A mobilization on social media failed to keep the city’s Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) from approving a plan to build a new Rosario’s restaurant, which would all but enclose the patio of neighboring Maverick Texas Brasserie.
The HDRC voted 6-2 on Wednesday to give final approval to restaurateur Lisa Wong to build a two-story, 20,000-square-foot new location for the Southtown landmark on the site of the old El Mirador building at 722 S. St. Mary’s St.
Earlier this month, the Maverick’s owner, Peter Selig, began raising opposition to the project, which would erect a 20-foot wall only six inches from his property line. Wong had received preliminary approval for the design in December.
The new restaurant would “shut out almost all light and air circulation, destroying our patio and our adjacent kitchen dining room,” Selig said on Wednesday. “We seek dialogue, reason, compromise, as we extend a bridge to our neighbor and ask to reduce the wall’s negative impact.”
He and his lawyer have also argued that the restaurant would be out of proportion to surrounding buildings in the neighborhood. He raised support for his cause on his restaurant’s Facebook page and started a petition on Change.org to “save the Maverick patio,” which has received nearly 2,700 signatures.
HDRC staff said they had received more than 600 voicemails regarding the project: 375 in support and 217 in opposition. Some commission members said they thought it was outside their purview to deny Wong’s request because of Selig’s concerns.
“While I understand the impacts to the Maverick, I feel that the comment is coming way too late in the process for me to have a great deal sympathy for it,” said Scott W. Carpenter, HDRC commissioner. “It will change the character of the outdoor dining, but I don’t think it necessarily kills it. I think there are plenty of examples of tight urban courtyards that are used for outdoor dining that can be very delightful.”
Another HDRC commissioner, Gabriel Q. Velasquez, said that Wong “would be crafting a courtyard for another property owner… It just doesn’t seem fair that it would be the new construction’s responsibility to provide that for the existing building.”
Speaking at Wednesday’s meeting, Wong said she had met with Selig and offered concessions, such as to give up some of the storage space in her restaurant to create more breathing room for the Maverick. But the design doesn’t allow much leeway in its size, she said.
“We’ve met with him numerous times. The attitude has been, ‘What are you going to do to fix the problem?’” she said. “There’s been no acknowledgement that I did not create the problem, the problem was created when they decided to do an improvement in their side-yard, understanding that they did not own the property next door, and that one day development would probably be part of the equation.”
According to Selig, he and Wong are co-managers of Acenar Ltd., the partnership that owns and operates the River Walk restaurant Acenar.
For 28 years, Wong has operated Rosario’s out of a building at 910 S. Alamo St. The new restaurant on South St. Mary’s Street would include a rooftop bar and an outdoor dining room. The construction project would restore the historic King William Garden House into a private dining room and move the F.L. Dixon house, currently home to Pig Liquors, to the southernmost edge of the property.
“When I started my plans for a new home for Rosario’s, never in my wildest imagination did I think I would be in the center of a social media war,” Wong said at the meeting. “Now, on eve of approval, a new issue was raised that I didn’t even create. A neighbor wants me to solve his problem.”
The project was scheduled to be voted upon at the HDRC’s March 3 meeting, but it was not considered on that day due to time constraints. More than 150 San Antonio residents called in to that meeting to express their concerns for Wong’s plan.
In December, the Conservation Society of San Antonio and Southtown neighborhood associations said they were concerned about the building’s size and the noise it would create, but Wong and her team addressed those concerns.
Richard Webner is a freelance journalist covering Austin and San Antonio, and a former San Antonio Express-News business reporter. Follow him at @RWebner on Twitter