Friday, February 17, 2012

Down-zoning dustup

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2012 at 12:46 PM

click to enlarge pecan-valley-zoningjpg

Zoning's among those basics of local government that, while crucial, can be mind-numbing to follow. But add golf, wounded vets, and Walmart, and you've got yourself a show.

The development and real-estate community turned out in droves to rail against two controversial rezoning requests that headed to Council Thursday. In one, D9 Councilwoman Elisa Chan, reacting to nearby residents who don't want a Walmart in their backyard, is pushing to rezone 19 acres on the edge of Hardberger Park to block a Supercenter planned for the area. Meanwhile, just a month after her appointment to the D3 post Councilwoman Leticia Ozuna is leading the effort to down-zone the historic Pecan Valley Golf Course on the Southeast Side. The new zoning would ensure the 200-acre site stay strictly a golf course and not become, say, a retirement community and 9-hole golf course for disabled veterans, which is precisely what owner Foresight Golf has planned. Foresight says the new development, which it calls The Valor Club, would follow the model of the American Lake Veterans Golf Course in Tacoma, Washington.

Council voted to send both to the Zoning Commission for further debate. Both requests will wind back to council for final approval at some later date.

A host of development interests brought with them dire warnings that such down-zoning would set a chilling precedent. In both the Walmart and Pecan Valley Golf Course cases, the zoning changes would ruin owners' current development plans. Bart Koontz, president and CEO of local development powerhouse Koontz-McCombs remarked, “We've got to be really weary about the message we're sending,” adding such measures threatened to turn San Antonio into a “buyer beware city.” Dean Bundrick, president of the Real Estate Council of San Antonio insisted, “This is a taking.”

While both Ozuna and Chan caught grief from the development community, much of the heat and rhetoric was aimed squarely at Ozuna – we're assuming it's much easier to rally behind the interests of wounded veterans than big-box behemoth Walmart. Among other admonitions, one Ozuna opponent got up to the mic and chided the councilwoman, demanding she pull the request. Another, with the South Texas Commercial Association of Realtors, told Ozuna, “This is worse than going against motherhood and apple pie.” Foresight Golf brought with them a crew of disabled veterans urging council to quash the Pecan Valley rezoning request, telling members to prove their commitment to Military City U.S.A., pushing emotions well beyond the routine rezoning dispute.

A number of residents living around the golf course insisted at Thursday's meeting they'd become wary when Foresight refused to spill plans for its new development after it abruptly closed the course in January. (Foresight says it met with former D3 Councilwoman Jennifer Ramos prior to her departure, and was blindsided by the downzoning request out of Ozuna's office earlier this month). Ozuna Thursday insisted her office received over 300 petitions from neighbors around the course asking her to seek rezoning on the property to keep it a golf course. Among other concerns, they worry about the impact a new development could have on flooding in the area.

The re-zoning push was necessary, Ozuna said, to prod Foresight president Dan Pedrotti into having a “full-disclosure conversation” on the new facility with local stakeholders. Addressing the claims of developers and real estate brokers, she noted the city has before re-zoned a golf course in similar fashion. “The world did not end when that happened.

People are still closing on hundreds of acres.”

Before voting to send the Pecan Valley request to the Zoning Commission, many on council rallied to defend Ozuna. D10 Carlton Soules remarked, “This was coming at her with very little information and moving very quickly.” The measure was needed to slow things down, forcing Foresight and the community to sit down talk, he said.

D8 Councilman Reed Williams, though he cast the sole down vote for both the Pecan Valley and Walmart downzoning requests, gave Ozuna the most impassioned defense. “She has taken on a very difficult task and has received unjustified criticism and attacks from folks that are totally unnecessary,” he said. “This particular case can be solved if people would just get their bullheaded heads out of this thing and just talk.”

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