The City’s Historic and Design Review Commission sent a Terramark Urban Homes project in Tobin Hill back to the drawing board Wednesday, as concerns and questions about design compatibility with the neighborhood still linger.

Terramark CEO Charlie Turner presented to the commission renderings and site plans for the project – six, two-story, single-family homes at 421-425 E. Mistletoe Ave. – that he said were scaled down from the previous plans – to build eight, two-story, single-family homes on the site. The plans were modified to address questions not only from City staffers, but also from neighboring residents who were concerned that the project was not cohesive with the neighborhood.

Those concerns, voiced in April, led the HDRC to refer the proposal to the commission’s Design Review Committee for review.

Turner’s updated plans showed that the new homes would still have a common private drive, but the individual driveways previously included were moved. The plans also show more green space around each structure, among other changes.

Terramark Urban Homes scaled down their plan for 421-425 E. Mistletoe Ave. from eight single-family homes to six two-story, single-family houses.
Terramark Urban Homes scaled down their plan for 421-425 E. Mistletoe Ave. from eight single-family homes to six two-story, single-family houses. Credit: Courtesy / Terramark Urban Homes

Turner believes Terramark’s current plan can better fit into the Tobin Hill neighborhood. He said it is not economically viable to build anything less than two stories on the total 16,000 sq. ft. site, where postwar duplexes originally sat.

“We think the economics work here,” Turner said. “While we’re selling fewer homes, we can sell to those people who want yards and enjoy more open space.”

But the revisions did not satisfy several neighbors, who have repeatedly voiced their worries about the project. Anisa Schell, who spoke at Wednesday’s HDRC meeting, said the new plan does not seem like much of a compromise.

The proposed length of front setbacks for Terramark’s homes on the site are disproportionate from the average length of front setbacks of numerous existing nearby houses, Schell said.

Additionally, she said, there is no precedent in her immediate neighborhood for a project that features the mass and density of Terramark’s plan for East Mistletoe Avenue.

The project prompted Schell, her husband Rick, and other neighbors to petition for a historic district in their portion of Tobin Hill. The City’s Zoning Commission voted Tuesday to oppose that proposal.

“We ask to deny [Terramark’s] request until the applicants show they are willing to compromise and have a plan that fits into the vision of the neighborhood,” Schell said.

Beatrice Moreno, an area resident who also spoke Wednesday, said many neighbors are not opposed to redevelopment in the neighborhood, but they want something that is compatible with its surroundings.

“We just need a development there that conforms to the neighborhood and that’s appropriate,” said Albert Arias, another neighbor who shared his perspective.

A few other neighbors and property owners in the area showed support for Terramark’s plan. Lynn Swanson said the site is zoned to accommodate what the homebuilders envision there.

“I don’t want to deny a person’s right to do what they want with their property as long as it’s within their rights,” said David Honkala in agreement. Terramark has “bent over backward” to make concessions to allay critics’ concerns, he said.

However, City staff recommended not to approve the current plan from Terramark, and asked the homebuilder to show a design more compatible with its immediate surroundings.

The City also is asking Terramark to explore a 1.5-story option, which several critics said would be more consistent with neighboring structures.

City staff expressed concerns with fenestration patterns, proposed window design, and front porch configuration, including two columns that project from the “facade and engage the streetscape.”

Turner said that there are already some two-story structures on East Mistletoe Avenue. While it’s not a dominant design pattern in the community, an exception could be made for his project, he said, and Terramark has built similar homes in Lavaca and Dignowity Hill.

HDRC Chairman Michael Guarino commended Terramark’s products and reputation, but said it was not right to compare similar projects in other historic neighborhoods to what is planned for East Mistletoe Avenue.

Commissioners Tim Cone and Azza Kamal said the plan does not fully address the setback issues. They hope Terramark will reconsider the under-two-story option.

One problem in this case, Guarino said, is that Terramark wants to use Infill Development Zoning, a relatively new tool meant to encourage redevelopment in inner-city, older neighborhoods.

While that may have a positive outcome in some instances, IDZ-supported projects could result in more density than a specific neighborhood can accommodate, he said.

“We are faced with challenges of greater density and challenges of unintended consequences,” Guarino said.

Considering how neighbors and nearby property owners feel about the project, Cone suggested that Terramark go back to the drawing board.

“Then that’s what we’ll do,” Turner said.

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.