Haven for Hope rounds the corner 

Haven for Hope supporters have made the turn down the final stretch and can see the finish line in the distance. It has been a long and arduous journey marked recently by vocal opposition from neighborhood advocates, who turned out in full force at an August 21 Zoning Commission hearing to protest the facility’s proposed location on the near West Side. Which brings us to Haven’s second-to-last hurdle: Convincing the commission to reclassify the property so Haven for Hope — the 22-acre multi-service homeless campus championed by former District 5 Councilwoman Patti Radle — can function as a multi-use facility. `see “Helter Shelter,” July 18-24.`

On September 4, the 11-member Zoning Commission is scheduled to vote on two issues: to amend the UDC, and to re-zone the Haven property. The commission then presents its recommendation to City Council, which is scheduled to have the final say September 6.

Currently, the property is classified under “I-1” General Industrial District and “I-2” Heavy Industrial District guidelines. To provide the services Haven has planned, including a community medical clinic, business and vocational programs, transportation assistance, day-care services for children and adults, animal care and shelters, and alcohol and drug-abuse services, the Zoning Commission will need to amend the City’s Unified Development Code and identify the area under a “C-3 NA-S” classification.

According to Christopher Looney, zoning-planning manager for the Development Services Department, if the commission approves the C-3 NA-S, it will be the first of its kind in San Antonio.

“‘C-3’ means it’s a commercial district,” said Looney. “‘NA’ restricts alcoholic beverage sales and ‘S’ is what we refer to as ‘specific use authorization.’ In order to be a Human Services Campus `the property` requires an S. If other `Human Service Campuses` ever need to be constructed in the future, the same zoning district would allow it.”

“I have thought about this issue continuously and I have no idea how I am going to vote,” said Michael Westheimer, zoning commissioner for District 1 `and husband of Current Editor Elaine Wolff`. “Every single decision `the Zoning Commission` makes affects someone’s livelihood.” The five zoning commissioners the Current was able to reach as of press time — Westheimer, Don Gadberry (District 2), Jody Sherrill (District 7), Rolando Briones Jr. (District 8), and Robert Robbins (District 9) — said they were still undecided.

No one is more concerned about the effect Haven for Hope will have on their livelihoods than an outspoken group of Westside residents who have been opposed to the construction of the homeless facility in their neighborhood from the onset.

“What the city is trying to do is combine all these services and that’s not right,” said Jason Mata, president of the Prospect Hill Neighborhood Association. “If this happens, `the city` can put shelters up wherever they want without neighborhoods knowing what they are doing.”

With City Council approving everything pertaining to Haven over the last year — from the allocation of funds to purchasing property to passing ordinances — many residents feel that the only chance they have left to stop the $30-million campus is to convince Zoning to reject it and hope that its recommendation does not fall on deaf ears at council.

At least one councilman professes to defer to his commissioner.

“I have full faith and confidence that `Susan Wright` will make good decisions. That’s why I appointed her,” District 9 Councilman Kevin Wolff said. “It drives me crazy sometimes when Council wants to overturn a decision the Zoning Commission makes. What the heck do we have the Zoning Commission there for in the first place?”

This might be a positive sign for Haven opponents if Wright decides to vote against the re-zone. Other councilmembers, however, like District 6’s Delicia Herrera, seem to have their minds made up, regardless of Zoning’s decision.

“I am still one of the biggest advocates `for Haven`,” Herrera said. “We’ve already invested quite a bit into this project not to see it through.”

Haven for Hope rounds the corner

for home, Zoning Commission

covers third base

transportation infrastructure needs totaling over a billion dollars. As a result of these diversions, our region is unable to meet the transportation needs of this community using traditional funding mechanisms,” the Commissioners wrote.

Austin didn’t send a rescue party to Bexar, but an apparently repentant Lege followed their pay-to-play bacchanal with a sackcloth moratorium bill this year, declaring a two-year study period before new toll roads could get underway. However, virtually every project in the chute, about $15-billion worth, was exempted.

Meanwhile, as traffic on 281 climbed past 91,000 vehicles per day (from roughly 8,000 a day in 1980), the highway department’s expected fix-it costs have also taken wing. The cost of this 7.5-mile stretch running north from 1604 has leapt to $400 million for a collection of up to 19 tolled and non-tolled lanes. Add a nifty interchange and the total price tag noses $600 mil.

If ever there was a portrait of potential future environmental degradation, one would think a 400-foot swath of cement and asphalt cutting over the Edwards Aquifer’s recharge zone would be it. Still, TxDOT’s Environmental Assessment returned a clear-eyed wink and a FONSI, or Finding of No Significant Impact.

While transportation-related sites have leaked hazardous chemicals into the Edwards and Trinity aquifers along the road, the road itself shouldn’t be held responsible. “There are no well-documented incidents of contamination of the Edwards Aquifer in Comal or Bexar counties from non-point sources of contamination,” the agency’s Environmental Assessment reads.

But considering the road stands to convert 142 square miles of land to “developed uses,” according to TxDOT’s report, surely the road should bear some responsibility. Not at all, the authors stress: Development is something for local officials to manage.

Of several spills that have reached the aquifer from the edge of 281, the worst involved 800 gallons of gasoline at the Texaco at 281 and Borgfeld Road – the current project’s northern-most terminus.

TxDOT’s District Engineer David Casteel says there is “no conspiracy” at play here. While his agency has come under increasing scrutiny for assigning millions of dollars to public relations to sell toll roads to a resistant public, Casteel runs a less-conspicuous lobby. For instance, decision-makers in San Antonio recently received a fax from Casteel presenting them with pro-toll literature prepared by the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. It claimed that to avoid toll roads in Austin, drivers would have to eat a 72-cent gas-tax increase. However, the Chamber’s math is challenged by a report by the Governor’s Business Council, which proposed that the state’s major transportation needs could be met by an eight-cent-per-gallon fuel-tax increase, if properly adjusted for inflation. Casteel vigorously disputes the report, insisting the research suffers from many flawed assumptions.

Still, Casteel says TxDOT is ready with $102 million earmarked for U.S. 281 improvements (secured in ways he folksily compared to “borrowing money from your in-laws to build your house”) and blames the road delay on AGUA’s 2005 lawsuit.

While the suit appears to have delayed the toll road two years and cost TxDOT $2 million for additional study, the machinery is warming up again – this time with blessing from the Federal Transportation Authority.

For Larson’s part, he says that the toll roads can only be stopped by the Attorney General ruling against TxDOT logic by declaring 281 an “existing roadway.”

“If the Attorney General declares these roads as existing roads then 1604 and 281 will not be tolled,” Larson said.

Teri Hall, regional director for the San Antonio Toll Party, said her group is busily rounding up the lawyers and ink for another suit. “If we don’t challenge them in court, no one’s going to,” said Hall. She and many others still want the freeway expansion plan TxDOT scuttled in 2004.

“They have a less-invasive, more affordable – more viable – alternative than that toll road. They have no argument to that.”

There is an argument, however. And it’s curt.

“There’s no money,” said a local TxDOT flak last week. There’s certainly not $600 million in the kittie, critics agree, but that $102 million could get things started. Or refunding some of those billions in diversions from the state gas tax from the state’s current surplus would be even better.

San Antonio Zoning Commission Meeting
1pm Tue, Sep 4
Development Services Department boardroom
1901 S. Alamo
(210) 207-1111

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