Neighborly way to redo Fort Sam
Groups want to ensure post expansion brings opportunities instead of problems in vicinity.
By Elaine Ayo
San Antonio Express-News
Wednesday, May 29, 2008
The Rev. Doug Earle sees opportunity on all sides of Government Hill, a neighborhood surrounded by the growing Fort Sam Houston and development projects along the Broadway corridor.
“We are seeing a lot of change in the neighborhood with homes being restored (and) some people interested in urban living moving into the neighborhood and the area,” said Earle, rector for St. Paul's Episcopal Church and School at 1018 E. Grayson St.
“We're trying to take as active a role as we can,” Earle said of the church's participation in community meetings about growth at Fort Sam and the congregation's own plans to expand its facilities on donated land east of the church's parking lot.
With the bulk of $2 billion in construction spending set to take place at Fort Sam as part of the 2005 Defense Base Realignment and Closure (commonly known as BRAC) round, local organizations and the military are looking at how to lessen harmful impacts on neighborhoods around the post and translate its growth to revitalization in older neighborhoods such as Government Hill.
“It is unquestionable that it is going to be a great thing for this city as a whole, but that shouldn't be at the expense of those in the immediate vicinity,” former mayor Howard Peak said of the expansion, which is set to bring roughly 12,000 new personnel to the post.
The city's Office of Military Affairs has commissioned consulting firm DiLuzio Group to develop a Growth Management Plan to address BRAC's effect on neighborhoods around the post, medicine in San Antonio and transportation and infrastructure issues.
(J. Michael Short Photo/Special to the E-N)
Liz Evans (from left), Jennifer Wickham, Ian Wickham and Patrick Wickham attend service at St. Paul's Episcopal Church.
The team held a series of public meetings over the past week and will make monthly recommendations to the Military Transformation Task Force, a board headed up by City Councilwoman Sheila McNeil, Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson and Michael Novak of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
The consultants will also have a series of public meetings this fall to summarize their findings.
“It's sort of like catching a moving train,” said Russell Freeman of the DiLuzio Group. Freeman explained that the Growth Management Plan will take a cue from previous community and neighborhood plans to see what elements of those plans can be achieved by harnessing the effects of BRAC.
With the bulk of personnel set to start arriving at Fort Sam in 2010 and no plans to build additional base housing, the consultants estimated those coming to San Antonio will need roughly 4,000 to 5,000 housing units.
Peak, co-chairman of a Military Transformation Task Force committee focused on neighborhood revitalization, pointed out that developers and residents have been gradually refurbishing some of the often-historic housing stock in neighborhoods such as Government Hill.
“But is that enough to attract the new folks to the neighborhoods?”
The expansion of Walters Street to six lanes in order to make it a main entrance for the post could also help create a commercial corridor in the area, a way to bring more business into an area that saw it drop off after the New Braunfels gate was closed after 9-11, Peak said.
According to a summary of a meeting with neighborhoods and community leaders in the area around Fort Sam, the challenges for the neighborhoods will include improving safety, schools and infrastructure while ensuring traffic on and off the post doesn't overwhelm the neighborhoods.
“The major issues have been safety, preserving character of the neighborhood and improving quality of living in the neighborhood,” said Earle of St. Paul's.
The military has been working with the Texas Department of Transportation to ensure construction traffic can efficiently enter and exit the post. Construction will take place in “bubbles,” areas fenced off from the main post to decrease backlog and maintain security. It has also conducted studies of on- and off-post traffic and has an engineer dedicated to analyzing traffic influxes.
“It might be a great opportunity or it might just be utter chaos,” said Diane Smilgin of the Terrell Castle Bed and Breakfast at 950 E. Grayson St., adding how the area needs to address, among other issues, schools and safety by reining in absentee landlords.