The San Antonio Planning Commission approved on Wednesday a resolution to amend a land use plan for the neighborhood surrounding Mission Concepcion to change a 6.1-acre site from “Parks/Open Space” to “High Density Residential.”
The change is needed by the developer, 210 Development Group, to redevelop Saint John Seminary into an apartment community. The Development Services Department land use analysis states the proposed project “may be used as a transitional buffer between lower density residential uses and the Juvenile Detention Center, the social Service Institution, and other high intensive uses within the area.”
The redevelopment plans have been approved by the Office of Historic Preservation, and the Historic and Design Review Commission gave conceptual approval (see below) of the architectural designs. The project must still go before the Zoning Commission, City Council and then back to the HDRC for final designs approval.
Original Post: 6-18-2015
by Adolfo Pesquera
San Antonio (Bexar Co.) – A conceptual plan for the restoration of the historic St. John’s Seminary as an upscale apartment community received conditional approval Wednesday from the Historic and Design Review Commission.
The developer, 210 Development Group, must still revise the architectural character for its concept, but the commissioners generally had positive comments about the architecture and tree preservation plan.
The St. John’s Seminary campus is adjacent to Immaculate Conception Mission (Mission Concepcion). The seminary closed four years ago and has been deteriorating rapidly due to neglect, vandals and fires. The seminary began in the 1920s and buildings were added to the campus over a period of decades.
In March 2014, 210DG was selected through a request for proposal process by the Archdiocese of San antonio to devise a preservation plan. This led to a long-term lease agreement with the archdiocese that permitted 210DG to convert the 12.15-acre site into an apartment complex with up to 240 market rental units; revisions have since lowered that number slightly.
The developer hopes to begin construction by November or December of this year.
Vinayak Bharne, director of design at Moule & Polyzoides Architects & Urbanists in Pasadena, California elaborated on the 210DG vision, describing a mix of adaptively reconstructed historic buildings beside new buildings that would achieve their maximum mass in the center of the property where heights would reach 3 1/2 stories.
Bharne began by noting it was an enormous privilege “to to be working on this, a site of not only local but national prominence; and beyond, this is a candidate for World Heritage status.”
Bharne said design considerations took into account the scattered layout of existing structures, determining which buildings should be demolished, and how the overall design interfaced with neighboring properties.
He took into consideration the major differences in the use of neighbor properties–the county juvenile detention facility to the north, the 1920-1930s era single family neighborhood on the east and south, and the 18th century mission on the southwest. In addition, the site itself is bifurcated with the west side having the four oldest buildings 210DG recognizes as historic, and the later structures to the east it wishes to remove.
“It’s a very complex site with a lot of contextual restraints each of which has to be responded to on its own terms,” Bharne said.
In the latest design, the larger of two parking lots, would be placed opposite a county juvenile detention facility.
Structures that face single family households along Felisa and Kalteyer streets would have heights limited to one or two stories. The stepping down along Felisa and other boundary streets is to prevent the development from looking too imposing and out of scale with its surroundings.
The most important structures to be preserved include Drossaert Hall, which is the main building and the oldest, having been built in 1920. Then there is St. Marquil Hall, built in 1935, St. Mary’s Hall built in 1949 and the chapel, for which he did not give an origin date. The chapel and one other historic building would be retained by the archdiocese and that land is not part of the development.
He described many of the later structures, including St. Thomas and St. Vincent Halls, as having been added incrementally in an ad hoc manner, with designs of another era. Bharne said St. Thomas Hall visually obstructed Drossaert Hall.
210DG proposes demolishing seven buildings. Staff objected to the demolition of three buildings, two of which are single family residences that city staff determined were historically “contributing” and should be relocated to spare them.
Four large new buildings and four medium size buildings would be added to the site in the current plan. The initial plan involved larger buildings up to the perimeter that created a stark contrast in heights and involved more loss of trees. 210DG revised its design.
The Design Review Committee heard the application May 26 and noted the new parking scheme was ideal, and that the stepping down in massing was important. Separately, city staff also acknowledged that after consultation with the National Parks Service and World Heritage Advisory Committee, 210DG eliminated a third building from its proposal.
Residences in the community would be aligned with their front entrances and windows facing enclosed courtyards rather than the boundary streets. In addition to Felisa and Kalteyer, the site is bordered by Mission Road and East Mitchell Street.
Bharne heavily emphasized the tree plan.
“We will keep all of the heritage trees, 80 percent of the protected trees and we will be bringing in new trees,” he said.
An attached color-coded tree plan in the image gallery shows the heritage trees in green, the protected (significant) trees in yellow and proposed new trees in blue.
A major sticking point with the commission was the Spanish mission style facades of the proposed development.
Chair Tim Cone said he agreed with the staff–which asked that 210DG incorporate contemporary elements that “do not present a villa atmosphere.” Cone said the proposed style departed significantly from the red brick of the existing buildings and would tend to confuse visitors by creating a false historical narrative. Mission Concepcion was from a much earlier era than the seminary.
“There’s got to be some sort of a tie-in,” Cone said. “You want to be of your place and time. There could be architectural nods to that historic building, and that could be done before coming back for final approval.”
Michael Wibracht, president of 210DG stepped in and said Moule & Polyzoides was given free rein. He said this was a nationally respected firm. Wibracht said they did initially look at a more contemporary design, but felt it was incongruent.
Bharne emphasized that this is a historic site sharing land of the archdiocese in direct proximity to a Spanish colonial era mission. He argued there was a market reality that should be acknowledged, adding the Spanish Andalusian design was not so identical as to cause this false narrative.
A mission style has a proven track record, not just in San Antonio but across the Southwest, Bharne said. He also noted that since the archdiocese was keeping two buildings that sit between the development and Mission Concepcion, they functioned as a sufficient transitional buffer.
The commissioners appeared unswayed however, and gave their conditional approval of a conceptual design. The demolition request was approved for all but one of the buildings, and the commission stipulated in its vote that 210DG incorporate additional material to reflect some of the existing architecture.