By Gretchen Glasscock, Publisher
Even though Broadway itself extends to Loop 410 and beyond, it is open to question as to whether the Broadway revitalization, spurred by the Pearl re-development, will extend as far North as the ’09 zip code, in upscale Alamo Heights.
None-the-less, a controversy seems to be brewing between a developer, progressives and preservationists in this affluent, tony suburb, filled with “old money”, traditional values and, generally, against anything smacking of glitz or “McMansions”.
The calm of this tranquil enclave was shattered when an issue of the Alamo Heights Advocate featured the following rendering on its cover, describing “The Alamo Manhattan Project”, a proposed 6 story apartment project at Broadway and Austin Highway, currently pulled from City Council discussion for further evaluation:
At first glance, I thought this must be an apartment building to be under construction further out Austin Highway, near Silo’s Restaurant, close to another such large project, a multi-use development with 278 residential units and space for at least 6,000 square feet of retail. This project is gigantic by Alamo Heights standards, but just outside the edge of Alamo Heights, and located in a less tony, more commercial area.
Imagine my surprise, when I looked inside the magazine and saw the maps and renderings and realized this proposed project was about a block and a half from where I live and I had never heard of it. That, actually was the point of the article, which, in a quite conspiratorial tone, or, I should say anti-conspiratorial tone, informed Alamo Heights residents we’d all been kept in the dark as certain variances and code changes were suggested and there had been, as yet, no City Council discussion on the project which was now pulled by the developers “for further review.”
I could see this might become controversial when I spotted a bright yellow insert in the magazine that announced the publisher would no longer be publishing this magazine and was severing all ties with the association responsible for it, because it was, in their view, too political. The Association responded with a lawsuit . So much for civility among neighbors.
Here is the location in question:
This same property was rumored, some years back, to be undergoing development as a boutique hotel, but, either the financing fell through or, for some other reason, the hotel never materialized. The area remained an old style brick apartment building, several small cottages, an alley type street connecting Broadway and the Austin Highway, a small triangular park and a nearby park-like property, colloquially known as “the Optimist Club Christmas tree lot”.
Projects like this have surfaced before and usually some kind of compromise eventually is reached. When luxury high rise, 200 Patterson Condos, were built almost 30 years ago, most Alamo Heights residents doubted the City Council would vote to allow a 20 story tower to rise from it’s wooded, garden-like surroundings. And yet, there it is today, on a scale that dwarfs the proposed project at Broadway and Austin Highway.
Will it come to pass? Who knows? During the first years I was in my present Alamo Heights home, I discovered there had been an article in the San Antonio Business Journal, featuring a large office building and underground parking rising from what was, and still is, the middle of my front yard. Now, many years later, I am surrounded by land , almost an entire block, which has been cleared for what was once described as becoming, first, luxury condos , then luxury apartments. And yet, for the moment, it is a very large vacant lot, which, with the nudging of code compliance, is kept trimmed and cleared. Will that project ever come to pass? Who knows?
I can understand, however, that the stars have to align just right, particularly in Alamo Heights, with the simultaneous coming together of market conditions, funding, public sentiment and the blessings of the Alamo Heights City Council, in order to make changes, even relatively minor ones. When I sought to renovate my home from a small Craftsman cottage, formerly owned by an artist, with a tiny studio, arbors and fruit trees to something slightly larger, it took me two years of appealing to the Council. I was extraordinarily persistent, but not, I suspect, as persistent as developers with a lot of money at stake. When my project was finally approved, there was an outburst of applause, not unlike the finale of Les Miserables, although confined to the several dozen citizens in the Chamber.
Was I shocked that the developers and a member or two of the Council had kept their project private during the time they were forming their plans? It brings to mind that famous quote of the local Captain from the iconic film “Casa Blanca”: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” Likewise, I’m shocked, shocked to find that developers are keeping their plans under wraps but have no choice but to talk to someone on the Council to gauge in advance their chances of success and what adjustments might have to be made.
Now, the Local Community News has published a new article on the subject, in which Alamo Heights Mayor Louis Cooper says he believes the developers will go back to the drawing board and may find the right formula to win the hearts of, possibly not most, but at least enough of Alamo Heights, to get the project rolling. “It has to be mixed-use, smaller scale and not encompassing the park.”
History suggests that, in the end, Alamo Heights will have a smaller structure in that space, designed with more sensitivity to its surroundings, even though there may be bloody skirmishes along the way. I, personally, would have preferred the boutique hotel of years ago, so I would have someplace to stash extra guests (….. and why doesn’t Alamo Heights have any decent hotels nearby anyway?) But I’m a realist. I’m fine with whatever comes. And the tensions between preservationists and developers is part of what gives Alamo Heights and, in fact, San Antonio, part of its spice and flavor…. and possibly better outcomes. As the French say, ” the more things change, the more they stay the same”. And, in the end, Alamo Heights will stay the same, with or without a new structure at the intersection at the heart of this distinctive enclave.
Hurray! I have one of the top 10% most viewed @LinkedIn profiles for 2012.