Feature Illustration (above): Concept by Studio VYH of the wedding hall facing San Pedro Creek. The mechanic shop on the opposite end faces South Flores Street. Courtesy: City of San Antonio public records.
by Adolfo Pesquera
San Antonio (Bexar County) — A defunct downtown auto repair shop will be revived and paired with a two-story wedding hall as part of a major building restoration project.
With the Zoning Commission acting as matchmaker, this odd couple pairing of grease monkeys and wedding caterers made it through the Tuesday session with one lone no vote. Commissioner John Bustamante found the concept too incongruous and he was not alone. City staff opposed the request for being inconsistent with the “established development pattern of the surrounding area.”
New multi-story apartment buildings and parking garages are being constructed across Flores Street from the proposed garage and wedding hall. The staff assessment seemed to suggest that the site, which has been a mechanic shop for decades, should also be repurposed for high density housing.
The mechanic shop shares a wall with Milmo Lofts, a two-story historic building with offices and apartments. Image: Google Streets.
“While the adaptive re-use of existing buildings is generally encouraged, the use with the building must support the broader goals of the comprehensive plan and specific area plans, such as promoting development that leverages public investment in amenities such as the San Pedro Creek linear park.
“The Downtown Neighborhood Plan envisions the area along San Pedro Creek as a mid-to-high rise mixed use neighborhood with a high-quality pedestrian oriented environment. Land uses such as automotive repair detract from the community’s goals,” the staff report stated.
However, the construction site plan for this almost quarter-acre property takes advantage of the pending improvements to San Pedro Creek. The garage would face the 300 block of South Flores Street, as it always has. The event hall is designed to face San Pedro Creek. It will have a landscaped buffer in front of the entrance to provide the pedestrian connectivity that would be expected upon architectural review.
Google Earth aerial view of the property. The rear section faces San Pedro Creek, which is destined for extensive redevelopment that will include new sidewalks and landscaping.
Located almost cater-corner from where the new federal courthouse is to be constructed, the wedding hall would be ideally positioned to attract foot traffic in the not too distant future.
Commissioner Pat Gibbons disagreed with staff and Bustamante. She reasoned that “love knows no bounds,” and noted that people will celebrate their marriages just about anywhere. If a couple can say their vows under a tree in a city park, Gibbons said, she didn’t see anything wrong with a roof deck view of a redeveloped creek, even if the building is attached to a mechanic’s garage.
Dr. Alberto Milmo, owner of Milmo Lofts, objected to the garage resuming business. Milmo and the management of the Hampton Inn & Suites–a four-story hotel that shares a surface parking lot with the garage–both had concerns about the noise from a mechanic shop.
The Milmo Lofts are an office/apartment complex in a restored historic building that was constructed in 1912. The adjacent garage, which shares a wall, was built in 1930 and is owned by Ken and Arlene Smith of Castroville.
Garret Neumann of Red Oak Engineering presents his case for the zoning change. Commissioner Sofia Lopez (far left) made the motion in its favor. Photo credit: Adolfo Pesquera.
Garret Neumann of Castroville-based Red Oak Engineering had been working on the objections concerning the noise potential for some time. Neumann said the garage would be refitted with 16-inch masonry walls, a thickness he claimed should be sufficient to muffle sounds in the garage. And if there are still complaints, he said the noise could be resolved with additional insulation.
Commissioner Sofia Lopez, in whose district the property lies, recognized Neumann’s efforts, said she was satisfied with his proposals and made the motion in favor. The zoning change adds auto and light truck repair as a permitted use to the existing Infill Development Zone River Improvement Overlay.
The Smiths presented their plans for the garage in June to the Historic and Design Review Commission. At that time, they were only seeking approval of new signage for the garage–26-feet in length by 3 feet in height, indirectly lit metal channel letters stating “Mike’s Downtown Garage, Complete Auto Service,” and a double-sided projecting sign 3 feet high by 2 feet wide.
The signage was approved but there was no consideration given to the event hall on the opposite end of the building.
Illustration of the garage entrance. Courtesy: Red Oak Engineering.