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:

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