This property is owned by the Jackson Cloma Living Trust, an entity managed by Frost Bank. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

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.

Map shows residential properties on the northwest corner of Walters Street and Interstate 35 that are being considered for commercial use.
HERON | GOOGLE

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.

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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.

Previously published
» 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 michelle@saheron.com, @meeshdelrey on Twitter.

This property, which is owned by Sarah Martinez, a resident of Government Hill, is up for sale. Photo taken July 21, 2020.
This home on Edgar Avenue is owned by Sara Martinez. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

On Wednesday, the Planning Commission unanimously denied a request to change the land use of properties on the 2000 block of North Walters Street in Government Hill from "low density residential" to "mixed use." The owner wants to demolish eight homes on two properties and replace them with a commercial tenant. Instead, the commission recommended "low density mixed-use," which allows for smaller retail shops as opposed to larger businesses like a gas station, which nearby residents vehemently oppose.

The decision is the latest in an East Side redevelopment saga involving two landowners: Sara Martinez, who owns the property that was voted on on Wednesday, and the Jackson Cloma Living Trust, a Frost Bank entity that owns abutting property that also faces Interstate 35. Matthew Badders, an attorney for Martinez, is working with the trust to combine the properties and lease them to a retail tenant.

Map shows residential properties on the northwest corner of Walters Street and Interstate 35 that are being considered for commercial use.
HERON | GOOGLE

The commission’s recommendation will be passed on to the City Council for consideration on Aug. 20. Last month, the Zoning Commission denied requests by Martinez and the Jackson Cloma Living Trust to rezone the properties from residential to C-2, a commercial designation that would allow for large-scale businesses. They were wary of granting a C-2 designation without a known tenant, which would leave nearby residents without a say in what type of business ultimately goes on the property.

Both District 2 Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan and the city’s Development Services Department support developing North Walters with commercial businesses, because it abuts I-35 and is a corridor leading to Fort Sam Houston. The city also contends any future business on the properties will act as a buffer between I-35 and the neighborhood.

However, the majority of property owners who live near the sites oppose heavy commercial use at the corner. Some are fine with smaller-scale retail, others are opposed to any form of commercial and want Martinez to sell the derelict homes to someone who can restore and lease them.

Overall, there’s a fear in this corner of Government Hill of commercial encroachment into the neighborhood.

In a previous meeting, the Planning Commission approved changing the trust property’s land use to mixed-use commercial. Commissioner Julia Carrillo said she believed the tract that faces I-35 is better suited for commercial use. She could not say the same for Martinez’s property. At the meeting on Wednesday, Carrillo cast doubt that the plan had the proper neighborhood input, despite Badders saying otherwise.

“Although there was discussion, it may have been one sided in that the neighborhood and stakeholders felt they were making headway but perhaps they were not,” Carrillo said. “I want this to move forward with support from the neighborhood. I don’t want them to be misled.”

Badders responded, “Who is the neighborhood? I have the support of the neighborhood association. I’m also in direct conversations with people within 200 feet (of the properties).”

However, of the nearly 20 residents who spoke via phone or email during the meeting, all but one—Government Hill Alliance president Rose Hill—opposed the C-2 designation. It's worth noting many of those who chimed in live in the neighborhood, but not all. The city sent notices to homeowners within 200 feet of the site, and received 22 responses—18 opposed, 14 in favor.

Hill, who represents one of three Government Hill neighborhood groups, but the only one recognized by the city, said the association backs Martinez’s request.

“If the person who is going to purchase the property is requesting C-2 commercial, and we have the opportunity to get a Starbucks in there, then the neighborhood association is going to support that,” she said.

At the last Zoning Commission meeting, Badders told commissioners he was negotiating to get a Starbucks onto the property. However, a Starbucks official told nearby residents recently the company had no plans to build a store in Government Hill.

Commissioner Connie Gonzalez asked Badders if he would consider a low density mixed-use designation in his plan.

“We spent a lot of time considering the proposal from staff as it is and this is streamed by what has been put in already by staff’s recommendation,” Badders said.

Lorenzo Ortiz, whose home faces I-35 and also abuts the area’s only neighborhood commercial business, said he's open to lighter commercial on the properties.

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Marlene Hawkins, founder of the Government Hill Community Association, wrote a letter to commissioners detailing her frustration over the potential demolition of affordable housing. “The property owner wants to tear down eight livable houses that tenants were told to move out of or pay double the rent,” wrote Hawkins, who has been the residents' biggest advocate. “I hope Sara will agree to sell these houses instead of demolishing them.”

Currently, the homes are vacant. According to some residents interviewed by the Heron, residents were given until June 28 to move out or their rent would skyrocket.

Magda Barba, 61, who rented a house from Martinez for 14 years, said Martinez displaced her and her husband. She and her 66-year-old husband, Ismael, begged Martinez for another month, and also offered to buy the house from her.

In previous interviews, Badders has refuted claims that Martinez had displaced her tenants, saying that the leases simply weren’t renewed. He says Martinez is an older woman who doesn't want to be a residential landlord anymore, and instead wants to lease the properties for business use.

On Aug. 2, the Barbas turned in their keys and moved in with their 35-year-old son, Julio. The event was so traumatizing, Barba said, she and her husband are considering moving back to their hometown of Guanajuato, Mexico.

“We never thought we’d be in this situation,” she said, speaking through tears.

Martinez has not responded to multiple interview requests.

Previously published
» Starbucks not opening on contentious Government Hill property
» Plans to demolish Government Hill homes for Starbucks denied

Setting It Straight: This article originally misstated the day the Planning Commission took place, which was Wednesday. It also misreported the consensus among citizens who spoke or wrote in during the meeting; they vehemently oppose C-2.

Editor's note: Marlene Hawkins is a monthly supporter of the Heron. Click here to view a list of our donors.

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 michelle@saheron.com, @meeshdelrey on Twitter.

This protest sign is seen on Edgar Avenue in Government Hill. Photo taken July 21, 2020.
Signs like this one on Edgar Avenue can be seen throughout the far east end of Government Hill. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

A commercial development plan to build a Starbucks in place of nine derelict homes in the East Side neighborhood of Government Hill was never seriously a consideration, according to the coffee shop giant.

Additionally, Fort Worth-based Vaquero Ventures, one of several real estate developers that partners with the coffee chain in Texas, has removed itself from a deal with property owners Sara Martinez and the Jackson Cloma Living Trust after recently learning about opposition many nearby residents have to commercial development replacing the homes on the northwest corner of North Walters Street and Interstate 35, near one of Fort Sam Houston's gates.

"We have never had either of these properties under contract and do not wish to develop something that is in opposition of the local community," Vaquero Ventures co-founder W.A. Landreth said.

In an email sent on Tuesday to a Government Hill couple fighting the plan, DuWayne Burge, Starbucks store development manager for Central and South Texas, said the company never seriously engaged in any discussion about the site.

"Unfortunately, I don't know who is developing this corner, but I can tell you it is not on our behalf," Burge told Steve Versteeg and D'Ette Cole, who live across the street from the site.

Currently, only one family remains in the homes; the rest were asked to move by Martinez in preparation for an incoming development. After interviewing some of the residents and Martinez's lawyer, the leases between the tenants and Martinez appear to have been verbal, not written.

Map shows residential properties on the northwest corner of Walters Street and Interstate 35 that are being considered for commercial use.
HERON | GOOGLE

Currently, nine one-story homes sit on the residential properties—eight on those owned by Martinez, and one on a property owned by the Jackson Cloma Living Trust, which is managed by Frost Bank. In late July, Matthew Badders, a lawyer representing Martinez, told the Zoning Commission the houses were set to be demolished regardless of whether the commission approved a rezoning request from residential, “R-6,” to commercial, “C-2”—which the commission denied for both sets of properties in 7-3 votes.

Badders disagrees with the characterization that the residents were displaced. In an email to the Heron, Badders said the leases simply were not renewed. "A few people got to stay longer and got free rent while they looked for a new place," Badders said. He also said every tenant got their security deposit returned.

Two households the Heron was able to track down and interview say they didn’t want to leave. One offered to buy the house.

The other is Carolina Davila, a mother of three who rented one of the homes on Edgar Avenue, who said Martinez gave her an ultimatum: be out by June 28 or start paying $1,100 in rent, an increase of roughly 69%, according to Davila. Several interview requests to Martinez through Badders were declined or not granted.

Davila, who works as a teacher’s aid at the San Antonio Independent School District, said she was sad to leave the community her children grew up in. “It was a real nice neighborhood. Everybody would take care of each other,” she said.

Badders said Martinez is in her 70s and no longer wants to be a residential landlord.

At least one household, the De Leons who lived at 111 Jim St. for seven years, had positive things to say about Martinez as a landlord.

In an undated letter addressed "To Whom It May Concern," which Badders provided to the Heron, the De Leon family said, "The community seems to believe that we are being kicked out. But not one of them have came to ask if we need assistance. This is her property and she should do as she wishes. She is the best landlord we've ever had."

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At the Zoning Commission meeting July 21, Badders unveiled Starbucks as a potential tenant to commissioners in the middle of the meeting, catching them off guard as they were presented with new information with which to base their decision. Before the meeting started, the rezoning requests for the two sets of properties were placed on the Zoning Commission agenda without a named tenant, which concerned some commissioners who felt Martinez and the trust, with commercial zoning in place, could lease or sell the properties for a commercial use without input from nearby residents. Even after Badders revealed Starbucks as a potential tenant, he couldn’t guarantee to the commission that the company would fully commit to leasing the property—the uncertainty only reinforced commissioners’ concerns that they’d be giving Martinez and the trust carte-blanche on the properties without neighborhood feedback.

Badders told commissioners moments before they voted that he would fast-track the request to the next available City Council meeting on Aug. 20, with or without the commission’s blessing. In San Antonio, the City Council makes the final decision on zoning cases. During the meeting, Commissioner Lillian Jones said District 2 Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan supported the zoning change. Jones and other supporters of the plan, including Government Hill Alliance, one of three neighborhood groups in Government Hill but the only one recognized by the city, cited a neighborhood plan for Walters Street from a few years back that showed commercial development lining the corridor to Fort Sam.

The city’s Development Services Department recommended the zoning change, as well. Ximena Copa-Wiggins, spokeswoman for the department said, “The proposed request to a ‘C-2’ would be consistent with [the] area as well as with commercial uses along I-35 and North Walters.”

The Jackson Cloma Living Trust and Martinez submitted their applications separately, but were intending to lease the combined 2 acres to a developer for a joint project.

Before the case advances to the City Council, it's due to be heard by the Planning Commission on Aug. 12; the commission denied a neighborhood plan amendment for Martinez's properties the week before the Zoning Commission meeting.

Earlier this year on Jan. 21, the Zoning Commission rejected a rezoning request by QuikTrip, a convenience store chain that tried to get the zoning changed on behalf of Martinez and the trust in order to convert the properties into a mega gas station.

The encroachment of commercial development into this part of Government Hill has been controversial for many residents in the area, as they express dismay over the destruction of low-income housing. Others continue to advocate for additional urban development.

This latest development in the land controversy at Walters and I-35 is a small victory for residents who opposed replacing residential properties with commercial development.

Dora Perez, 53, who lives within 200 feet of the site, said, “We would love to have the properties remain residential. If it could stay residential we would be more than thrilled.”

Perez inherited the house she lives in on Sandmeyer Street from her parents, as is true for multiple family members of hers who live in the neighborhood. For her, this fight is about preserving the multi-generational community she grew up in.

She added, “All we wanted was some type of compromise."

Previously published
"Plan 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 michelle@saheron.com, @meeshdelrey on Twitter.

This protest sign faces Edgar Avenue in Government Hill. Photo taken July 21, 2020.
This protest sign faces Edgar Avenue in Government Hill. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Two proposals to rezone clusters of residential property in Government Hill into commercial were rejected by the Zoning Commission on Tuesday during a video conference meeting that included a last-second twist.

The owners of the properties—one resident with strong ties to the neighborhood, the other an investment trust managed by Frost Bank—are in negotiations to lease the nearly-two acres of land for a Starbucks, a lawyer for one of the property owners told commissioners. The commission voted 7-3 in both cases to keep the properties, a combination of derelict homes and vacant lots overgrown with brush, residential.

The cases on Tuesday reignited a debate in this East Side community over the rights of property owners versus a neighborhood's right to have a say in how their community is shaped. Government Hill is also one of the fastest changing East Side residential areas.

The properties in question include eight homes clustered together on the northwest corner of North Walters Street and Interstate 35, on the far east side of Government Hill, many blocks away from Broadway and the Pearl. It's unclear whether some of the residents still live in the homes, or if they've moved because of the impending lease. In this pocket of Government Hill, there are signs on fences throughout, some that read "Don't Kill Gov't Hill" and "Keep Our Neighbors."

Matthew Badders, an attorney for Sara Martinez, who owns more than half the property in question, said his client will advance the case to City Council on Aug. 20 for a vote despite the Zoning Commission denial.

The vote Tuesday was the latest in a long and complicated saga involving this corner of Government Hill. Many of the property owners, but not all, who live near the site fear replacing homes with commercial development will eat away at their neighborhood. They said as much during a small protest at the Frost Tower on Saturday, which drew roughly a dozen critics of the rezoning.

Supporters of the rezoning, such as Government Hill Alliance president Rose Hill, say commercial is exactly the type of use that previous neighborhood work sessions recommended on Walters Street, one of the corridors leading into Fort Sam Houston. They also say Martinez should have the right to get maximum dollar for her properties.

Map shows residential properties on the northwest corner of Walters Street and Interstate 35 that are being considered for commercial use.
HERON | GOOGLE

...

The first case

In January, the Zoning Commission heard a similar proposal to convert the properties from residential, R-6, to commercial, C-2, which allows for a broader range of commercial uses. At the time, QuikTrip was looking to build a gas station and convenience store on the two-acre property. Then, the commission denied the request by an 8-1 majority with commissioners citing the proximity the gas station would have to residential properties.

D’Ette Cole, whose house on Reno Street abuts the properties to the north, was one of several nearby residents who opposed the development calling it a "pedestrian safety nightmare" that would endanger children cutting through the site from the other side of Walters toward nearby Pershing Elementary during peak traffic hours. The residents also lamented the possibility of the eight affordable homes being demolished.

Several times during Tuesday's meeting, supporters of the rezoning referenced new residential development planned for empty lots east of Walters Street. One of those supporters is Hill of Government Hill Alliance, one of three neighborhood groups in Government Hill. "We cannot continue to say 'no' to development," she told commissioners.

At the start of the meeting, the arguments were hypothetical because Badders and Robert Wynn, who represents Frost Bank entity and property owner Jackson Cloma Living Trust, made the rezoning requests without indicating a tenant or buyer. Some of the opponents presumed QuikTrip or a something similar was being planned once again for the properties.

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Wynn told commissioners that changing the zoning from residential to commercial would help the trust better market the property.

Some residents who opposed the proposition feared a zoning change to C-2 would give Martinez and the trust carte blanche to sign any tenant or sell to any buyer without neighborhood input.

Most of the commissioners agreed.

"If we approve this as a speculative project, it completely takes out the neighborhood from what goes in there," District 8 Zoning Commissioner Francine Romero said.

The commissioners shot down the Jackson Cloma Living Trust proposal 7-3.

Then Badders, Martinez's pro bono attorney, addressed the commission and revealed that he was in negotiations to lease the property for a Starbucks, which caught everyone by surprise. Badders said Starbucks and a company called Vaquero Ventures agreed to a lease from a Martinez-Frost Bank partnership for 30 years, but only if it was rezoned C-2.

Commissioners were not aware of Starbucks’ plans to lease the property before the meeting. Badders said he was not given permission from Vaquero Ventures or Starbucks to discuss the proposal until later in the afternoon, after the meeting had started.

Badders, who describes Martinez as a woman in her 70s with underlying health conditions, said she is incapable of maintaining the properties herself, and despite the committee's decision, the houses on those properties will be razed one way or another.

...

Why the rush?

Caleb James, a resident of Government Hill since 2019, leads a protest in front of the Frost Tower on Saturday, July 18, 2020.
Caleb James, a resident of Government Hill since 2019, leads a protest in front of the Frost Tower on Saturday, July 18, 2020. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

During the meeting, Zoning Commission Chairwoman Joy McGhee asked Badders why or his client, Martinez, couldn't hold a public meeting with the neighbors now that Starbucks was revealed as the potential tenant.

"I certainly hope there would be some reach out to the community," McGhee said. "This is an earnest plea as a neighborhood person. I think it's just so vital to have that neighborhood buy-in."

Badders responded by saying, "Mrs. Martinez is not 17 years old anymore."

Badders said the homes will be leveled with or without a rezoning designation. He also said, despite the Zoning Commission's denial, Martinez wants to push the proposal to the City Council, which has ultimate say on the matter, at its Aug. 20 meeting. During the meeting, District 2 Commissioner Lillian Jones said District 2 Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan supports the zoning change. "I’m not sure how a gas station, or a restaurant, or a shopping mall destroys a neighborhood," Jones said.

District 9 Commissioner Patricia Gibbons was one of three commissioners who agreed with the zoning change. "I think we demonize C-2. This is actually the correct land use for a corner lot that faces a very robust and very large interstate highway." Gibbons at one point asked Cole if residents were willing to accept a lesser commercial designation—which, they had said earlier in the meeting that they would—before interrupting Cole several times when she tried to respond. That's when McGhee asked Gibbons to watch her tone toward residents who signed up to speak.

District 1 Commissioner Summer Greathouse wondered how a Starbucks was going on a two-acre piece of land, a space large enough to be considered for a QuikTrip has station previously. Greathouse's comments were made rhetorically. Badders, when it was his next time to speak, didn't address them.

This property is up for sale and is being eyed for commercial use. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Michelle Del Rey is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. She graduated from the University of Westminster in London, England, with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism. She can be reached at chelledelrey@gmail.com, @chelledelrey on Twitter.

Ceiba speaks to roughly 50 advocates for the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue, as Diana Uriegas (right) offers a sage cleanse, during a protest Saturday at Columbus Park, 200 Columbus St. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

As Covid-19 cases continue to hit record highs in Bexar County, roughly 50 people, most of whom wore face coverings, gathered Saturday afternoon to advocate for the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue in Columbus Park in northwest downtown.

They called for the statue to be taken down because of Columbus’ history of colonization and enslavement against Native Americans during his voyages to North America from 1492 to 1502. The protestations have wide support from San Antonio leadership, but the statue's removal is an issue that's become entangled in bureaucracy.

The gathering came less than 24 hours after Mayor Ron Nirenberg ordered public gatherings limited to no more than 10 people in city parks and plazas, although police allowed the protest to carry on.

Protest organizer Antonio Diaz has been fighting for the statue’s removal since 1998. If the monument comes down, he says, it will not only be a personal victory for himself and his family, but for all people of color, he said.

“We are starting to write our narrative,” Diaz said. “Our narrative has not been written from our point of view. It has been written by the invader, by the colonialists, by those who sold us as property, by those that displaced us from our land.”

He’d hoped the statue would have been taken down by Saturday, so the group could celebrate its removal. Instead, it may have to wait more than a month.

The Christopher Columbus Italian Society, whose building is on the other side of the park, donated the landmark in 1956. The society recently requested the relocation of the statue and supports renaming the park “Piazza Italia,” which District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño recommended in a council consideration request on June 15.

In a statement posted Thursday, the Italian society’s board said, “Although the Christopher Columbus statue in the park does not have the same associated feelings for us as it does for others, we want to be respectful and considerate of what it symbolizes and how it impacts them.”

In recent years, Treviño has worked with the Italian society and Diaz’s indigenous group on the statue’s removal, which will cost the city $6,000 from the parks department’s operating budget, and renaming of the park.

At Thursday’s City Council meeting, Diaz scolded members for not having removed the statue already, especially since the move has the support of the Columbus society.

Immediately relocating the statue, “would have provided an opportunity for healing while acknowledging those who have asked to be heard,” Treviño said in a statement following Thursday’s meeting.

Delays to the monument’s extraction has left Diaz feeling like his efforts have fallen on deaf ears. “It's ridiculous to continue with a further process. It should be down,” he said.

The issue will go to the council's Governance Committee on Wednesday. Given the City Council’s annual July recess, a final decision to remove the monument may not be made until August.

There are, of course, individuals on the opposing side of the argument.

Marc F., 45, a member of a group against the removal of statues and monuments, got married in Columbus Park in 2007.

For the self-proclaimed patriot, of Italian and Spanish descent, the monument’s recent defacing, in which it was splattered with red paint, was personal.

“It's a symbol of our history and of our heritage,” said Marc, who declined to give his last name. Marc was one of five men who attended the gathering armed with guns in counter protest to the anti-statue crowd. Some of the men said they were affiliated with This is Texas Freedom Force, a Texas pride and heritage group that's become active at public gatherings since the relocation of the Alamo Cenotaph was proposed in recent years. On Saturday, however, the men said it wasn't an official This is Texas Freedom Force event.

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Speeches carried on throughout the early afternoon. While demonstrators spoke, Diana Uriegas walked around blessing protestors, waving a burning sage stick over their bodies. People from all walks of life stood in a circle, intently listening to what each other had to say.

Maya, a woman of Payaya Native American descent, expressed her grief over the “cultural genocide” occurring in the public school system. “We have people growing up in schools, looking at this man, putting him on a pedestal, thinking he’s a great man, when that’s a lie,” she said.

Toward the end of the protest, both the protestors and the armed men collided for about two minutes in a whirlwind of chaos. Demonstrators marched toward the group, the majority of whom were people of color, accusing them of upholding white supremacy.

San Antonio police officers broke up the heated argument, using their bikes to shove protestors away from the armed men. One officer took hold of a steel barricade and pushed it into a teenage boy. When asked, Police Chief William McManus declined to comment on the officer’s actions.

Roger Rodkey, 52, a member of the armed group, said their objective was not to intimidate protestors. “We are here to exercise our God given right to bear arms, just like anybody’s right to peacefully demonstrate.”

Despite heightened tensions, the protest ended without any violent incident.

Because of an editing error, the original version of this article said the Christopher Columbus Italian Society requested the statue's removal in light of the recent Black Lives Matter movement. The society and District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño have been discussing the statue's removal in recent years.

Michelle Del Rey is a freelance journalist in San Antonio.

Heron Editor Ben Olivo contributed to this report.

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