Electrical, cable, telephone boxes meant for townhomes along Mt Zion Walk. Photo by Laurel Smyth.
Laurel Smyth

In 2007, I moved here after a year-long tour in Iraq.  I was excited about the prospect of moving to San Antonio again after being stationed here in the mid-1990s, and owning a home on the Northwest side, off Culebra near Loop 1604.

Back then I felt disconnected from everything San Antonio had to offer.  This time I was going to move as close to downtown as possible.  After spending several weeks investigating various downtown neighborhoods, prospects in my price range required extensive renovations and updates.

Buying a new house in an older neighborhood – one that didn’t require a lot of time, energy, and money to renovate – really appealed to me.  But what appealed to me more was the idea behind Artisan Park, a selling point when I purchased my home.  This was a development that everyday people – young professionals, teachers, artists – could afford in the downtown area.

Artisan Park Townhomes along Refugio St. Photo by Laurel Smyth.
Artisan Park Townhomes along Refugio St. Photo by Laurel Smyth.

This was going to be the alternative to high-priced homes in other downtown neighborhoods. I purchased my town home sight unseen, barely a shell when I started the buying process.  It was the idea behind the development that I was buying.

Artisan Park was supposed to be a multiphase development of 120 for-sale townhomes and 24 for-sale single-family houses with small pocket parks, a clubhouse, and even a small pool. The first phase of the Park was built in 2007 and to date, only 22 of those townhomes exist, no pocket parks and no pool.

Despite that, it is a very vibrant community.  My neighbors are exactly the people I was told would purchase the homes here.  Residents include schoolteachers, professors, retirees, and young professionals working in communications, banking, and the airline industry.  We have holiday gatherings, summer picnics, and we usually meet once a month.

For the past six years the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) or its representatives have continued to market this area as a townhome development.  Also, for the past six years, SAHA has maintained control of the Artisan Park Townhome Homeowners Association based on the fact that they “own” the majority of the 120 units within the HOA.  So it’s difficult to understand how a SAHA board commissioner at the June 6th Victoria Commons working group meeting, as reported in the Rivard Report, can say that the master plan from 2007 was never completed and remains a plan in progress.

Electrical, cable, telephone boxes meant for townhomes along Mt Zion Walk. Photo by Laurel Smyth.
Electrical, cable, telephone boxes meant for townhomes along Mt Zion Walk. Photo by Laurel Smyth.

Visitors will see the 120-unit Artisan Park development is more than a “plan in progress.”  Since 2007, the streets and other infrastructure — sewer and water lines, electrical lines and boxes, phone lines, and even cable–have been in place for the 120-unit townhome community.

In 2011, SAHA began a process for revising the master plan for Victoria Commons of which Artisan Park Townhomes is a part. SAHA now wants to include apartments in the still vacant area behind the 22 townhomes.  After an outcry by Artisan Park Townhome owners and other Lavaca neighborhood residents, SAHA is now saying they’ll include some new townhomes as well as the original 24 new single-family homes.  However, they intend to build apartments amongst these homes. Who wants to purchase a home that’s sandwiched between two apartment complexes (Hemisview and Refugio Place) and the new one they intend to build?

Part of SAHA’s explanation for their desire to build apartments rather than for-sale homes is that the current market doesn’t support the full 120-unit town home development. The downturn in the housing market, plus SAHA’s self-acknowledged poor performance at marketing homes in the area, had a hand in slowing the sale of the town homes.  Despite these obstacles, the market-rate town homes are nearly sold out and would already be sold if it did not take 6-8 months for the bureaucratic closing process.

The plans for Artisan Park Townhomes are far more than a “work in progress.”  The infrastructure is in place, the bases for foundations are in place, sewer, water, electrical, phone and cable lines have been laid, and roads have been paved all for the original 120-unit Artisan Park Townhome development–the development that was marketed and sold to the current owners of Artisan Park.

Outline of bases for townhome foundations situated between McMonigal PL and Mt Zion Walk
Outline of bases for townhome foundations situated between McMonigal PL and Mt Zion Walk. Photo by Laurel Smyth.

To prematurely develop this land with apartments because of a snapshot of the current market would be a shame.  SAHA should not build yet another densely populated apartment complex. SAHA should build what is best for the neighborhood and best for San Antonio—more for-sale homes.

I truly believe that what is right for this neighborhood is to have more for-sale homes so more people might actually be able to afford to purchase a home in the downtown area.  Renters might believe that one day they may be able to purchase a home in this neighborhood … the neighborhood they’ve come to call home.

This was the original idea behind Artisan Park. It was a good idea then and is valid today given the recent upturn in the housing market and the large number of people who want to move in or near downtown.  I think that idea is worth saving.  So I’m asking San Antonio and my Lavaca neighbors to support our effort to Save Artisan Park.

When SAHA says they want to build apartments, ask them “Why?” Ask them “if today isn’t the time for for-sale homes, why not wait?” If housing is the issue, Lavaca is already doing its part, why not look to other areas of San Antonio to share the responsibility of providing low-cost affordable housing.

Now is the time to save Artisan Park –  just ask the homeowners.

Laurel Smyth is a retired Air Force officer and recent graduate of the University of the Incarnate Word in Communication Arts.  She currently works as a freelance video producer here in San Antonio.  Though she has travelled and lived throughout the world during her military career, she is happy to call San Antonio home. 

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