River Road neighborhood residents are unhappy about an Austin developer’s plan to build townhomes on a vacant lot on Trail Street.
The Historic and Design Review Commission unanimously voted in January to grant conceptual approval to the plan, which involves 24 units in six buildings.
Several neighborhood residents have told HDRC that while they feel the vacant lot eventually will be developed, it should be done so to reflect the community’s atmosphere.
“(The development) is totally out of scale, it’s overly dense, it’ll increase flooding, it has garages facing the street,” said resident John Hertz. “There’s nothing (in River Road) that approaches what those buildings will look like.”
Attorney Robert Price owns the lot at 335 Trail. It measures less than 1 acre, and lies just inside the River Road Historic District north of downtown and near Brackenridge Park and the San Antonio River.
Early 20th century one-story houses dominate the neighborhood, which features the Zambrano house, an 18th-century structure and a state historic landmark.
Neighbors fear that the two- and three-story townhomes planned by the firm Site Identify will be incompatible, and that the influx of new residents could have an adverse impact on drainage, traffic and a nearby acequia.
A few neighbors who attended the January HDRC meeting expressed disappointment with the commission’s ruling. Their main points of contention were that the proposal includes too many units and the three-story buildings are too high.
The developer had made some concessions requested by neighbors and HDRC members. David Morin, Site Identify chief executive officer, said additional concessions, however, could pose a risk to the project’s finances.
Morin and project architect Mari Michael Glassell said the sloped roofs on the townhomes would make them look shorter, adding the company is meeting practically all of the conditions required by city staff.
Morin later said the planned development will be a positive addition to the River Road neighborhood, with landscaping and a crushed granite trail leading to the nearby community garden, among other amenities.
The townhomes will range from 1,500 to 2,500 square feet. The developer estimates the units will be offered for sale from $300,000 to $600,000.
“I think overall the neighborhood is happy about it,” Morin said. “Having something we can move forward on is going to be great.”
Morin added he and his colleagues have done their best to reach out to neighbors, and admitted it’s a challenge to have total satisfaction with a planned development.
“I think we’re doing something that’s great for the neighborhood with the walking trail, the variation in heights. You just don’t see that in a lot of townhome projects,” he said.
But neighbors at the HDRC meeting challenged the developer’s contention, and insisted the now-approved plan be further scaled down.
Emily Rosengren Ferry and her family have lived on the Zambrano land grant property nearly 100 years. She said the project, as presented, could endanger the property, its characteristics and its history.
“All of us in this room should try to protect part of what makes San Antonio so special and that we try not to encroach unreasonably on the Zambrano land grant property,” Ferry added.
Margaret Day, who has drainage problems around her property, said she is worried the townhome project will exacerbate community flooding issues.
“What this development will do is take a property that is 100 percent permeable now and make it 90 percent or more impermeable,” she added.
Richard Reed, the neighborhood association chairman, said he and other neighbors hoped the city would emphasize stipulations, such as creating more space between the development and the adjacent historic acequia.
Reed also said decreasing the highest planned elevations of the townhome buildings would “integrate into the neighborhood, both protecting the historic Zambrano property and integrate with the four standing one-story houses that are on Trail (Street).”