San Antonio Express-News (TX)
A Section Page 01A
Army fears more development at The Rim
Publication Date : June 21, 2007
The future of Fort Sam Houston could be in jeopardy if a proposed zoning change allowing dense development around Camp Bullis is approved, the Army is warning San Antonio officials.
Fort Sam's prospects for continued life depend on its ability to conduct field training for all military medical personnel at the sprawling North Side camp, spokesman Phil Reidinger said.

The city's intentions could be revealed today when the City Council decides on a zoning request by developers of The Rim. Among the changes sought is the ability to build seven houses per acre on a 106-acre tract that abuts Camp Bullis.

"Our concern at Camp Bullis is the nearby lighting, which affects our night training; the encroachment on endangered species habitat, which forces us to increase the management for that; and the storm water runoff and any accidental sewage runoff into our major aquifer recharge features," Reidinger told the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board this week.

He said the 3,110-acre Fort Sam, a mile from downtown, was in danger of being shuttered in the last round of base closings but instead had missions added, only because it had the nearby 28,000-acre camp as a field training facility.

"Without Camp Bullis, we can't accomplish the majority of missions at Fort Sam Houston," Reidinger said, adding that when the latest base realignments are completed in 2011, Fort Sam will be responsible for training all Air Force, Army and Navy medical personnel.

"Every one of our courses requires a field training exercise, and that's going to expand our use of Camp Bullis," he said. "This fiscal year, we'll do 750,000 man-days of training. Our authorized limit with the Fish and Wildlife Service right now is one million man-days. When we include the ... expansion, we'll be at a million or over a million."

The zoning request asks for a master planned community district for the 835-acre Rim tract, being developed by Thomas Enterprises of Atlanta. About 334 acres are over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. As part of the proposal, the developer is asking for rezoning of several plots.

The city's Zoning Commission earlier this month approved the request but rejected a request to rezone two plots totaling 116 acres to dense single-family homes -- seven homes per acre. The City Council could accept the Zoning Commission action or take a different action.

"Neighbors are very concerned," said Elyzabeth Earnley, technical research director for Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas, an environmental organization. "The smallest lots they have now in that area are a half acre, but many people are on 4 or 5 acres."

Earnley said the 65 percent impervious cover recommendation for the entire master planned district "doesn't equate to any real protection" because it's not specified where the concrete and rooftops might go and it could all end up on the recharge zone."

Carroll Schubert, chairman of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce's military affairs committee, is scheduled to speak at today's council meeting in support of the military's position.

Reidinger said the Army is not looking to block development, but is seeking reasonable planning.

"We've asked for 100 percent dark-sky lighting for the entire development so that we don't increase the level of existing ambient lighting so that we can do realistic night training," Reidinger said. Dark-sky lighting aims its light toward the ground. "We're asking for an environmental study for endangered species habitat and for protection of any recharge features."

"If you're not concerned about the aquifer, then you should be concerned about Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis because that's an enormous economic asset to this community," said Annalisa Peace, executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, a coalition of 32 groups dedicated to protecting the aquifer and its Hill Country ecosystems. "To lose that because of poor planning I think would be heartbreaking."

Reidinger said Bullis has coped with the low-density development, such as The Dominion housing subdivision, that has occurred near its perimeter, but "this is an incredible amount of density that we've never had to deal with before. If we start losing the maneuver area, then the value of Fort Sam Houston as a DoD asset is greatly reduced. Why have a military base in the middle of a large city if you can't do anything, if you can't train?"