This property is one of several in Government Hill that will become a small commercial retail building. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

A heated zoning fight in Government Hill, which has been ongoing for a year, has come to an end.

The City Council on Thursday rezoned a cluster of residential properties at Interstate 35 and North Walters Street into a lighter form of commercial, or C-1. The properties' two owners, a woman named Sara Martinez and the Jackson Cloma Living Trust, an entity managed by Frost Bank, plan to build a small retail building of roughly 18,000 square feet.

Martinez and the Jackson Cloma Living Trust had previously sought to rezone the properties to C-2, which would have allowed for larger forms of commercial use much to the ire of many nearby residents. All along the way, the majority of residents who live within 200 feet of the properties fought the heavier form of commercial, fearing they would eventually live next to a gas station, which Martinez and the trust planned at one point.

In the beginning, those who opposed rezoning the properties argued for the preservation of eight homes that currently stand there. Eventually, many of the nearby homeowners agreed to C-1, which allows for businesses that cater more to the neighborhood.

"The neighbors from within 200 feet, including myself as a future homeowner, are not against development or change," Erica Rangel, a Texas State University student who will inherit her parent's home down Sandmeyer Street, near the site, told the council. "We're just asking for a C-1 (designation). C-1 brings businesses that fit the neighborhood and will work for all of us."

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

Some in the neighborhood, most notably, housing advocate Marlene Hawkins, have continued to advocate for the preservation of the homes.

Martinez said she doesn't have the financial means to continue her landlord business.

"I have turned 70 years old now and I cannot work with the same energy as I did before," Martinez, who immigrated here from Mexico in 1968, told the council. "I don't have the energy, and I don't have the money to continue with the business either. ... I need this to be able to retire with dignity."

District 2 Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan had supported a C-2 designation. On Sept. 17, Andrews-Sullivan tried to get the designation passed, but was stymied by council members who had been bombarded by homeowners' concerns in their own districts who worried the Government Hill case could set a precedent for sharp commercial encroachment into a neighborhood.

Andrews-Sullivan said she backed the C-1 compromise, but didn't explain what changed her mind.

"I was not going to stop until we had something that benefits the District 2 area as a whole, but when I walked the property in Government Hill for myself, I didn't need to have anyone else tell me what was already understood."

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Related
» Flipping neighborhoods? Government Hill zoning case has San Antonio’s inner city communities worried
» City Council OKs rezoning residential land for commercial use in controversial Government Hill case
» Planning Commission recommends light commercial use for contentious Government Hill land
» Starbucks not opening on contentious Government Hill property
» Plans to demolish Government Hill homes for Starbucks denied

Heron Editor Ben Olivo can be reached at 210-421-3932 | ben@saheron.com | @rbolivo on Twitter

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.

Thai Lucky is moving into the spot once occupied by Rio de Gelato. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron
Thai Lucky is opening a new location at 102 Navarro St., which was last occupied by Rio de Gelato. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

East Side Asian dive restaurant Thai Lucky has signed a lease for a new restaurant in the former Rio de Gelato spot at 102 Navarro St. The building is more widely known to older San Antonians as the old Alaskan Palace bar.

Veida Thirath, the restaurant's owner, and the Conservation Society of San Antonio, the building's owner, confirmed the lease.

Thai Lucky's original location at 711 S. Pine St., six blocks east of the Alamodome, will remain opened, stressed Thirath, who opened Thai Lucky three years ago.

Thirath hopes to open in the 5,000-square-foot space on Navarro Street in November. The new restaurant will be called Thai Lucky Sushi Bar and will include sushi to accompany the Thai options. Hours will be 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

Thai Lucky is located at 711 S. Pine St. on the East Side. Owner Veida Thirath is opening a second location downtown at 102 Navarro St. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron
Thai Lucky is located at 711 S. Pine St. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron
Thai Lucky owner Veida Thirath gets to-go order ready at the location on South Pine Street. Thirath is getting ready to open another location downtown at 102 Navarro St.
Thai Lucky owner Veida Thirath gets to-go order ready at the location on South Pine Street. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron
The Woon Sen dish at Thai Lucky: Fried clear noodles with various veggies in a brown Thai sauce. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron
The Woon Sen dish at Thai Lucky: Fried clear noodles with various veggies in a brown Thai sauce. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

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Contact Ben Olivo at 210-421-3932 | ben@saheron.com | @rbolivo on Twitter

Instagram/Suck It: Kitchen & Bar
Instagram/Suck It: Kitchen & Bar

By Lea Thompson | San Antonio Current

Suck It Restaurant Group has confirmed its plans to expand in San Antonio and introduce a whole new restaurant concept, Suck It: Restaurant & Bar, which will open at St. Paul Square this winter.

While Suck It's Medical Center location offers Asian fusion specialties like Hakkasan ramen and mango fruteria-inspired bubble tea, the downtown restaurant will serve traditional Japanese dishes, sushi, spirits and alcoholic bubble tea.

"We're bringing a more traditional dining approach to the downtown restaurant," Executive Chef Vinh Hoang told the Current. "We also want to have the largest sake, Japanese whiskey and cognac lineup in San Antonio."

The new space, located just opposite from Smoke, will also provide patrons with a smaller, more intimate dining experience.

"I hate how loud the Medical Center restaurant can get. At the new restaurant, I'll be able to visit and speak with everyone," Hoang added.

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The menu has yet to be shared, but Suck It fans can follow the restaurant's progress via Facebook or Instagram.

This is a developing story, check back for updates.

LOCATION DETAILS

Related
REATA prepares to purchase more of St. Paul Square

This article is republished with permission from the San Antonio Current.

The San Antonio Current, San Antonio's award-winning alternative media company, has served as the city's premiere multimedia source of alternative news, events and culture since 1986.

REATA Real Estate plans to revive St. Paul Square with new restaurants and nightlife options. Rendering courtesy REATA

This story has been updated to reflect developer David Adelman's role.

With grand plans to revive St. Paul Square with local bars and restaurants, REATA Real Estate is getting ready to purchase five more buildings, which are currently owned by the city of San Antonio. The purchase would increase the San Antonio-based company's holdings in the east downtown district to at least a dozen.

In December 2017, REATA, through an entity called East Commerce Realty Llc, made its first big purchase by acquiring several St. Paul Square properties from Zachary Corp. Local developer David Adelman, through his company AREA Real Estate, is a partner in East Commerce Realty.

In that transaction, REATA also assumed leases on the five buildings it's now preparing to buy, and also on the Sunset Station depot venue, which is owned by VIA Metropolitan Transit.

In a roughly $8.5 million effort, REATA plans to rehab the buildings primarily along East Commerce Street and fill them with local restaurants and nightlife options. The company has already started. Toro Kitchen & Bar, for example, opened in March. Lilly's Greenville is a neighborhood bar which also opened in recent months. A pho restaurant is slated for 1167 E. Commerce St. opposite barbecue restaurant Smoke.

This maps shows properties REATA Real Estate owns, properties it leases and properties it is about to purchase. Map as of Sept. 3, 2013. Map by Heron and Google.
HERON | GOOGLE

REATA also plans to reactivate Sunset Station, the St. Paul Square courtyard and the Spire event spaces. The goal is to activate the area year-round. For many years, St. Paul Square has been predominantly frequented by people attending events at Sunset Station or the neighboring Alamodome.

"It's really food, beverage and entertainment," Lisa Hernandez, REATA's director of special projects, said. "We're not tearing down any buildings. We're not building any skyscrapers. We're really just enhancing buildings that have sat vacant for so many years."

The makeover will require minor construction.

Two weeks ago, the Inner City TIRZ board granted REATA $1.3 million for public upgrades that include new signage and lighting, crosswalks and sidewalks, landscaping, exterior awnings and rehab work to the exterior of Sunset Station. REATA is chipping in another $4 million into Sunset Station, and $3.2 million to rehab other building interiors, according to the city.

REATA has no plans to purchase Sunset Station, Hernandez said. Property records show the entity REATA purchased also owns the parking lots around Sunset Station.

REATA Real Estate is getting ready to purchase five buildings at St. Paul Square from the city of San Antonio. Rendering provided by city of San Antonio in August 2019.
COURTESY REATA

Hernandez said REATA will spend the next 12-18 months rehabbing and leasing the rest of its buildings. Construction on the infrastructure upgrades is expected to start in three months, she said.

City officials said they agreed to sell the buildings because of the firm's commitment to resuscitating St. Paul Square. As a tenant of the five buildings, REATA was having trouble securing corporate financing to renovate the historic structures, which had 20 years remaining on its leases.

"It was important to us that we had a plan that made sense with an entity whose strength is in this type of retail environment," said Pete Alanis, the city's real estate administrator. "There have been a lot of attempts over the decades to try to revitalize this area."

When asked what makes this makeover attempt different than past attempts at St. Paul Square, Hernandez said REATA "has 18 years of commercial and property management experience. They were founded here. They know the business very well. They've done this a few times."

According to the city, the properties were appraised at $1.5 million by an independent appraiser. The city is selling the properties for $1.7 million, which will feed into the city's Community Development Block Grant program.

The city, which collects roughly $100,000 a year from the five properties, will have the option to buy them back if they're not "substantially renovated within a two-year period."

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As part of the deal, the city can use the Lone Star Pavilion 12 days of the year for events at no cost.

REATA and city officials are hoping the St. Paul Square project will create a kind of near-East Side synergy with other developments happening nearby. VelocityTX, an accelerator hub for bioscience and life science companies, is currently under construction on the site of the old Merchants Ice House. Neighboring projects such as The Baldwin, which was recently sold, and the condo high-rise Vidorra add a few hundred residents a stone's throw from St. Paul Square.

The Planning Commission approved the sale last week. The City Council still has to sign off on the transaction in the coming weeks.

Contact Ben Olivo at 210-421-3932 | ben@saheron.com | @rbolivo on Twitter

Signs encouraging homeowners to sell their homes stand upright in a front yard on Paul Street in Denver Heights. Photo by V. Finster | Heron

Last week, valuations were sent to property owners across Bexar County. We requested the latest data from the appraisal district for Government Hill, Dignowity Hill and Denver Heights, the three near East Side neighborhoods that have become case studies for gentrification in San Antonio.

We crunched the latest appraisal data to find the median property value for each neighborhood, a method we prefer over the average because it's more accurate and representative of what's going on in these communities.

Here's what we found.

» Dignowity Hill has the highest median value at $170,890. That's a 23 percent increase from last year's median figure of $138,850, and a 189.5 percent soar from the 2015 figure of $59,010.

» Government Hill's median value came in at $116,370, which is a 11.7 percent increase from last year's figure of $104,100. The latest middle value in Government Hill has also appreciated 75.8 percent since the 2015 value of $66,180.

» Denver Heights' median property value is $99,190, which is a 13.7 percent increase from $87,190 in 2018. In the last five years, the median value has skyrocketed 163.9 percent from the 2015 figure of $37,580.

This is the data side of things. In the coming days, look for our report as we go into Government Hill and Denver Heights and talk to residents in the midst of the property value boom.

It's worth noting that Government Hill and Denver Heights are two of three neighborhoods the city is considering in which to freeze city property taxes for no more than 10 years, through a state law called neighborhood empowerment zones (NEZs).

The other community being considered for NEZ designation would be in the near West Side close to the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). West Side preservation groups have warned about potential displacement of residents as a result of UTSA's expansion, which it plans to execute over the next 10 years.

Previously published
» Tax freezes sought for near West Side, Denver Heights, Government Hill
» Anticipating UTSA's impact on the historic West Side

Contact Ben Olivo: 210-421-3932 | ben@saheron.com | @rbolivo on Twitter

On the shuttle from Freeman Coliseum to MLK Academy, the starting place of the Martin Luther King Jr. March, I remember thinking how the civil rights movement started, partially, on busses. And when the shuttle dropped us off just before MLK Freedom Bridge on Monday, I thought of Selma, Alabama. Unintentionally, the city of San Antonio has made a metaphorical journey through the civil rights movement before ending with a march in honor of it.

We walked across the bridge until reaching MLK Academy on the far East Side: people sang, took selfies, locked arms, played music through speakers and unrolled banners with quotes from King. The crowd grew from a few hundred to a few thousand a few minutes after I arrived at MLK Academy: the influx was from a train that delayed hundreds of cars and a few of the shuttle buses. There were several groups representing historically black colleges and universities, MOVE Texas, True Vision Church, Democratic Socialists of America, etc. They left their signs in the air for the entire march, with the view only interrupted by people holding bags of popcorn in front of them.

A few minutes into the march, marchers holding a banner that said "Southwest Workers Union" cut through the crowd and stopped it. Democratic Socialists of America stops along with them, with most of the crowd maneuvering around the banner. These stop-and-chants continued with other groups throughout the march, but there were too many people in front of the banners to see.

Several times throughout the march I heard people commenting on the newly renovated homes next to boarded up and condemned ones. Those who've been attending the parade for years would point to houses, saying someone lived in them last year or two years before and now live somewhere farther north, south, east or west in the city. This kind of East Side neighborhood flight is evident in the marchers' conversations, too. I had to squeeze past people who stopped to hug familiar faces once they found them in the parade, often, saying they missed seeing each other in the neighborhood.

Just before the march crossed under I-10, a group of 10 GM&N Auto Tale and Auto Income employees, standing outside watching, continued a tradition started by the Rev. Raymond Callies in the 1980s, playing MLK speeches on a loudspeaker. From down the street, I could see their heads bobbing. When I got closer I heard the unmistakable instrumental of Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues." MLK's speech was being played over a song critical of inner-city ghettos and what created them, across from a strip of condemned homes, one of which, on a boarded window, "MLK" was spray painted.

At the end of the march, I sat down in front of a house to rewrite my shorthand notes. Next to me was Debra Brandon, a part-time benefits coordinator for Alamo Colleges and volunteer with the San Antonio African American Community Archive Museum. She was resting on the same stoop I was, admiring a march that she's seen grow since Rev. Callies, the march's founder, participated in them some 50 years ago. Brandon has been on the front page of the now-defunct San Antonio Light several times, because she was at the front of the march so often.

She remembers driving on the intersection of New Braunfels Avenue and East Houston Street, giving Callies change towards a statue of MLK, which was eventually erected on what is now MLK Plaza. "Anybody who has died and benefitted not just black people, but all people, deserves recognition," she said.

San Antonio does not, from someone not aware of its issues, seem like a city that's more reverent to MLK than Memphis, Selma, or Birmingham. But Callies, and the churches and groups he organized with, constituting the roots of San Antonio grassroots activism, all directly contributing to the march as it is today. There's no reason why San Antonio would not house the largest MLK march in the nation: it has, whether fortunate or unfortunate, always had active community organizations responding to injustice.

Gaige Davila, a native of South Padre Island, is a Heron reporter.

Contact Gaige Davila: 956-372-4776 | gaige@saheron.com | @gaigedavila on Twitter

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