the driveways, Priddy said.
Dora Perez grew up in the neighborhood and inherited her home from her parents. Several of her siblings and cousins live in the area, and she said the property should remain residential so more people can move back to the neighborhood.
“I feel like something like a commercial business – especially a gas station – is going to jeopardize our neighborhood,” Perez said. “It’s just too close to the school.”
The zoning change request will be heard by the Zoning Commission on Jan. 21 and the Planning Commission the following day. Those groups will make recommendations to City Council, which is slated to make the final decision on Feb. 6.
City staff in the development department recommends approval of the zoning request, but its traffic impact could not be determined.
The blocks subject to the zoning change are owned by Sara Martinez, who lives next to the property she hopes to sell and is the landlord for eight homes there, and the Jackson Cloma Living Trust, which is managed by Frost Bank. The sale of the property hinges on the zoning change.
Much of the southernmost property owned by the trust is currently vacant, but there is one occupied rental home there.
“If you leave the property as it currently is … it could be attractive to the vagrants and illegal activities,” said Carlos Resendez, a financial advisor who is representing Martinez and also grew up in Government Hill. “It will be well-lit, have 24-hour security. … I think that adds security to the neighborhood.”
Along with the wall on Reno Street, which would block views of the gas station from neighbors to the north, Priddy said his design team has incorporated other site plan changes to have a lower impact on the neighborhood, including moving the dumpster, widening sidewalks, and moving a driveway so headlights from departing vehicles would shine on a street instead of homes. QuikTrip also has agreed to improve the sidewalk on Reno Street across from its store, he said.
“When it comes to site design layout and things of that nature,” Priddy said, “we’re going to try to alleviate neighbor concerns.”
QuikTrip and Martinez have agreed to help each of the renters, who are currently on month-to-month leases, find a new home to rent or buy, said Priddy and Resendez. That includes financial assistance and access to real estate agents.
“This opportunity really gives the tenants a jumpstart,” Resendez said, noting that at least two are now considering buying a home instead of renting.
Martinez, who also works as a cook at a Taco Cabana, wants to sell the property so she can pay for her aging father’s assisted living costs, Resendez said. She and her father immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico City decades ago; he worked as a painting contractor and over the years they slowly started buying the small homes on that block.
“The rent that she is getting isn’t enough,” Resendez said.
Her father lives in one of the homes now but will be moving to another home in the area that Martinez would fix up for him, he said. That is if the deal goes through.
Priddy declined to provide the sale price. The property was valued at just over $461,000 by the Bexar Appraisal District. The Jackson Cloma property was valued at roughly $180,000.
Residents have suggested that the company try to build across North Walters Street instead, where there are fewer homes and more vacant land.
“Real estate just doesn’t work that way,” Priddy said. That area is not for sale.
Resendez said there have been no offers from buyers who are interested in keeping residential use on the property.
QuikTrip will be an asset to the neighborhood, said Priddy, as it participates in the national Safe Place program, which provides emergency health for at-risk youth and donates 5 percent of local profits to local nonprofits that focus on youth well-being.
It’s not about the company itself, said Darlene Hawkins of the Government Hill Community Association. “We would oppose any gas station at that location.”
The association is unaffiliated with the Government Hill Alliance, the longstanding City-recognized neighborhood group that often finds itself on the other side of development issues.
Rose Hill, president of the Government Hill Alliance, could not be reached for comment. At an alliance meeting in November, the membership voted in favor of the project, according to board member Stella Ashley.
Priddy said he met with both groups several times but had not met many individuals that were opposed to the project prior to the commission meeting. He requested a delay in order to do more community outreach.
On Tuesday, Jan. 14, Priddy will host another open house at the Best Western conference room at 2131 North Panam Expressway to meet with residents face-to-face and answer questions. They also plan on block walking on the weekends.
Hawkins also raised concerns over the health impacts that a gas station could bring to the neighborhood.
According to the National Institutes of Health, children should not play near gas stations and people should avoid breathing or touching gasoline.
“Many of these children would walk by the station on their way home to and from school daily,” Hawkins said.
There are countless gas stations that are close to neighborhoods and schools, Priddy said. In terms of safety measures required by the Environmental Protection Agency, he added, “we set the gold standard for the industry.”
Rusbel Ramirez, who owns the Drop Zone Cafe and Bar nearby on East Carson Street, attended an open house on Thursday.
“I have mixed emotions on it,” Ramirez said. “I’m really for what the community wants … but I’m up for it because we really need a gas station there.”
It would be convenient for residents who live farther east and for people who work at Fort Sam Houston, said Ramirez, who was born and raised in the neighborhood.
“[Residents] wanted change. Now that it’s here, they have a problem with it,” he said. “With all that [development] more people want to move in” and so do businesses.
Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2), whose district includes San Antonio’s East Side, said she has met with concerned neighbors and QuikTrip.
She’s still weighing the pros and cons of the gas station, she said, and is not prepared to support or oppose the rezoning yet.
“It’s a double-edged sword because you want to make sure that the constituents that live there are comfortable, but you also want to bring in economic development that’s good for the community,” Andrews-Sullivan said. “For me, it’s about how it will affect the community and if that’s the property land use for that particular area.”
The fact that there are two neighborhood groups saying opposing things doesn’t help, she said. “If I had a neighborhood that was truly working together, it would make it easier to hear their voice.”