San Antonio Express-News (TX)
Metro and State News Page 01B
The Rim deal clinched
Publication Date : June 29, 2007
Bowing to the U.S. Army, the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and environmentalists, a developer agreed to dramatically scale back residential plans for one portion of the Rim and postpone all development for one year in another section of the far North Side project.
Under an agreement brokered by new District 8 City Councilwoman Diane Cibrian, Thomas Enterprises amended its petition for a zoning change on portions of the Rim, an 835-acre development near Interstate 10 and Loop 1604.

The City Council late Thursday voted unanimously to adopt the agreement, which also calls for the developer to kick in $1 million for Leon Creek restoration efforts.

Bobby Perez, an attorney representing the Forest Crest Neighborhood Association, which had opposed the expansion, said the compromise "means that development (there) is essentially going to be cut by half."

The Thomas group agreed to a one-year moratorium on construction inside a 106-acre tract that abuts Eisenhower Park and is adjacent to Camp Bullis, which is used by the Army for all its medical field training. Within four years, the heavily wooded area will also be used to train Air Force and Navy medical personnel.

Army officials, joined by the Chamber of Commerce, have been urging the city to reject a zoning change sought by the Thomas group, saying that intense development so near to Camp Bullis would jeopardize current and future training missions at Fort Sam Houston.

A representative of Maj. Gen. Russell Czerw, Fort Sam Houston's commander, said the compromise addressed the military's concerns.

The developer already has major tenants operating in the Rim, including the Bass Pro Shops, the Palladium IMAX cinema and a Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse. City officials said the Rim is a $1 billion development that, when complete, will provide more than 5,000 jobs.

But it was the plan to build high-density residential areas there that caught the Army's attention.

The Army complained that additional lighting from residences would compromise its nighttime training; that protected species' loss of habitat would mean birds would flock onto the heavy brush in Camp Bullis, which could force cutbacks in training. The military also said that paving over so much land for residential construction would create water runoff problems that the military would have to address.

Cibrian said the council's decision to postpone action on the zoning change last week and the compromise agreement that was hammered out in the interim "sends an important message to the military that we took their concerns seriously."

She praised the developer's decision to dramatically scale back its development plan to address the concerns of both the Army and environmentalists.

"The developer takes down trees and cuts endangered species habitat," said Kathleen Murray, a resident of the Forest Crest neighborhood. "This (agreement) will help expand the area of protection for both the aquifer recharge and the endangered species."

During the building moratorium, the city and Bexar County will jointly conduct a land use study and try and come up with a "best use" plan.

Under the agreement, which is legally binding, the developer said it would initiate a 100-foot, all-direction buffer zone around sensitive portions of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. State regulations call for a 50-foot buffer in such zones.

Nearly 350 acres of the developer's land lies inside the aquifer's recharge zone, an engineer who represented the developer told the council.

Buffers near recharge features are designed to minimize polluted ground water from seeping into the aquifer, the region's principal source of drinking water.