Hays Restoration Group continues to fight microbrewery, files lawsuit against city

A group of local activists and East Side residents continue to fight the city-approved deal to build microbrewery next to the Hays Street Bridge, filing a lawsuit in Bexar County Court Thursday claiming the City of San Antonio violated an agreement with a local community group to turn the area into a park. In August Council members unanimously approved Alamo Beer Co.'s plan to build a microbrewery on the east end of the Hays Street Bridge, despite protest from members of the Hays Street Restoration Group, whose years-long organizing efforts saved the historic bridge. Regardless their legal claims, the Restoration Group has plenty reason to feel raw about the deal the city stamped in August. After years of decay, Hays was closed to traffic in 1982 and considered for demolition by 1994. The Restoration Group raised money, put together design and reconstruction estimates, and by 2001 helped the city secure a $2.89 million federal Transportation Equity Act grant, administered through the Texas Department of Transportation, to rebuild Hays. As sponsor of the grant, the city had an obligation to raise 20 percent of the grant's total, $718,114, but didn't want that liability. Under a signed contract, the city put the burden on the Restoration Group to raise the cash to fulfill the city's obligations. In exchange, the city promised whatever assets raised or donated to the city – like land – would only be used for the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Project. Amy Kastely, a St. Mary's University law professor and attorney representing the group, insists that project always included plans for a public park. “A park was always included whenever they said 'Hays Street Restoration Project.' It was always a part of the discussion,” she said. The land the city essentially gave Alamo Beer in August (the $295,000 “sale” was offset by $295,000 the city gave Alamo Beer for improvement costs, along with another half a million dollars in incentives) was donated by beer distributer BudCo in 2007 with the express intent of turning it into a park. A company rep wrote to the Texas Transportation Commission in 2006, “As owners it is our desire to donate that land to the City for redevelopment into a park to serve visitors to the Hays Street Bridge.” While the intent obvious, BudCo donated the land no strings attached, legally speaking. In its lawsuit filed Thursday, the Restoration Group also claims the city unlawfully disregarded a petition with 2,800 signatures filed with the city in attempt to put the land sale up for a city-wide vote. They cited a state law calling for such elections when a city auctions off a public square or park; the city claims that, legally speaking, the land was never considered park. The Restoration Group hopes to score a temporary injunction to keep Alamo Beer's plans from moving forward. Stuck in the middle of all this, of course, is future of the planned East Side brewery, which, according to hours of testimony at numerous public meetings this summer, a lot of people really do want. Under the deal Council members approved this summer, Alamo Beer will get to oversee the land under Hays and approval to build a skyway connecting the multi million dollar development to the bridge. The plan also lets Alamo Beer set up tables and chairs on a 1,190-square-foot slab of the bridge deck, at no leasing cost for a decade. And therein lies another complication, according to a letter the Federal Highway Administration sent to TxDOT in late September. Any license agreement letting Alamo Beer use portions of the bridge could evidently jeopardize that $2.89 million the feds forked over for the Hays reconstruction project. “The Federal government is not in the practice of funding projects for the benefit of private development,” the letter reads. “[W]e cannot endorse the use of a [Transportation Enhancement] funded facility to benefit a private development which will reduce the original scope and intent of the project. If the City and TxDOT chooses to allow a private benefactor access and use of the facility, the Federal funding used toward the completion of this project should be returned.” Lori Houston, director of the Center City Development Office, wrote in an email today that the city in late October sent TxDOT more information on the project, including “completed agreements, finalized plans, presentations, public testimony and other significant information to assist TxDOT and FHA in making an informed decision on the use of the Bridge.” She continued, “At this point no resolution has been reached and we continue to dialogue with all parties to address the concerns expressed.”  -- Michael Barajas