This story has been updated.
St. Mary’s Strip residents, business owners and employees went back and forth Saturday over a proposed overnight residential parking permit pilot program, which grew out of recommendations from a parking study commissioned by the City of San Antonio.
The St. Mary’s Strip, a vibrant community in the Tobin Hill neighborhood, is known for its many bars, unique food spots and live music scene, but the area also is home to many families.
Long-term construction in the area has caused bars and restaurants to lose business because of a lack of parking space. Many customers and employees instead park on residential streets, which homeowners say is a problem.
On Saturday, nearly 200 people from the Strip’s commercial and residential community gathered in the parking lot at Sophia Greek Orthodox Church, 2504 N. St. Mary’s St., for a town hall meeting to discuss parking in the area.
Residents complained of safety issues that come with cars parked in their driveways, and area employees bashed city officials for not considering how the parking program would affect them.
If the proposal passes, parking would be restricted to residents only from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., meaning business employees and patrons would be unable to park in the area.
The San Antonio City Council was to vote on the proposal Sept. 29, but after receiving public input from business owners and residents, officials pushed the date to Oct. 20.
Commercial-area patrons called for an economic impact study on the proposal, which they said would call for investing in parking to boost coexistence between the residential and business communities. Possible solutions include a parking garage that residents compared to the Pearl.
“I can go back now, and I will ask them [council] to push it back further because clearly we need more time to discuss all the solutions,” Bravo told his constituents Saturday.
Though Bravo has met with residents of the neighborhood, business owners in the area said they were never approached by Bravo regarding the proposal and hadn’t been asked for feedback until days prior to the town hall. On Saturday, they made sure Bravo knew their stance.
The battle for parking due to area construction has been lengthy and comes at a time when local businesses are recovering from COVID-19 closures, restrictions, road closures for parking studies and a proposed noise ordinance.
Chad Carey, president of the North St Mary’s Business Owners Association, said the proposal was sprung on business owners in a way that didn’t make sense and said there was never detailed information about what the residential parking permit program would look like.
“The one thing I will not be persuaded against is there is no such thing as a residential street in a mixed-use neighborhood,” he said. “These streets belong to every single person, including residents who live here who have very significant concerns.”
Carey said he was still hopeful for a collaborative solution but said good faith was evaporating due to a lack of trust.
There were emotions and frustration among residents, who said they were trapped in their own homes most nights, and businesses, which argued there was no solution to parking due to prolonged construction.
Cesar Rivera, who has lived in the area for 45 years, said he agrees there should be a parking garage but added that, in the meantime, there should be restrictions on employee and customer parking at night. During an emergency, he said his elderly parents had a difficult time leaving their home due to parked cars in their driveway.
He added that when they call the San Antonio Police Department, officers don’t always tow the vehicles parked along the residential street.
“There are a lot of elderly people [who live] here,” he said. “I don’t know if a firetruck or an ambulance can get down that street when you have two cars on either side of the street.
“We all need to work together. I understand what it’s like to be at a bar where it’s empty. You’re not making any money, not putting any cash in your pocket because you’re relying on those tips. I get it. But also I get the fact that it’s very difficult to live on these streets and try to navigate around. My parents are prisoners in their own house because they can’t get in and out. That’s not fair,” said Rivera.
David McBeth, assistant city engineer with the city’s Public Works Department, attended the town hall meeting and explained the estimated completion date for the $10 million construction project, which involves underground work, lighting and surface improvements, was summer 2023.
The community complained about the date. Construction began in spring 2021.
“Everybody is impacted by the construction,” McBeth told the San Antonio Report. “I do see the frustration with the construction. It’s tough, it’s a difficult situation. When we’re reconstructing right in front of front doors and businesses … I just ask for a little more patience. Once it’s all said and done, we’ve got some great improvements and it’s going to be a real asset to the community and to the businesses.”
Bravo said timing is a challenge, but the city is looking at all possibilities to solve the parking problem, including a shuttle service and tapping the San Antonio Water System for its parking lot at North St. Mary’s and Alvin streets.
“I’m walking away hearing there are a lot of people who work in the bar industry and their patrons who are concerned about how limiting parking can affect their livelihood or affect how they go out and have fun,” said Bravo.
Bravo said there will be another public meeting on Oct. 8 and added another meeting is needed after that to collect more public input.
“This is what city staff were proposing, so we’re going to continue to have conversations … [and] reaching out to anybody who has a parking lot in the region to see if we could work out an arrangement with them and to continue to take public input,” he said.
An earlier version of this story misattributed the source of the pilot residential parking program, which was developed by the City of San Antonio.