Construction could finally begin early this fall on Argyle Residential’s long-planned four-story apartment complex at Broadway and Austin Highway in Alamo Heights.
The City Council in July unanimously approved the basic design for mixed-use development, which will feature 150 apartment units and 5,100 square feet of retail space.
One of the city’s largest construction projects in years has also been one of its most controversial.
When a previous developer, Alamo Manhattan, proposed the project, many residents objected to it, arguing it was too tall and big and that it would exacerbate neighborhood traffic, parking and drainage issues.
But the project has its share of backers, who say it could be an economic development catalyst, and demonstrate Alamo Heights as a prime place for new upscale, affordable living opportunities.
The city granted a special use permit in 2015, approving Argyle’s project with conditions such as ensuring that part of Ellwood Avenue remain open.
The SUP also provided a variance to the city’s maximum height requirement, which prompted public fears that the project would set a precedence for similar large-scale development in Alamo Heights.
Following the granting of the SUP, various agencies had spent months examining the area’s drainage patterns and floodplain before approving the project.
“It feels good,” Argyle managing director John Burnham said after the council approved the design.
Burnham said now that the contentious discussions are over, he hopes even critics will end up appreciating the benefits of the development, once all the construction has concluded.
Construction is expected to take 22 months on the $40 million project. Local architectural firm Overland Partners and North Texas firm GFF Architects collaborated on the design.
“I hope they’ll look at it and say it was a positive for Alamo Heights,” he added.
Nearly all of the parking for the apartment complex and retail spaces will be allocated to a multi-story underground garage.
Some street-level parking will also be available on the adjacent streets of Fenimore and Circle, near existing retail properties such as Paloma Blanca restaurant.
Mayor Bobby Rosenthal said the developers have done all they can to scale down and revise their concept to make it more palatable to neighbors and local officials. He is confident Argyle will keep working in good faith with the city’s interest at heart.
“They’ve been straightforward all the way through. They’ve complied with everything we’ve asked them for in the SUP,” he said.
Rampart Construction Co., the general contractor, will have a staging area near the Bank of America branch on Broadway. During excavation, trucks will roll south on Austin Highway, enter the tract to scoop up soil and rock, turn around the property and head back north on Austin Highway.
A tiny patch of city property, bound by Ausway Lane, Broadway and Austin Highway, will stay open as an open greenspace post-construction.
A few residents still had their doubts about the project. Janet Hans said the building still looks too big and tall for its surroundings. “It will be sidewalk to sidewalk with concrete,” she said. “There’s nothing beautiful or charming about this.”
Julian Hall, president of the Alamo Heights Neighborhood Association, said his organization hopes the city will closely monitor the construction phase, and that the city and developer regularly update residents on the project’s progress.
The council agreed to a recommendation made by the city’s Architectural Review Board that the final design include a cupola-like roof feature on the building’s southern-facing exterior as envisioned in the project’s initial design.
City leaders said the project and its design was good enough.“It’s reasonable and significant looking,” Councilman Lawson Jessee said of the cupola-like aesthetic, which will not include living space. “It adds weight to the corner.”
“It looks beautiful; you can’t deny it,” Councilman Fred Prassel added.
McNay Director Returns From Leadership Program
McNay Art Museum Director Richard Aste recently returned from Cambridge, Mass., where he attended Harvard Business School’s Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management course, an opportunity made possible by a scholarship from the Harvard Business School Club of San Antonio.According to a news release, HBS Club of San Antonio’s mission is to foster camaraderie, community outreach, involvement and education of alumni of the Harvard Business School in the greater San Antonio and South Texas area. Aste is the first recipient of this scholarship, which seeks to better prepare the city’s nonprofit leaders to serve their communities in more effective ways. Harvard Business School’s alumni have provided the scholarship funds with the goal of helping improve the quality of life in San Antonio, the release stated.
The SPNM program is part of Harvard Business School’s Social Enterprise Initiative flagship program. Each session serves more than 140 executives from diverse nonprofit backgrounds and nationalities.
Aste, only the third director in McNay’s history, has already emphasized the importance of making a positive community impact through his role with the venerable Alamo Heights-area arts organization.
“The word ‘transformative’ is often tossed around to describe an executive training program,” Aste said in the release, “but this one was truly life-changing. Harvard’s SPNM program provided me, the McNay and San Antonio with the necessary skills and networks to lead today’s nonprofits across a shifting cultural landscape. I look forward to sharing this powerful resource with the communities we so proudly serve —and empower — at the museum.”
AH Leaders Oppose Push Against Tree Ordinances
The Alamo Heights City Council voted July 24 to pass a resolution opposing the state legislature’s attempt to outlaw local tree mitigation ordinances.
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In this summer’s special session, Gov. Greg Abbott asked state lawmakers to consider measures that would prevent cities, counties and homeowners associations from restricting property owners’ removal of trees or other vegetation. Abbott and supporters of the bills said tree mitigation ordinances are unfair to private property owners.
Opponents said local tree regulations, which exist in more than 50 Texas cities, merely ask a property owner to pay a fee for removing certain trees or to replant trees after cutting is complete. Opponents have also said local ordinances are not so onerous, and that this was another example of the state legislature trying to strip abilities from local governments.
Alamo Heights Mayor Bobby Rosenthal said he thought the resolution would not make much difference in the legislature. “But we might as well speak out,” the mayor added.
According to former City Councilman Bill Kiel, many residents have stated in a survey that the abundance of trees is one of the reasons they moved to Alamo Heights.
“It’s unfortunate that this is disguised as a political mechanism rather than something that benefits the community,” said Councilwoman Lynda Billa Burke. “This strips our ability to control what we have.”
By Edmond Oritz