Lack of Addressing Community Concerns Continues as the Hays St Bridge Land Swap Pushes Forward.
As we reach a new stage over the long running controversy with the highly disputed land sale deal the city had with Alamo Brewery owner Eugene Simor, and later apartment developer Mitch Meyers, we see the same continuation of broken promises, “sweet-heart” land deals, and continually ignored community efforts. A brief history of the past seven or eight years of this conflict will reveal a story full of betrayal, unethical behavior, and obvious corruption and favoritism. Almost a decade ago, the Hays St. bridge group raised community funds, pulled grants, and additional city funds to revive the historic Hays St. Bridge. In that time, land at 803 N. Cherry (now plated into two lots, 803 N. Cherry, & 815 N. Cherry S.t) was donated by the Dawson family to the group, and the group had a agreement for the city to hold on to the land for them for the second park phase of the restoration project. Shortly after the Hays Bridge was restored, Mr. Simor, who was friends with the current mayor, swindled in a land deal to purchase the city land that was originally donated to the Hays St. Bridge Restoration Group with his intent to build a large brewery with a restaurant that would attach to the bridge and have tables and chairs on the bridge decking. Several individuals from the Hays St. Bridge Restoration Group sued the city and spent years in court fighting the breach of city contract. The lawsuit pushed Mr. Simor to build his brewery on his previously owned land on the other side of the bridge with a smaller brewery. He then sold the stolen land at 803 N. Cherry St. to developer Mitch Meyer who intended to build a five-story luxury apartment complex in the lot next to the bridge, blocking views of the bridge, and bringing downtown luxury living into an already housing stressed neighborhood. The Texas Supreme Court recently ruled the city did not have “governmental immunity” in this case and must go back to trial to determine appropriate solutions to the breach of contract. Meanwhile, the interim district 2 Councilman Art Hall has been pushing for a land swap proposal for Mr. Meyer for which the land is currently valued. The proposal is to give Mr. Meyer two acres of land to build his five-story luxury apartment complex at Montana and Cherry St. in exchange for the 1.7 acre Hays St. Bridge disputed land which is slated to be returned to city inventory as agreements of the land swap.
This brings us to where we are now. They city has acknowledged there is a housing crisis and has spent money and time on research to prove so, and also had many solutions as outcomes of these reports. The land that is part of this land swap was originally earmarked to be downtown zoned affordable housing, but in current negotiations with Mr. Meyer, he argued against this and continued to push for a luxury and market rate housing unit as part of the value for value exchange. Only the normal 10 percent affordable housing option at 80 percent average median income is offered for Meyer’s housing which is standard of any current building project for that area already and doesn’t meet the pressing need of affordable housing options. There are community concerns over the five-story structure towering over Cherry St. and single one story family housing in its’ shadow. The Office of Historic Preservation has even brought up concerns with the city about its aggressive push for large downtown structures pressed against neighborhood residential property. Why hasn’t this been a follow up concern for the D2 office with this project? There were weeks and weeks in the Historic Design and Review Commission last year were community members voiced opposition to the bulking, blocky, towering structure and how it doesn’t fit in with the neighborhood. In addition, there are added concerns over a potential increase of unwanted traffic from parked and moving cars and a land value shock effect. Mr. Hall has made it his goal to create the framework for this land swap before the end of his session in this last week in office. This rush has not allowed the stakeholders of this issue to adequately be involved in the process of decision making and were often left with the feeling of “the city will do what it wants, and there is nothing we can do to stop this,” sentiment. We’ve heard this statement from many community organizers and leaders in the Denver Heights, Dignowity Hill, Hays St. Bridge Group and general Eastside and greater San Antonio residents. Mr. Hall even stated in his address to the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Assoc. that this issue will be handled by his offices and there “is no need for your involvement” in the issue, which is counter to a people powered community driven project such as the Hays St. Bridge Restoration Project. This also continues the same behavior we have seen through this whole process over the years. Without truly listening to community concerns, and genuinely working towards meeting those needs and working from a bottom-up, grassroots effort, we will fail to address projects that really meet the needs of our neighborhoods. The community has demanded and cried out for affordable housing and lifestyle options, and this land swap deal still allows for a place originally designated for this to now be another sweet-deal money making grab for another white man who places no role in the largely community of color in which his business will occupy within. This project doesn’t serve the community we work with on the eastside. There is nothing offered to meet the needs of the community with this deal and it continues to show that the city is not serious about addressing concerns over gentrification of our East, South, and West Side.
It seems as if we are still trodding along in the same place. The Hays St. Bridge Restoration efforts was an example of a strong community driven, mostly community funded project and the concepts of luxury housing in the wake of the Mission Trails and Soapworks Town Center Communities and all the individual families being pushed out by approaching gentrification of our neighborhoods, really shows that we haven’t made it far enough. Proper aid has not been rendered to these focused areas, and instead more and more unaffordable housing is being constructed. Too often, we see designs for wealthier groups of people that San Antonio is expecting in the near future while forgetting about the long standing residents of this once affordable gem of the south United States. This whole time, the Hays St. Restoration Group, Friends of the Group, community members and leaders, Esperanza Center and Southwest Workers Union, and many many other smaller working groups have been asking for an accountable governance. We don't want to continue this model of top down policy and decision making that continues to neglect and harm our vulnerable communities. We demand a fair deal for the land to be returned to the Hays Bridge Restoration Project, the lawsuit to be honored of breach of contract, and for aggressive affordable housing and anti-gentrification measure be taken right now.
UPDATES FROM THE JUNE 3RD PUBLIC MEETING
There have been some changes it seems. They moved the arrangement of the 2 acres of the total 4 acres of the land swap site, and have claimed to mark the unused 2 acres not part of the land swap deal to be marked for affordable housing units. If the land swap moves forward the two leases that Eugene Simor had for the decking of the bridge and a catwalk attachment to the bridge would be voided with this swap. Although it seems like there is an attempt to correct the wrong of the past. There is still an ongoing lawsuit with the city over the original breach of contract. The city claims it plans not to file any more appeals and they want to drop it the case, however, this seems like a strategy to avoid taking blame and facing the court and jury decision that there was a contract breach in the initial 12 jury case that started this case. There is a still a push to hold the city accountable for their dirty deed land sale several years ago. We wanted justice. We demand the city face the lawsuit and admit guilt in this unethical and illegal land sale. We want the people that allowed and participated in this action to be accountable and face any consequences of their action.