A city review panel gave full final approval to a controversial townhome project in the River Road neighborhood.
The Historic and Design Review Commission Dec. 18 granted a certificate of appropriateness to the Trail Street Townhomes project that Austin-based MNO Partners proposed for 335 Trail St.
Not everyone is happy about the development.
“This project is out of scale, it’s overly dense and its footprint is excessive,” resident John Hertz told commissioners.
Early in 2019, MNO Partners received HDRC’s preliminary OK for the concept, which envisioned 24 two- and three-story townhouses in six buildings on a vacant 1-acre lot.
Some neighbors in the historic district near Brackenridge Park and HDRC members initially expressed concerns with the design, including front-loaded garages, small setbacks and buffers, and the proposed roof heights of the three-story structures.
Critics also worried about the site being at the dead end of Trail, which is more of an alley, and its proximity to a historic acequia and the 18th-century Zambrano homestead. The complex would be accessible to East Huisache Avenue, too.
The development team sought to slightly scale down the project. When MNO Partners anticipated a final certificate of appropriateness in the Oct. 2 HDRC meeting, some neighbors expressed worries about the developer’s drainage plan.
The commission on Oct. 2 denied final approval, which surprised David Morin, partner at MNO.
“We honestly thought we had final approval,” Morin said, describing sentiment surrounding the plan before Oct. 2. “Not only are we doing the development, but we’re improving the stormwater situation by 90 percent.”
MNO subsequently stuck with most of the concept, but reduced the height on one building fronting Trail and modified the drainage plan. Neighbors want to keep a two-story height limit on the townhouse buildings fronting Trail.
Some commissioners and residents still disputed the project’s compatibility, the proposed design of the “reduced” building, and MNO’s tree-mitigation plan.
After splitting a first vote Dec. 18, HDRC voted again to approve the concept with nine stipulations, including protecting the acequia and a complete plan for the recently reduced structure.
Morin was relieved by the decision: “It feels really good and we can’t wait for new residents to be able to enjoy Brackenridge Park and all of the cultural amenities.”
Resident Patricia Pratchett sent LOCAL Community News a statement on behalf of many neighbors conveying their disappointment with HDRC’s decision.
The residents’ statement said each side made concessions, but felt their concerns, including those about building heights, project density, tree mitigation and compatibility, were not fully heard. The front-loaded garages remain, even though they are not included in historic district guidelines.
“The process shows that protections for San Antonio’s historic neighborhoods needs to be strengthened, the (Unified Development Code) needs revision, and the HDRC process needs to be rethought,” neighbors said in their statement. “If River Road, a well-organized, long-established neighborhood, wasn’t able to favorably affect the outcome of this process, then the sustainability of historic neighborhoods in San Antonio is in peril.”