Senator Jose Menendez, October 2021
In March the LNA board reviewed an alternative proposal. The minutes from that discussion can be found here.
Over the course of 2018-2019, the LNA hosted multiple community meetings with residents of Lavaca and specific meetings with Artisan Park townhome residents whose homes are adjacent to the park. In February 2020, the LNA was notified that a portion of the park leased to COSA from SAHA may become part of the proposed Victoria Commons development. The pandemic put planning on hold, but the LNA has continued to work with SAHA and COSA on possible land swap and/or rehabilitation of the Administration building to be a community center.
In 2021, a group of architecture students worked with community members to propose a number of possibilities for use of the Admin building which would preserve the park space.
The LNA is currently working with Council District 1 office to obtain bond funds to support the park. Among the most popular requests have been to keep the basketball court and add another and a dog park. There is also a strong push from residents to maintain as much open, non-programmed space as possible.
The Patio Proposal
E-blast sent 8/16/2021
|IDZ vs IDZ 1, 2, 3|
Additional note: IDZ was adopted in 2011 by City of San Antonio to encourage inner city development. Victoria Courts was one of the first properties designated IDZ. However, it became clear that IDZ was too broad, allowing for indiscriminate development. In 2017, a task force was created to review IDZ designation. In 2018, IDZ was adjusted to include levels 1, 2, and 3 each of which had more restrictions than IDZ. However, properties designated IDZ prior to 2018 were allowed to maintain that designation.
|The areas within Victoria Commons up for consideration in the proposed zoning change:|
Administration building, which includes the basketball courts and a portion of Labor St Park
Artisan Park, the area between the current townhomes and Leigh St single family homes.
North and South Basins
All these are currently zoned IDZ.
The current zoning allows for zero lot line building, zero off-street parking, and no site plan to be approved in advance. The builders do have to adhere to two of the five requirements and can choose which two they want.
The proposed zoning changes to IDZ-2 and IDZ-3 is a downzoning.
Both IDZ-2 and IDZ-3 require off-street parking while the current zoning does not. “50% reduction” is a reduction from IDZ-1 requirements. The land is not currently zoned IDZ-1. The zoning request includes an increase in parking requirements.
The current IDZ zoning does not require a traffic analysis.
The current IDZ allows the developer to adhere to a 10% difference in building height, but if the developer chooses any two of the other four options, there are no height restrictions. IDZ-2 limits building height to 4 stories. IDZ 3 allows additional stories but must adhere to the site plan as originally proposed and approved.
IDZ allows for building to the edge of the property line on either side. IDZ-2 and IDZ-3 require at least a 5 foot setback from the property line.
More explanations of the IDZ-1, 2, and 3 categories below:
Because the Administration building includes a significant portion of the park, and because green space is essential, In October of 2020, the LNA recommended SAHA reconsider the plans for this building in such a way that it would maintain the entire park for public use. See items 2 and 7 here.
The LNA continues to work with SAHA, Catellus and the City of San Antonio to discuss possible uses of the Administration building the preserve both its historic integrity and allows for maximum utilization of the park space.
In sum, the zoning request is as follows, from IDZ to:The Townhomes Site will now be classified as IDZ-2. The North and South Basin Sites and Administration Building Site will be classified as IDZ-3 with no ground-floor commercial but uses such as daycare, community/civic, educational or amenities are allowed. While the ultimate use of the Administration Building Site is still to be determined, by including it as IDZ-3 in this rezone process, it allows greater flexibility for future discussions while providing the restrictions included in IDZ-3.
The Child Care Site will not be included in this rezoning application and will remain IDZ with all current allowable uses. For the Child Care Site, during preliminary meetings with City staff on the zoning, they noted that the current zoning is sufficient for the planned uses and they did not advise including it in the re-zone process. This does not change the planned use of the site; it is still planned for townhomes with a density of 20 units per acre and heights up to three stories.
Should the zoning commission choose to support the zoning request, this would lead to:
Increase in parking requirements
Increase in setbacks
Limits on height
Should the zoning commission choose to oppose the zoning request, this would allow:
Zero off-street parking
Minimal limits on height
Traffic and the impact of density on existing infrastructure continue to be a concern for the LNA, as noted in items 3 & 6 on October 23, 2020. In its letter on July 1, 2021, the LNA recommended that a an updated traffic study be conducted and a 4-way stop be considered at Labor and Leigh St. The LNA continues in discussions regarding alternate access to I-37 and additional outlets onto Labor St, provided these do not impact the use of the park.
October 23, 2020
Chief Legal and Real Estate Officer
San Antonio House Authority
818 S. Flores St.
San Antonio, Texas 78204
Re: SAHA/Catellus Development of Victoria Commons
Dear Mr. Alcott:
The Lavaca Neighborhood Association supports the mission of SAHA and respectfully requests the following concerns be given deep consideration
1. Requested Zoning Change
Currently, the entire Victoria Commons site is zoned “IDZ.” What is SAHA’s rationale for requesting IDZ-3 zoning instead?
2. Limited Useable Park Space
Bexar County has great health disparities reflecting disparities in socioeconomic status across zip code. From the 2019 Bexar County Community Health Needs Assessment, a resident of District 1 or 3 has a life expectancy almost 20 years less than a resident of the northside. Access to park space is linked to public health outcomes and is an essential component of health equity. While the demographics of Lavaca have changed in the last decade, Lavaca is predominantly a working class neighborhood, with significant health disparities. In 2010, SA2020 set a goal of increasing walkable access to parks by 50%. SAHA’s Mission is to “improve lives and resident independence.” Improving lives means improving health outcomes, which is impacted by access to parks.
The proposed plan would remove up to 20% of Labor Street Park, the only park located within Lavaca. Labor Street Park’s open spaces are vital to the Lavaca community, allowing for neighborhood picnics and other gatherings, softball and kickball games, and much more. The basketball courts in particular are heavily utilized, providing much needed physical activity to all residents of Lavaca, especially the families living in Refugio and Hemisview apartments. Replacing even 20% of the park space with housing will have a negative impact on the health and wellness of Lavaca residents and is contrary to SAHA’s mission to integrate affordable housing “into the fabric of the neighborhood.” The irregular green spaces behind the proposed apartments 2
along the highway and the highly landscaped grassy walkways between the buildings are not sufficient substitutes for a centrally-located and accessible neighborhood park.
The LNA appreciates SAHA’s suggestion to relocate the basketball courts. However, it is imperative that such a plan be included in the proposed designs prior to further approvals.
The LNA requests that the current square footage of Labor Street Park be maintained.
3. Traffic Patterns and Dangerous Intersection at Cesar Chavez and Labor St.
The current ingress and egress to Victoria Commons and surrounding areas is very limited. The present intersection at Cesar Chavez and Labor Streets is mis-aligned and hazardous, a problem which will only worsen with the traffic generated by the 100 Labor Street development, the proposed reopening of the Burnet campus, and the increased density from the Artisan Park build-out.
In discussions with the City of San Antonio District 1 office, it was recommended that SAHA work with COSA, the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation (HPARC), UTSA (owners of the Institute of Texan Cultures), and SAISD to reconfigure the Labor St./ Cesar Chavez intersection as part of the Victoria Commons development plan.
4. Affordable Childcare Center
Included in SAHA’s strategic plan Goals 1 and 4:
● Ensure that families have access to the resources they need to improve their lives and the lives of their children
● Ensure new communities provide access to childcare services, elderly activities, employment, education, and healthy living opportunities
The proposed plan includes demolition of the YMCA Early Learning Center to build a multi-story building with up to 102 housing units. Access to affordable childcare is directly correlated with one’s ability to work and is therefore an essential element of affordable housing. While the YMCA ELC serves only a small number of current SAHA residents, the facility serves as affordable childcare to many families in the neighborhood. While this portion of the property was not part of Resolution 5434 (see below), the LNA does not oppose demolition of this building.
The LNA supports redevelopment into multi-story housing provided accommodations be made to relocate the YMCA ELC within the Victoria Commons development.
5. Affordable Housing
Included in SAHA’s Strategic Plan Goal 4:
● Expand the supply of affordable housing while being mindful of the specific needs of the San Antonio community
Throughout the 130-year history of Lavaca, the community has been one of mixed income and affordability. Lavaca was home to the artisans and craftsmen who built the grand mansions of neighboring King William. Victoria Commons was once the Baptist Settlement, home to many
Latino and Black residents who worked in the nearby Railroad depots and lumberyards before making way for Victoria Courts. Many Lavaca residents have lived in the community through multiple generations. While the median property values have increased dramatically, the Lavaca Neighborhood Association remains committed to the long-standing diversity of the community.
Furthermore, housing affordability is directly linked to transportation. If workers cannot live in close proximity to their workplace, their overall housing costs become less affordable, even with rent subsidies. Currently, 45% of Victoria Commons housing units qualify as “affordable.” This includes the 9-story Victoria Plaza to reopen soon which will be limited to elderly and disabled residents. While there will be an increase in housing units overall, the proposal calls for a decrease in the proportion of affordable units to 39%.
To better serve the specific needs of the San Antonio community, the Lavaca Neighborhood Association recommends maintaining 45% affordable housing units to be distributed throughout Victoria Commons.
6. Density and Infrastructure
While the LNA recognizes the importance of increased density in the urban core, the Victoria Commons Phase II plan calls for a 42% increase in density. Much of that (380 units) will be concentrated in the retention ponds currently used for drainage. However, no plan detailing how these drainage issues will be addressed was provided. The LNA cannot support building over the retention ponds until the engineering reports have been shared.
This area of Victoria Commons already has very limited egress and ingress. The current street pattern simply cannot withstand the addition of 380 housing units without a significant change in street design to allow for more efficient ingress and egress. The original plan presented in 2014 included townhomes only in the Phase 2B with no building in the retention ponds.
The LNA recommends:
● Presentation of engineering plans to account for drainage
● North and South Pond developments be limited to three story buildings with fewer units assuming approval of drainage plan.
7. Administration Building
On September 19, 2014, then president and CEO of SAHA, Lourdes Castro Ramirez and Tim Alcott, Development Services and Neighborhood Redevelopment Officer signed Resolution 5434 which stated:
Victoria Courts Administration Building & City Park: Although the VC Administration Building is not eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, because of its local significance to community stakeholders, SAHA has agreed not to demolish the building and instead to rehabilitate it. SAHA’s plans include: 4
● Rehabilitating the existing 10,000 square-foot structure into a neighborhood community/cultural arts center.
● The Concept design was completed by Alamo Architects and Franklin Development
● Upon HUD SAC disposition approval, the adjacent 1.95-acre parcel will be provided to the City of San Antonio for a City Park in exchange for the current one-acre Victoria Park on Cesar Chavez.
● The park amenities will include walking trail, exercise stations, children’s play area, multipurpose court, and dog park.”
The LNA recommends SAHA adhere to the commitments made in Resolution 5434 to not demolish the VC Administration building.
The LNA looks forward to further discussions to address these concerns.
The Lavaca Neighborhood Association Board
Cherise Rohr-Allegrini, President
Sarah Sorensen, Vice President
Kat Doucette, Secretary
Vik Gudi, Treasurer
August 2021 (no July meeting)
July 1, 2021
City of San Antonio
1901 S. Alamo St
San Antonio, TX 78204
Dear Zoning and Planning Commissioners:
The Board of the Lavaca Neighborhood Association has reviewed San Antonio Housing Authority’s and Catellus’ request for re-zoning of the Victoria Commons properties in the above-referenced case number. The board is in support of the proposed zoning.
However, the board and neighborhood have remaining concerns, particularly as to how this project will impact the infrastructure of the area. The LNA would like to request that:
- During the course of development, assess an updated traffic study in which at least one member of the Lavaca Neighborhood Association is present to shadow or otherwise participate;
- A 4-way stop is implemented at the Labor St. and Leigh St. intersection;
- The SAHA Administration be preserved according to historic standards;
The LNA Board also acknowledges that the proposal shows a decreased density in the South Pond from the original plan. However, it must be noted that the residents of Leigh St. are still concerned about the density in the South Pond, particularly the height along street frontage at Mt. Zion. LNA recommends the maximum height at 2 stories for the first 30 feet from the frontage along Mt. Zion.
Gloria Borrego Maldonado “Gogi”
Victoria Courts was a huge, well-built project with a maze of streets of concrete buildings, with flat roofs and silver metal fences separating our yards which we called home.
Yes, we were poor, but we didn’t know it. We were a humble people and felt rich in humanity.
My family moved in to Victoria Courts circa 1953. The apartment on Burrus Street was a 2 bedroom. The family grew so we were moved directly across the street to Pear Walk. It had 4 bedrooms-1 downstairs, 3 upstairs and 1 bathroom located upstairs. There were some families that were so large they had adjoining apartments- A whole building to themselves.
I was born in 1963 and the last of 9 children.
I’ll never forget the childhood memories, mostly with the neighborhood kids that became friends I grew up with, creating the best of times in my memory.
The 1970’s was a cool time to grow up in this community, where there was a mixture of ethnic groups but we saw ourselves as the same.
We made a lot of friends. Everyone would help each other out by “borrowing” a cup of sugar, flour, tomato sauce, eggs, or milk from comadre next door. Oh! The wonderful smells of someone cooking pouring out of our open wooden screen doors and metal casement windows while walking down sidewalks.
The memories of everyone sitting outside on the concrete porches and talking to each other, while we played outside –jacks, red rover, hopscotch, 1-2-3 red light, and climbing trees.
We felt safe and would even sleep with the windows open. We had no A/C, we were lucky to have one fan. We’d pull our mattress onto the upstairs balcony with rails around it and sleep there on the hottest summer nights.
We had a great time when IH-37 was being built in 1975. We would slide off the dirt hills with card boards all day.
The concrete buildings somehow gave us a sense of security during major storms, tornado warnings, and even the thoughts of war or UFOs!
Everyone in the Courts went to the same schools- Burnet Elem, Page Middle, and Brackenridge High schools so we did a lot as groups while learning.
We had many city resources that helped us get by. Such as: food commodities, and clothing.
There were 4 parks scattered and placed on certain blocks. The main park was along Labor St. We played baseball games there, a few friends would start it then it grew to full teams as people strolled by. Organized teams developed in later years. A wooden playscape was built there. There were basketball courts and maybe 4 sets of swings.
The SANYO and Parks and Rec would create events for us. Church groups would come and set up ARTS and CRAFTS on our concrete sidewalks. I learned how to make a papier-mâché piñata. Central Baptist Church on Labor and Florida St would drive a bus up and down our streets to pick us up for VBS. They always gave us cookies and punch and HOPE. So, you made sure you ran to get on that bus.
We walked everywhere. The HemisFair Park was a wonderful place! Downtown, public library, Institute of Texan Cultures, St. Michaels Church, Handy Andy, School, Convention Center Arena for concerts, and Roosevelt Swimming pool.
We would sell bottles for refunds to have a little change. I used that for admission to Roosevelt pool. I never had enough to buy a snack while swimming all day long and would walk home so hungry but I had fun!
At Christmas we had a silver aluminum tree we used every year. It got so old it would blow down every time someone opened the front door. I would tape the color wheel together and hope it would hold up until Christmas day. I’m thankful for help we got from the resources only my mom knew of at Christmas time. I still have my aluminum bakeware play set!
The negative part was of course there was danger. There was crime, violence, and drugs. I believed any outsiders that came around may be in danger if they didn’t know anyone. There were many fist fights, stabbings, shootings. I witnessed two of these things, however I blocked it out of my memory. When the street lights flickered on, we had to run home according to mom. “It’s 10:00- Do you know where your children are?” This slogan was a PSA on TV in the 70s.
I was never afraid. The good outweighed the bad.
My brother Robert would climb the tree to get up on the flat roof to retrieve the lost balls from our games. He’d sell newspapers on downtown street corners at the age of 7 to help mom. He would always find quarters and go directly to Texas Food Market on Labor St., owned by the nice Chinese couple, and buy 8 marbles for 5 cents. He would sell marbles to other friends and make a profit. I learned how to dig the holes in dirt for a game of marbles too.
He got a job at the Menger Hotel and would give mom his whole paycheck. My sister Susan got a job at Texas Food Market as a cashier. She always threw in a candy bar for me when mom sent me to the store. My other sis Esther was embarrassed to push the metal rolling basket my mom would send us with to shop at Handy Andy. I however was not-especially for food!
You can call it what you will-public housing, poor neighborhood, housing projects, or the Victoria Courts. Those were the good old days that we knew and lived. The memories resonate in our hearts and souls forever and impacted our lives and characters.
The demolition of the Victoria Courts in 1999 was a heartbreaker for many of us, but I will never forget where I came from. Thank you for 20 years ofgreat memories.
We may have been the poorest, but we had the most fun.
– Gloria Borrego Maldonado “Gogi”
(all photos courtesy of the author)