Opinion: High Rise Apartments Proposed For Alamo Heights

Written by Bill Kiel on .

Update: Feb. 15, 2013

zoningmap thumbPublic Hearing Feb. 26, 2013  5:30 PM – City Council Chambers

A new development project is being proposed for downtown Alamo Heights by Alamo Manhattan LLP, a Dallas based development company specializing in large scale apartment buildings. The location for the project is the intersection of Austin Hwy and Broadway on Ed Kopplow's property and will cover BOTH Ausway Park and Ausway Lane.

Alamo Manhattan plans to cover 85% of the consolidated acre-sized lot.
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Plans for the Alamo Manhattan LLP project include an 85 foot tall, six story apartment building with 230-245 apartment units and 70-75 two or three bedroom units. There will be two levels of underground parking to accommodate the 460-490 spaces required by City Codes.

The Spanish stucco design is similar to the iconic Mobile Station.
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The Ausway Project was planned to be residential only – no retail. However, I’ve heard they are considering including a café because of pressure from City Officials.

The developer is not assuming any financial incentives from the City but they are assuming a land contribution from the City for the “Christmas tree” property and the adjacent rights-of-way. However ownership may reside with Bexar County, according to the developer. Since that discovery Alamo Manhattan has begun pursuing a conveyance of the Ausway Park property from Bexar County through Kevin Wolfe.

If Bexar County is going to convey the land to anyone shouldn’t that be the City of Alamo Heights?

Alamo Manhattan is seeking the following variances from the City
1) Front yard setback from 25’ to 10’
2) Lot coverage from 35% to 85%
3) Height from 35’ (and 2.5 stories) to 85’ (and six stories)
4) Parking: from 2 spaces per unit to 1.5 spaces per unit
5) Lot area: less site SF per unit
6) Possible variances related to restaurant use

Traditionally variances are either granted through a Special Use Permit (SUP) or from the Board of Adjustments (BOA). This is cumbersome and uncertain for the developer. The City has proposed a concept called a Planned Unit Development (PUD). Essentially, this bypasses the normal zoning code and establishes special building codes for the project area. It’s really spot zoning but lawyers and developers freak out when that word is used because it’s illegal in Texas. A PUD will also require the City pass an “Enabling Ordinance”. This will establish authority for City Council to grant PUDs to developers irrespective of zoning. This is how the developer sees the process.

Approvals Required
• New PUD created with revisions for:
      Lot area, density, setbacks
      Building height
• PUD standards only apply to this site
• Architectural Review Board
• Land conveyance from City

There are numerous challenges for this project.

Building Height: 85 ft versus 40 ft maximum in the Codes.

Off street parking: 2 per dwelling unit, 400-500 parking spaces. Will the underground parking accommodate this? How expensive will underground parking be? Depth of hole? Street access to the underground garage? Will flooding and ground water complicate this plan?

Building Offsets / lot coverage: Codes will require a more restrictive footprint. The six story building will be only 10’ from the street. Existing codes require 25’.

Use of Public Lands: Most of us have assumed that Ausway Park and the adjacent street were owned by Alamo Heights. The developer thinks Bexar County is the owner. Either way it is still public land and covering a park with a high rise apartment may not be popular with voters.

Limited Retail: Without retail there will be no sales tax revenue. That significantly reduces the financial benefit to the City. A $40 million project only contributes $158,000 in property tax to Alamo Heights, about 1.7% of the General Fund Revenues. This is not the financial game-changer that developers and some City officials want you to believe.

Traffic Congestion: Adding 400-500 cars to this busy, highly prominent intersection, could be a problem. Hopefully a traffic study will be conducted before the project is considered for approval.

Flood Plain: A portion of the land is in the flood plain. How does more impervious cover affect flooding?

Pressure on Limited Resources: As we’ve seen the last two years our water supplies are barely adequate. Adding high density housing will require the acquisition of additional water rights. This will be expensive and will increase the cost of water for all of us. Water and sewer lines will also need to be upgraded. Demand for EMS and Police protection will increase. All of this offsets the property tax revenues.

Schools: High density housing will increase the pressure on our school district very rapidly. Will AHISD be able to accommodate this? Apartment developers want to build in Alamo Heights because of the high quality schools and our City services.

Building Size: Although actual square footage is not available, a reasonable range is 200,000 to 250,000 square feet. For purposes of scale this is more than three times the size of Central Market.

Public Unit District: Will it force something on our City we don’t want? Is a precedent being set that will allow PUDs anywhere?

Underground Parking Garage: To accommodate all the cars a two level garage covering most of the site (about an acre) will have to be constructed. The hole will be ~20-25’ deep and will require the excavation of 32,000 – 40,000 cubic yards of rock. Hauling off that material will require 2700-3300 dump truck load (12 yd truck). Larger trucks will haul more but will damage our streets even more.

I encourage citizens to show up for the hearing and voice opinion’s about this proposed project and offer suggestions for alternative development ideas.

Redevelopment of our commercial sector is important to Alamo Heights but we must look carefully at a project’s benefits AND costs to the community, especially when exceptions to our building codes are required.

Related images:

ausway map1 thumb  victory park thumb  katy trails thumb   email thumb

Additional Alamo Manhattan Projects


#16 Sarah 2013-02-22 10:19
Well another Wrong Again Sarah LOL but I emailed the correct info this morning to Wolff. I asked him to come to the meeting in case he hadn't heard about it.
#15 wfkiel 2013-02-22 06:16
I understand your confusion. I was quoting an Alamo Manhattan document. They refer to Ausway Park as the Christmas Tree property because that's where the City puts the Christmas Tree.

The reference to Bexar County and Kevin Wolfe were also in Alamo Manhattan emails obtained thru a PIA. I'm sure Mr. Wolfe would love to hear from some Alamo Heights residents and voters.
#14 Sarah 2013-02-21 22:46
Bill, thanks again for all your research into Alamo Manhattan's Project. The information you have provided us with in advance of the public meeting, in my opinion, is probably far more than we will be told at the meeting by the developers and Messrs. Kopplow and Peacock. Without your story the media would never have been able to publicize it for the citizens. The city did not send out an eblast as promised at Council, but that is not at all surprising.

In re-reading your information, I caught something that went past me the first go-round:
" The developer is not assuming any financial incentives from the City but they are assuming a land contribution from the City for the “Christmas tree” property and the adjacent rights-of-way. However ownership may reside with Bexar County, according to the developer. Since that discovery Alamo Manhattan has begun pursuing a conveyance of the Ausway Park property from Bexar County through Kevin Wolfe."

The "Christmas Tree" property is actually Albert Earl Plaza, named to honor Police Chief Albert Earl, who served Alamo Heights for 27 years. Why do they want Albert Earl Plaza? Just guessing, if they paved it over, it would provide the safest location for access to the underground parking. Why would they assume the city would contribute Albert Earl Plaza?

Do we know Bexar County Commisioner pct 3 Kevin Wolff's stance on this issue? Seems to me it would be helpful if we all called, faxed, and emailed him to give him our opinion.

101 W. Nueva, Suite 1007, 10th floor
Phone: 210-335-2613
#13 wfkiel 2013-02-18 06:19
All the information came from a PIA (public information request) I made of the City. By law they must turn over the documents if they are in their possession. The drawings were in the developer's packet presentation and was the same one I saw a month earlier.
I also received emails between the developer and the City to help with a chronology of the project. This was useful for the PDD (Planned Development District) and the Ausway Park ownership issue.
#12 CyberJoe 2013-02-17 20:13
Where did all this information come from Bill?
Where did you get it?
Who gave it to you?
The article above doesn't cite your source.
Did Alamo Manhattan give it to you?
#11 Semper fi 2013-02-16 20:29
Folks, this is how you fit 245 families on an acre of land. And they said it would never happen.
#10 RedNeckRick 2013-02-15 17:59
Rainier, I was talking about the one already start up AH just down and across from the bun and barrel and on the north side of AH. That deal fell apart a few years ago but has resurfaced. That would be 2 large complexes adding to the AHISD load.
#9 wfkiel 2013-02-15 13:35
To the developer's credit, they did look at our Comprehensive Plan. However the only part they took from it was to build over the park and have underground parking.

The CP calls for a "Main Street zone generally built to the right-of-way with shop fronts at ground floor, with offices and residences above ... 2-4 stories ...parking to the rear, underground, in shared parking facilities..."

If Alamo Manhattan could scale their project back to 4 stories, have one underground parking level and use the ground floor for retail shops and restaurant then I think the'll have a winner.

I think they could easily get variances to do this or change the zoning in the downtown commercial area to accommodate the CP design guidelines. No need for a spot zoning PUD.
#8 Sally G 2013-02-15 13:31
I think it is great that they are putting the parking underground!
#7 Windywords 2013-02-15 13:12
If I'm calculating it right, a $40 million appraisal of the property would generate about $479,000 in annual school taxes, at the current rate of 1.198% tax rate. That wouldn't seem NEAR enough to cover the construction of a new school building. (That would barely build a house in Alamo Heights... )
#6 Rainier 2013-02-15 08:25

Scroll up. They've decided where they want to build it.
#5 RedNeckRick 2013-02-14 18:35
I'm not sure what the tax revenue is from an apartment complex but the real question is where would the build it??
#4 Rainier 2013-02-14 17:10
Tax Hawk,

Have you any idea how many dollars the development will contribute annually to school tax revenue? I do not, but I would be very interested in the answer. I would imagine there are numerous studies out there that could tell a city council committed to representing concerned citizens, and a school board interested in its constituents, just how much revenue an apartment complex contributes in revenue versus the number of students it sends to school.
#3 Tax Hawk 2013-02-14 13:15
RNR yes but look at all the school taxes that AHISD will collect, they will be able to build another building without another bond election.
#2 RedNeckRick 2013-02-13 19:25
Bill, As far as the schools are concerned, the new condo/apartment s being built at 1111 Austin Highway are going to add to the district load well before this thing would ever break ground. That may be more than the district can handle.
#1 Sarah 2013-02-13 17:31
Gerald Stool is the driving force behind Alamo Manhattan, according to his website at http://www.greenwayinvestment.com/bios.html#stool .

They already have a San Antonio property on San Pedro. "Although it was necessary to foreclose on the borrower, Greenway moved forward with a clear vision and plan of action".

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