San Antonio Express-News (TX)
Neighbors - West Northwest Page 01NW
Kyle Seale land OK'd for rezoning
Publication Date : July 11, 2007
A rezoning request has been approved for approximately 85.89 acres of the H. Kyle Seale family's land, which is located in the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, just north of Loop 1604 between FM 1560 and the east side of Kyle Seale Parkway.
On June 21, the San Antonio City Council approved the request by the Seale family, to the dismay of some environmentalists and a few surrounding neighbors.

"(The Seales) received zoning that will allow for the construction of big-box stores and higher density development over the recharge zone," Ron Green, president of the Helotes Heritage Association, said in a written statement. "The only minor victory was that the impervious cover limit was capped at 50 percent rather than 65 percent."

Most property owners in the neighboring Sonoma Ranch development and other nearby neighborhood associations had opposed the rezoning, according to a city document on the case. But the family had amended its application request and gained support from a majority of the residents, the document indicates.

As a result of the June 21 vote, the property received three zoning classifications: a designation of single-family residential R-6 ERZD (Edwards Recharge Zone District) will buffer some of the Sonoma Ranch subdivision homes that abut the property; a C-1 ERZD designation allows for a commercial district on adjacent land; and a C-2 ERZD designation will apply to the property closest to Loop 1604 and allow for more intense commercial uses such as a carwash and larger retail stores.

The portion of the Seale's land that abuts Loop 1604 is already designated C-3 ERZD, which allows for intense commercial development such as a shopping center. The rezoning pertains to a gap of land between the C-3 area and residential subdivisions.

Originally, the Seales requested C-3 and MF-33 (multi-family residential) designations but amended the request to indicate C-2 zoning with buffers of R-6 and C-1 that extend along Feather Trail, Sonoma Parkway and Kyle Seale Parkway.

The case involved many different factors.

"The issues of the aquifer, land-use designations, impervious cover, grandfathering and land rights all played a role in this case," said attorney Ross Laughead, who represented the adjacent Arbor at Sonoma Ranch Homeowners Association. "There was the zoning but also an agreement reached between the parties in regard to restrictive covenants, which are private agreements."

Laughead said two big issues were the opposition of adjoining neighbors and concerns about building over the aquifer.

"The Seale partnership had certain views about whether they had pre-existing rights, and they said that even though they had the right to do 100 percent impervious cover, they would agree to have a limit of 65 percent," he said. "The vote was for 50 percent, and the Seales accepted that. The residents pretty much got what they wanted with the strips of land being buffer zones between the residences and higher intensity commercial development."

Attorneys Ken Brown and Daniel Ortiz represented the Seale family in the matter.

"The Seales are, along with everyone else that was involved, glad that this zoning case is completed and plan to move forward with developing the property," Ortiz said. "We are confident, as are they, that they did everything a property owner should do by filing a master development plan that identified the intended uses for this property before it was annexed."

Ortiz said he understands the concerns about development over the aquifer, but said the law is being followed.

"The City Council has placed for some time now the protection, from a scientific position, of the aquifer in the hands of the San Antonio Water System, and the council enforces the existing water quality ordinance as it exists today, which said that this property was eligible for 65 percent impervious cover," Ortiz said. "Those numbers are based on science and engineering principles and we were happy to comply with those even though we had a vested-rights permit from the city saying we are grandfathered from it."

According to city documents, the property was annexed into San Antonio on December 31, 2005, and given the DR (development reserve) zoning designation.

"DR is a blanket generic category that is given to land when it is annexed into the city and it will need to be rezoned at some point. DR has an automatic 15-percent impervious cover limit," said former District 8 Councilman Art Hall, who worked on the case before leaving office last month. "An initial survey of the surrounding property owners showed that they did not approve of the rezoning request so it would have to have been passed by a super-majority vote of the City Council."

A super-majority vote of the council requires nine out of 11 members to approve a case for it to pass when more than 20 percent of neighborhood residents oppose a rezoning request.

A vote on the issue was postponed at several council meetings and was eventually passed June 21 without the need of super-majority approval. Hall had called for a new survey of area residents and found that fewer than 20 percent disapproved.

One reason the vote was postponed in May was because the city said the rezoning case had been amended from its original form.

Elyzabeth Earnley, with the Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA), called the move a "bait and switch" and a "manipulation" by the city.

AGUA representatives cited numerous scientific studies that said development over the recharge zone would be detrimental to the quality of the San Antonio area's drinking water supply.

Annalisa Peace, executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, is also concerned about possible contamination.

"We have a big problem with big-box stores because so much of their product is hazardous materials such as pool, lawn and automotive chemicals. What if it caught on fire?" Peace said. "We saw that the aquifer was contaminated after the mulch fire."

Hall said he was pleased that the property owners and the surrounding neighbors were able to come to a consensus.

"The Seales wanted the zoning to match what they said they could do, which they said was commercial C-3 type development," he said. "When the first survey was taken, the property owners had not all begun to work together to discuss what they wanted. By the time the second survey was taken, they had, and so more were in support of the rezoning.

"They worked out issues of lighting, density, impervious cover and those sorts of things. The more deed restrictions that were negotiated, the more people became supportive of it."

Green said he is disappointed.

"With so little undeveloped recharge zone land remaining in Bexar County, it was unfortunate the San Antonio City Council could not have demonstrated more vision for the Edwards Aquifer," he said. "It is critical that every effort needed to be taken to protect this precious, yet vulnerable, resource."