On Thursday, the City Council is scheduled to vote on the recovery of 1.7 acres of land it once owned at 803 N. Cherry St., just north of the Hays Street Bridge, in a deal meant to rectify a seven-year controversy.
In a land swap deal with the property’s current owner, developer Mitch Meyer, the city is offering two acres of land it owns at 223 S. Cherry St., near the Alamodome, 0.8 miles south of the bridge, in exchange for recouping the property next to the bridge.
Members of the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group, which has an active lawsuit against the city concerning the land, opposes the deal and said it will ask the council to delay the vote. The group has long contended the city should abide by a 2002 memorandum of understanding, which outlines the donation of the land and the bridge to the city, and convert the vacant lot into a park-like use that would serve visitors to the bridge.
City officials point out that the MOU never specifically uses the term “park.”
District 2 Councilman Art Hall has been brokering the proposed exchange since the Texas Supreme Court ruled against the city on the case in March. The litigation began in 2012, when the restoration group sued the city after it tried to sell the property to Alamo Beer Co. owner Eugene Simor for his company’s brewery. In December 2014, the city finally sold the property to Simor, who then sold it to Meyer two years later. Since then, Meyer has been planning to build a five-story, 127-unit apartment complex called the Bridge Apartments.
In the deal the council is set to consider, the property’s eventual use would be “public or recreational” or one that “meets a community need based on community input.” The council agenda names the restoration group and Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association among the organizations that will be consulted, as well as those who participate in a broader effort in accordance with public engagement guidelines adopted by the council late last year.
In the deal, the city would regain ownership of the land at 803 N. Cherry St., which was appraised at $2.58 million in April by city contractor Noble and Associates.
The two acres of land near the dome on South Cherry Street were appraised at $2.6 million. The city is also chipping in another 0.31 acres of land. In return, Meyer has agreed to limit the housing development he plans to build on South Cherry to five stories, a clause negotiated between Hall and the Denver Heights Neighborhood Association, Meyers said in a brief interview while attending District 2 Councilwoman-elect Jada Andrews-Sullivan’s election night party on Saturday.
The city will shop around for development another 1.92 acres next to the South Cherry property near the dome for a mixed-income housing project. If it’s sold for another purpose, the city will use the proceeds for affordable housing efforts in the near East Side.
The city will spend $600,000 for demolition and cleanup of the structures currently on the South Cherry properties, an expenditure it says would incur whether it was swapping the land, or not, with Meyer.
Meyer also gets to keep a downtown housing incentive agreement he received for 803 N. Cherry St., which was valued at $1.2 million, the majority of which is a rebate for 10 years on city property taxes. It’s unclear whether the agreement would be worth the same amount when applied to the South Cherry property.
In September 2014, a jury found the city had violated the MOU when it first tried to sell the property to Simor back in 2012. It also determined the city never held the land for park use. Judge David Canales then ordered the city to apply all “funds” raised by the restoration group, “including the property at 803 North Cherry,” towards the bridge restoration project.
The city’s position in court has been that it satisfied Canales’ ruling when it sold the land to Simor, for $295,000, and used those proceeds for landscaping, lighting and the restoration of the bridge approaches. Last September, before the Texas Supreme Court, the city argued the case was moot because it says it had already satisfied Canales’ judgment by applying the proceeds from the land sale toward the bridge project. On these grounds, it tried to get Texas’ highest court to dismiss the case.
In its March ruling, the court denied the city’s motion to dismiss, saying the city never provided proof that the proceeds from the land sale were used for bridge upgrades.
In March, when the Heron asked for evidence—receipts, or any documents proving its claim—a city spokeswoman said the city would not comment further.
“You’re getting into details that may be brought up in future litigation,” she said.
At Andrews-Sullivan’s election night party, Meyer declined a full interview, explaining that he had no comment on the outcome of the property at 803 N. Cherry St.
“That’s not my concern,” Meyer said Andrews-Sullivan’s party. “The restoration group has never had an issue with me. They always had an issue with the city.”
In a press release this week, the group said, in fact, it did have an issue with what it described as another injustice involving Meyer—by handing over two acres of publicly-owned land in exchange for land Meyer should have never owned in the first place.
“The city of San Antonio cannot fix corruption with more corruption,” the group said in the release. “In the midst of a housing crisis, San Antonio’s (East Side) is one of the fastest gentrifying neighborhoods in the nation. Meanwhile, (the city) is giving away our neighborhood to developers with deep ties to powerful city officials past and present.”
In addition to the swap, city officials are also proposing terminating two leases it gave Simor five years ago—one would grant him permission to place tables and chairs on the bridge for a restaurant, and another would allow him to build a sky bridge connecting a restaurant with the bridge. The properties on North Cherry could have accommodated the Bridge Apartments and a restaurant.
Simor would now keep the license that allows him to use and maintain the land under the bridge.
In an interview on election night, Andrews-Sullivan, who accompanied Hall during some of the recent negotiations while she was still a candidate for the East Side council seat, said she wants the restoration group and the neighborhood to meet face to face.
“I need the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group and the community of Dignowity Hill to truly sit down at the table together and truly decide amongst each other what they want to see,” said Andrews-Sullivan, who will be sworn in on June 10, along with the other newly-elected councilwomen, District 4’s Adriana Rocha Garcia and District 6’s Melissa Cabello Havrda. “Not just have one person say one thing and another person say another. But to truly have that concise agreement.”
The restoration group, which spearheaded the effort to refurbish the decaying Hays Street bridge, said recently it will continue to pursue its contempt of court allegation against the city, regarding violation of the MOU, if it needs to.
San Antonio pushing for resolution on Hays Street Bridge land case [ March 27, 2019 ]
Texas Supreme Court rules in favor of Hays Street Bridge group [ March 15, 2019 ]
» City Council majority want Hays Street Bridge land appeal dropped [ March 20, 2019 ]