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24-story Villita Tower receives approval on design concept

On Wednesday, the Historic and Design Review Commission granted conceptual approval to a proposed 24-story residential tower by JMJ Development of Dallas near the Bexar County Courthouse.

The overall project rests on a combined acre and includes the 226-unit tower, 112 Villita St. along the River Walk, and a five-story parking garage is across Jack White Way at 126 Villita St., where a one-story building currently sits.

FAB Studio of Dallas and B&A Architects of San Antonio comprise the architecture team.

After the meeting, Michael Matthews, JMJ Development’s vice president of construction, declined to comment to the media. However, he mentioned during the meeting the possibility of affordable units at Villita Tower.

When Commissioner Curtis Fish questioned the JMJ team about the potential for affordable units, local attorney Frank Burney, who represents JMJ Development, told the commission that procuring a package through the Center City Housing Incentive Policy was a possibility.

What is AMI?
The area median income for a family of four in the greater San Antonio area (including New Braunfels) is $66,800, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Here’s how it breaks down for lower-income households:
» 80% – $53,440
» 60% – $40,800
» 50% – $33,400
» 40% – $26,720
» 30% – $20,400

In a letter Tuesday to JMJ Development, Veronica Garcia of the Center City Development & Operations Department informed the developer that the tower could be eligible for CCHIP incentives. Under the new guidelines, which were approved in December by City Council and took effect Jan. 2, Villita Tower could receive a 15-year rebate on the city portion of its property taxes (with 25 percent feeding an affordable housing fund); SAWS Impact Fee waivers (up to $1 million), and city fee waivers.

An infrastructure grant could also be obtained if JMJ makes at least 10 percent of its units affordable by the city’s definition—80 percent of the area median income (AMI), or below. JMJ would receive $10,000 per affordable unit up to $500,000 for costs related to infrastructure.

The tower is exactly the kind of high-density development in the heart of downtown that CCHIP was created to help spur. However, this project wouldn’t qualify under the revamped CCHIP if its average rents exceed $2.75 per square foot.

In 2017, JMJ CEO Tim Barton told the San Antonio Express-News he expected the tower to cost $70 million to build, and that rents would range between $1,500 and $3,000. Schematics provided to the HDRC by JMJ do not indicate the square footage of each unit.

The project would also include retail space facing Villita Street, retail facing the river on two levels, and what architect Song Chia of FAB Studio described as a seamless entrance from the River Walk to street level, and vice versa.

The HDRC was first scheduled to consider the design in December, but the city’s Office of Historic Preservation, at the time, had concerns that included the lack of a “solar access study.” JMJ pulled its request.

At Wednesday’s meeting, JMJ presented the solar study, which shows the 24-story building casting a shadow that covers up St. Mary’s Street, a portion of the River Walk, and half of the Tower Life Building to the northeast during the next winter solstice on Dec. 21.

HDCR Chairman Michael Guarino said he was concerned about the shadow when he first saw the study, but then realized that other buildings, such as the circa-1929 Tower Life, cast a much longer shadow because some are taller.

“When I saw the exhibit, I was a little alarmed by it until I started thinking about it,” Guarino said.

Before the JMJ team gave its presentation to commissioners, Tom Thompson, 68, a resident of the Granada Homes (aka the old Plaza Hotel) just north of the properties, told the HDRC it should deny the request because the development was too tall for the 0.35-acre site.

“It’s too much building to put in that space,” Thompson said. “It’s also wrong because it’s right up against the river.”

At least one HDRC member reminded the room that the tower met all of San Antonio’s design guidelines for a downtown development.

Some commissioners expressed the desire for JMJ to include retail in the parking garage. But the JMJ team said it wasn’t possible because the circular design of the garage was taking up maximum space already.

24-story Villita Tower proposed near courthouse

Contact Ben Olivo: 210-421-3932 | | @rbolivo on Twitter

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