The City Council voted 9-1 today to rezone one of two residential lots on the northwest corner of North Walters Street and Interstate 35, from residential to commercial use. The decision likely means nine residential units will be razed for new retail businesses.
Since late 2019, many nearby residents have opposed efforts to rezone the roughly two acres fearing the encroachment by commercial businesses into their community. The first attempt was by QuikTrip, a mega gas station and convenience store, which was denied by the Zoning Commission in January.
The two property owners, a woman named Sara Martinez and the Jackson Cloma Living Trust, are working together to lease or sell the properties to a potential tenant. Since June, the tenants who rented the units have left because their leases weren’t renewed.
At Thursday’s meeting, District 2 Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan attempted to assuage residents’ concerns about commercial encroachment by presenting an affidavit signed by Robert Wynn, a representative of the Jackson Cloma Living Trust, which is managed by Frost Bank, stating that upon its sale, the property’s deed will contain restrictions stipulating that no gas station will be allowed to operate on the premises. Andrews-Sullivan also cited a no-alcohol restriction, which she said was likely to be unattractive to a gas station company.
“As we push forward with this conversation of unity and ensuring we are addressing equity, and bringing about a change to systemic economic segregation that has plagued the District 2 area for far too long, it is with great hope that we continue to bridge the gap and make sure that unity is put back into Government Hill,” Andrews-Sullivan said during the meeting.
Her words did not comfort D’Ette Cole, who lives across the street from the site, and who says Andrews-Sullivan told her this week she’d be calling for a “C-1, low density mixed use” designation, a level down from “C-2,” which was approved. “It’s disappointing,” Cole said, adding, “Neighbors the most impacted really don’t have a say.”
A representative for Andrews-Sullivan could not be reached for comment.
District 9 Councilman John Courage was the only member to vote against the rezoning. He did not respond to a request for comment via text. District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez was absent.
Only the Jackson Cloma Living Trust property was up for discussion during the City Council meeting. The City Council will consider the other portion, owned by Martinez, Sept. 17.
With Andrew-Sullivan’s revisions, the council action converts the trust’s land from residential, R-6, to commercial, C-2 N/A, which would ban the sale of alcohol. Many who live nearby said they would support commercial, C-1, which allows for smaller-scale retail they say is more appropriate for a neighborhood.
Last month Matthew Badders, an attorney for Martinez, told the Zoning Commission a developer who finds locations for Starbucks was interested in building a store on the property.
However, a recent email sent from Starbucks executive DuWayne Burge, who oversees development in Central and South Texas, to Cole and her husband Steve Versteeg revealed the company wasn’t interested. “Unfortunately I don’t know who is developing this corner, but I can tell you it is not on our behalf,” Burge told the couple, who has spearheaded the rezoning pushback.
Currently, nine derelict homes sit on the properties, eight on Martinez’s property and one on the trust’s. Martinez has previously been accused of displacing her tenants ahead of the project, allegedly giving them an ultimatum to move out by June 28 or face a steep increase in rent, Carolina Davila, a former tenant of Martinez, said. Martinez has not responded to multiple interview requests.
In past interviews, Badders said Martinez is an older woman with health issues who does not want to be a landlord anymore. The property is currently listed for sale by Pecan Tree Realty for $1.8 million. The offices for Pecan Tree Realty are a stone’s throw away from the properties and face I-35. It’s owner, Fernando Lozano, is one of Martinez’s allies in this pocket of Government Hill.
In recent weeks, both the Zoning and Planning commissions have denied requests that would’ve allowed the lots to be zoned “C-2” commercial. Most recently, the Planning Commission recommended the land use designation of “low density mixed-use,” which would align more with the lighter “C-1.” The recommendation was read aloud during the City Council meeting.
During public comment, Cole said more than 75 signs that read “No C-2 Commercial Rezoning” and “Don’t Kill Government Hill” on fences, and in flowerbeds and front yards, dot the neighborhood as a symbol of their resistance.
Government Hill Alliance, lead by its longtime president, Rose Hill, expressed her support for “C-2” commercial to the council by phone, saying the neighborhood is in desperate need of “economic development.” Located in the crosshairs of the near East Side and the Pearl district, two rapidly changing areas of the inner city, Government Hill has seen so much change in recent years that a second and third neighborhood groups have formed. But Government Hill Alliance is the only one recognized by the city.
Many properties facing I-35 are commercial businesses, which is what drew developers to the property in the first place. If a gas station is built, neighbors say the fumes could be harmful to residents’ health and to the health of students who attend nearby Pershing Elementary School.
With views of downtown, residents of this East Side neighborhood fear once commercial development begins, there will be little means of stopping it.
» Planning Commission recommends light commercial use for Government Hill land
» Starbucks not opening on contentious Government Hill property
» Plans to demolish Government Hill homes for Starbucks denied
Michelle Del Rey is a freelance journalist in San Antonio, and Heron contributor. She graduated from the University of Westminster in London, England, with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism. She can be reached at email@example.com, @meeshdelrey on Twitter.