CURRENTLY SEEKING REZONING FROM R-5 to IDZ-2
Part A- Reason for Requesting the Change
The project team seeks zoning modification to allow for the construction of additional dwelling units carefully oriented toward the San Antonio River in a configuration that more sensitively addresses the public viewsheds. Current zoning controls would result in “side-facing,” secondary facades presented to the primary public spaces adjacent.
The project team also proposes to provide a thoughtful visual termination of the San Antonio River Reach trail system into private property along the western bank of the river. The current trail termination dead-ends into Theo Ave. and lacks integration with the more extensive trail network on the eastern riverbank. We propose to build a modest, low-scale masonry wall in alignment with and in the same materiality as the existing trailhead to the south to clearly indicate conclusion of the western trail alignment and suggest continuation across the Theo Street bridge on the eastern riverbank trail network.
* Excerpts from the SA Tomorrow- Downtown Area Regional Center Plan have been included throughout this narrative in red font.
Part B- Explanation of how the request is consistent and compatible with the City’s Master Plan and Downtown Neighborhood Plan.
The vacant parcels at 317 E. Theo St. are located within the SA Tomorrow Downtown Area Regional Plan. The current zoning of these parcels is R-5 RIO 4, and they are located in the World Heritage Buffer Zone with a future land use of “Urban Low Density Residential”.
This rezoning proposal is in strict conformance with the future land use, and further strives to meet many of the aspirations of the Downtown Area Regional Plan as follows:
Land Use: The application contained herein proposes to modify the existing use from that allowable in the R-5 Single Family Dwelling zoning to those allowable in the RM-5 Residential Mixed zoning. Because of site orientation considerations, the requested zoning is most appropriately labelled as IDZ-2, but all use characteristics of the proposal strictly conform to those permitted in the RM-5 District. The proposal includes a total of 8 “Residential Mixed” dwelling units in one and three-family configurations as follows:
- Five (5) Townhomes, permitted in the RM-5 District per UDC 35-311 Table 311-1 with minimum lot sizes of 15’ wide by 80’ deep per UDC 35-373 (b) (4, 5, &7).
- One (1) triplex, permitted in the RM-5 zoning District per UDC 35-310.06(a)(1)(b).
Density: The “Urban Low Density Residential” outlined in the SA Tomorrow Plan “includes a range of housing types including single-family attached and detached houses on individual lots, small lot residences, duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, cottage homes, manufactured homes, low-rise garden- style apartments, and manufactured home parks.”
Worth addressing directly, the “Urban Low Density Residential” category suggests that “TYPICAL densities in this land use category would range from 7 to 18 dwelling units per acre.”  “TYPICAL” is a critical distinction in the description of the Plan, as the proposal included herein falls slightly above this typical density range at 23 Units/ Acre, but is still clearly conforming to the “Urban Low Density Residential” future land use category within the constraints of the explicitly approved RM-5 zoning district. The solution proposed conforms to the Downtown Area Regional Plan’s recommended future land use.
Building Size and Setbacks:
All existing R-5 setbacks, height limitations, and other building size controls are respected in the included rezoning request if the site is considered as a single site. The proposed IDZ site plan conforms to all current form-based controls for the site, and voluntarily implements more limiting controls to both side setbacks than those currently in place.
Per the SA Tomorrow Downtown Area Plan, one of the three main challenges in the Downtown Area Regional Center related to Housing is the ability to maintain the opportunity for all housing unit types, new and old. “The City’s recently revised “IDZ” Infill Development Zone zoning is a helpful tool to facilitate successful infill development, but the rezoning process is a risk that may deter developers. The Strategic Framework Plan called for a form-based zoning approach to address design challenges and ease the barriers to housing development. But, the form-based approach has not worked as initially envisioned (and despite several revisions), as developments in the River North area with the form-based zoning have had challenges meeting a number of the form-based standards. “
This proposal is in keeping with current regulatory best practice: IDZ rezoning is acknowledged and accepted by the Downtown Regional Plan as the best-current-mechanism to accomplish many of the Plan’s stated housing-related goals. This proposal additionally adheres to all existing form-related R-5 controls for the site, which is the City’s best alternative method to facilitate the continued creation of diversified housing options as called for by the Plan (Goal 6).
Comparison to the Base Case Development Scenario:
The Base Case for construction on this vacant land also merits consideration within the context of this proposal. The site is currently configured as two land parcels with a total area of 15,000 square feet, or 0.344 Acres per survey work performed by Vickrey and Associates included in this application. Per Development Services’ Platting department, there is a high likelihood that the site will need to be replatted prior to construction, and in doing so, it would seem like a natural conclusion that this 15,000 square foot site could just as easily be one R-5 parcel or three R-5 parcels at that time.
For most builders, this would create a base case construction scenario including three newly-constructed single family homes on conforming and conventionally-oriented R-5 sites fronting Theo Ave. These three homes would include no maximum square footage limitation aside from minimum setbacks, or maximum allowable parking count per home within the UDC constraints for the currently permitted single family use. According to the 2020 US Census, the median size of new single family home sold in 2020 was 2,333 Square feet, and it is not unlikely to assume that these desirable, river-adjacent sites would follow suit with a total built square footage of approximately 7,000 Square feet.
Standard R-5 zoning was not initially codified to address the fairly unique condition of this site, and we believe that acknowledgement of this reality is worth embracing. What we are proposing in the included IDZ rezoning proposal represents a built condition and use intensity that is similar to the Base Case scenario above. The primary difference in outcome between the Base Case and the Proposed is that the built form embraced by this IDZ proposal shows sensitivity in an acknowledgement and celebration of the site’s visibility from and orientation to one of our communities most important cultural corridors, the San Antonio River.
The proposal seeks inspiration from the Downtown Area Plan in Housing Implementation Strategy 2.3, to “Identify opportunities and remove barriers for existing neighborhoods to accommodate additional housing by allowing for smaller lots, accessory dwelling units, and middle-density housing types”  alongside Goal 8, to “create healthy and sustainable urban neighborhoods through high-quality urban design”. While the Base Case outcome generates relatively few, fairly expensive single-family dwellings, the IDZ site plan presented here offers more, more-affordable, and more-appropriately-sized housing units to complement the surrounding neighborhood and cultural fabric in a thoughtful, site-sensitive manner.
This proposal ensures that the reasonably likely Base Case scenario above will not come to pass: the side façade of a builder-grade home fronting the River on this prominently located site. It is our opinion that conforming, speculative single family home construction in this particular location does not constitute high-quality urban design, and would be an unfortunate outcome for the community and urban landscape.
Part C: Additional Benefits to the Public:
The proposal is in keeping with the intentions of the SA Tomorrow Plan and directly seeks to meet many of the higher level Goals memorialized in the Plan. While some of these aspirations are difficult to capture on a site plan, or challenging to enforce through rezoning action, it is the project team’s every intent to continue to develop these qualities and design attributes into a project that is a genuine contribution and net improvement for the neighborhood, surrounding community, and City as a whole.
The site in consideration is located across Theo street from a San Antonio Riverwalk: Mission Reach trailhead, which is an important community asset. The trailhead itself is carefully and well-designed to receive people from the street and bring them down into the trail system- it is very successful in this regard. However, the river-west bank has limited connectivity to the north, and it is not uncommon for trail users to be forced onto Theo street through this trailhead as the trail discontinues at the project site.
In order to continue travelling north along the trail system, users must traverse the Theo Street Bridge to the river-east bank in order to connect with the extensive trail system on the other side of the River. This is not immediately clear to users unfamiliar with the trail system, and this can be an uncomfortable disconnect for those that are familiar.
The project team proposes to build a modest masonry wall to match the Theo Street trailhead across the street that will provide some additional wayfinding support for the trail system as it terminates into private property. This is in keeping with the Plan’s aspirations in Goal 9: Enhance wayfinding, key gateways, and critical connections
Missing Middle Housing:
The Downtown Area Plan embraces the need for optionality in the housing pool throughout the Downtown Area in its high-level guidance:
The proposal put fourth here is composed exclusively of missing middle housing typologies as identified by the missing middle housing movement in the townhouse and triplex formats. These types of residential space have been largely underrepresented in recent past development efforts, and are important alternatives for a variety of household types in the Downtown Area. These new units are proposed for renters, and are not speculative for-sale construction. We are proposing to provide renters with architect-driven, design forward housing at a reasonable scale, and the very nature of our unit design is focused on smaller, higher quality spaces that can be offered at an inclusive price to the rental community.
Sustainable Case Study:
The Plan also seeks to promote important design considerations in it’s high-level guidance for the Area:
Goal 8: Promote Safety, Health and Sustainability. This proposal, is predicated on embedding the aforementioned qualities into a fairly important and highly visible site on the San Antonio River. Physical health and well-being are deeply intertwined with our built environment, and the project team has a demonstrated history of sensitivity to issues of health and sustainability.
The team’s previous project, Boston Commons, integrates physical, experiential, and landscape design into a comprehensive missing middle housing solution. This previous project received commendation from the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects for excellence in design. Each housing unit includes locally-produced solar arrays; residents benefit from their own solar production, encouraging awareness while also reducing their bills. To our knowledge, these were the first one-over-one duplex structures in San Antonio to receive any type of approval from CPS for connection of a customer-owned solar array to their power grid.
The project team has a tangible sensitivity to community-level health and sustainability. We are a mom-and-pop owner/ operator who respects our neighbors, residents, and contractors in pursuit of High-Quality Places at all levels of the process. We are a women-owned company and hyper-local hirer who supports neighborhood tradesman and gender equality on the work site.
It is for the reasons outlined above that we believe that the rezoning request submitted is in keeping with the current Downtown Area Plan, appropriate for the site, and a genuine contribution to the urban fabric of the neighborhood. Thank you very much for your time and effort in consideration of this request. Please feel free to contact us if we can provide any additional information or if there is anything that we can do to facilitate the process.