Unwanted Neighbors?

Images clockwise: Stuart Allen, Ice No. 1; Judith Cottrell, Untitled; Mira Hnatyshyn, Temptation 1; Mark Blizard, Remembering the City.
Images clockwise: Stuart Allen, Ice No. 1; Judith Cottrell, Untitled; Mira Hnatyshyn, Temptation 1; Mark Blizard, Remembering the City

Fifty artists offering works for $250 each. Interested? Unfortunately, it’s an exhibit interrupted by city inspectors. If you want to see it, you will have to do so online.

A gallery/design studio/coffee bar/plant shop adaptively reusing an historically commercial building sounds an ideal fit for an inner-city neighborhood. An urban planner’s dream attained.

But French & Michigan needs a zoning change to make this possible at 115 Michigan Street and French, just off Fredericksburg Road.

photo from http://www.frenchandmichigan.com

The building obviously had its origins as a commercial structure, but current zoning lists it as residential. The building is bisected by the boundaries of the neighborhood master plan, half falling in residential and half in mixed-use.

Following a presentation by the owners, the Beacon Hill Neighborhood Association approved of their pending request for a zoning change to allow mixed usage, according to a TPR story by Ryan Loyd.

But neighborhood feelings about zoning are so much more personal. I’ve been there. When the Monte Vista Historical Association did not oppose a zoning change from residential on the corner of Mistletoe and Howard years ago, I had to go make my case I opposition in front of City Council. My emotional, shaky-voiced pleas were heard, and, probably because of former Councilwoman Maria Berriozabal, the zoning approval was overturned.

So I pay attention when she speaks in opposition to a zoning case. She commands respect for always looking out for individuals. And Berriozabal is speaking out against this zoning case, according to Josh Baugh writing in the San Antonio Express-News, because of neighborhood fears of “gentrification.”

Yes, there are other concerns in the neighborhood, but this one makes the zoning case so much more complex. Rather than being fearful that letting commercial usage return to this structure will lead to a domino effect of residences turning into businesses, some neighbors fear an invasive takeover by aggressive newcomers who want to buy houses and fix them up. Artists move in, and their patrons follow. Soon the housing stock rises in value, and, before long, the income level of the people who can afford to live there rises. Long-time residents fear being shoved out of their own neighborhoods.

And the bones of the housing in the surrounding neighborhood are good, even if some of the houses appear in need of a facelift. It is apparent that the neighborhood was highly desirable when it was developing in the first half of the 1900s, and fresh restorations indicate its popularity is rising today.

Ironically, in a neighborhood where some fear gentrification, one of the reasons a portion of the area was slow to develop, according to the history of the Beacon Hill Neighborhood, was a nine-hole golf course smack in the middle of it – the original San Antonio Golf and Country Club. As with many historic neighborhoods, perhaps the term should be regentrification?

And $250 artwork? Baugh interviewed neighbor Jessica Fuentes who said:

A lot of us in this neighborhood can’t sustain that business, so who’s going to sustain them? Outside people.

But, historically, those are the people who supported many of the locally owned businesses on Fredericksburg Road. The mom-and-pop shops that have disappeared, leaving vacant storefronts. Back before I-10.

When the way to Fredericksburg and all the farms in between actually was Fredericksburg Road, people would drive into town to patronize the businesses along that commercial corridor. A business such as Burke’s Wood Workers, opening at 115 Michigan in 1945, did not have to depend solely on its immediate neighbors for all of its income. Instead of waiting for Mrs. Jones down the street to wear out her sofa and chairs, Burke’s had customers who were, yes, “outside people.”

Baugh also spoke with City Councilman Diego Bernal:

Bernal, whose district includes several inner-city neighborhoods, said he is working on gentrification issues and zoning cases.

“I believe in areas like Beacon Hill, Alta Vista, Tobin Hill, that longtime residents are starting to see a change,” he said. “And sometimes change can be scary.”

People in Beacon Hill, he said, have channeled that fear into the French & Michigan project.

“I believe that’s unfair,” he said. “They’re not trying to take over the neighborhood — they’re trying to be part of it.”

Zoning changes are tricky, but the struggles in Beacon Hill are far from unique. They are constant even in old gentrified King William, often pitting neighbor against neighbor. Reactions are subjective, making them unpredictable. All sides should be given voice.

But…. that formerly commercial structure on French & Michigan sure looks great rehabbed as a gallery/design studio/coffee bar/plant shop. Hope it gets welcomed into its neighborhood.

Update on August 20, 2014: Beacon Hill’s loss will be SouthTown’s gain…. http://therivardreport.com/french-michigan-zoning-war/.

3 thoughts on “Unwanted Neighbors?”

  1. I’d be surprised if that many “outside people” come all the way over there to see the gallery. Given the godawful traffic in San Antonio and the availability of art galleries and shops in one’s own backyard, it just doesn’t seem like a flood of people will arrive. But, yes, once one place goes commercial, others would follow. I like the idea of mixed use, walkable neighborhoods. It’s a concept not practiced a lot by places in Texas, which, in this former resident’s opinion has definitely turned into a parking lot.


  2. Nice balanced article. I’m sorry the immediate neighborhood is afraid of gentrification. It could be a shady tattoo parlor or loan shark business that drags down property values–but rather it is an art gallery. These are not known for their unruly crowds day in and day out!!!


  3. What a wonderful building. Mixed use is the way things are going. If you have a tiny grocery store, an art gallery, a coffee shop then people CAN WALK in the neighborhood to conduct business, get to know their neighbors and have a thriving life. Sad that people are afraid of something like that. Our neighborhoods in San Miguel, allow various colonias to have all kinds of businesses to support the neighborhood, just like when I was a little girl in Chicago………before people drove everywhere! Really hope this is resolved in a positive way.


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