In a study session which had wide implications for the future of San Antonio Shopping Center and the surrounding area, council members and residents gave input on a new "precise plan" to guide office, housing and retail development while refining policies for the area developed in the city's new 2030 general plan.
Among the plans council supported was a 3-acre "central green" located right in the middle of the shopping center where Trader Joe's and Kohl's stores now stand. Presumably paid for with fees charged to developers, the large new park would meet a green parkway or promenade along the Hetch Hetchy aqueduct right of way through the shopping center. The promenade is partially being built on the west side of the shopping center in the redevelopment by Merlone Geier.
After a long and complicated discussion, city planner Rebecca Shapiro said council members seemed supportive of a "soft cap" of six stories in building heights for the shopping center, with exceptions for taller buildings "on a case-by-case basis for special projects that provide public benefits." Buildings may be allowed up to three or four stories high near parks and parkways.
Shapiro added that none of the plans are final at this point.
Development in the shopping center would focus on "regional retail" that would be on the ground floors of new buildings, but council members have yet to decide on whether new housing or new offices would occupy the upper floors of new retail spaces.
Several residents spoke in favor of more housing at the shopping center, including an attendee in his 20s who said that building less than eight stories would be a "slap in the face" of young people who need housing. Resident Job Lopez said the city had "moral obligation" to provide affordable housing for its workers, some of whom can no longer afford to commute.
"I just turned 50 and when I look around I am among the youngest in this room, and that concerns me," said resident and bike advocate Janet LaFleur. "I want to make sure we aren't shutting out our young people from having the life we had."
Partly because a lack of housing has driven up housing costs, "I don't think someone 30 years old today has the same opportunities I had. Don't be afraid of the density. If we don't have density we won't have space for young people to live here," she said.
Council member Mike Kasperzak said in exasperation, "We are housing deficient!"
Elaborating after the meeting, he said, "The fact is, the general plan has way more square footage for employees than the general plan makes available for additional housing." The city is planning for more than 25,000 new jobs in the North Bayshore and Whisman areas alone, while zoning for a maximum of less than 7,000 new homes, mostly on the San Antonio and El Camino Real corridor.
Council member Ronit Bryant replied to Kasperzak: "Maybe we need less offices — we'll talk about that later," though it wasn't discussed again that night.
Bike route chosen
One of the most significant directions given by the council Tuesday was choosing a path for bicyclists traveling east-west through the shopping center. There were three options: direct bikes lanes around the shopping center on California Street; down a pedestrian promenande along the Hetch Hetchy or a more direct path to connect bike routes on Latham Street and Fayette Avenue, through the shopping center's parking lots. Council members chose "option B" — the Hetch Hetchy aqueduct right of way, which may one day have a trail on it across the entire city, though much if it is now used by parking lots.
Former mayor Matt Pear opposes such a trail on the section of the Hetch Hetchy that runs along his property leased by Target. He complained Tuesday, "You need to maintain retail for sales tax dollars to maintain public safety for the city. There is no big box retail that can make it on bicycle and pedestrian traffic."
No "road diets"
Council members indicated support for protected bicycle lanes on Showers Drive and California Street Tuesday, but not by removing car traffic lanes, as bike advocates have proposed in order to slow traffic on the four-lane streets, especially on California, where a number of pedestrians have been killed in recent years.
Instead, the city will study the possibility of moving car parking away from the curb to create protected bike lanes in between parked cars and the curb, without losing car lanes.