The Alliance for San Antonio Missions exists to promote open and informed public conversation about development opportunities and threats around the San Antonio Missions.
The UNESCO World Heritage site designation recognizes the importance of preserving the Missions and their settings. But the designation also represents a significant economic benefit to the City of San Antonio and to private property owners, by attracting increased tourism and attention to areas of San Antonio where there are many opportunities for development.
Many parties are interested in those opportunities–not least the residents of the areas immediately surrounding the Missions, particularly the four missions on the relatively undeveloped South Side, in City Council District 3. Our communities have many development needs, ranging from transportation and street infrastructure to more housing choices and greater availability and diversity in businesses and professional services. We welcome smart development that will bring greater prosperity and improved quality of life to our neighborhoods.
We believe that development that serves our local residents will also serve the World Heritage tourist.
We want a robust public conversation about the value of investing in World Heritage tourism infrastructure, and a clear understanding of priorities set by our citizenry.
Currently, we feel that we do not have adequate representation through existing government and civic channels. So we have come together to create a platform that will help neighborhood voices be better heard.
Let’s face it: not all development is good. Good development takes time. Bad development is difficult and costly to un-do, if it can be un-done at all. We see no reason for haste when the stakes are so high.
The history of the Alliance and our calls for action can be found in the articles linked In the News.
The Alliance was formed shortly after the World Heritage designation, in response to immediate threats of proposed development that could seriously damage or destroy the very qualities that make the Missions and their environs so special.
As our local District 3 City Councilmember delayed taking a stand on the proposed development of a multi-story high-density apartment complex immediately adjacent Mission San José, last fall the Alliance called for a moratorium on development until existing policies and historical guidelines could be revised to ensure such projects could not go forward without greater public involvement and scrutiny.
Many thought a temporary moratorium made sense. The San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board wrote: “The Alliance for San Antonio Missions has called for a moratorium on development around the missions until existing plans and policies are examined. This has merit.”
While no ban was ever implemented, we believe the resulting public awareness has only served the greater good. No responsible developer will be deterred by the kinds of questions we have raised. These are questions about balancing private profit, public resources and community need; questions about short-term gains versus long-term impact. Developers who want to find community partners should contact us directly. You will find allies for projects that can serve our communities and increase wealth for everyone.
We do remain concerned that the existing regulations and policies of the City of San Antonio do not do enough to protect the Missions. In our view, recent controversies over yet another apartment complex planned adjacent to Mission Concepción only highlight the need to resolve the question of whether additional protections are needed. (See In the News.)
Specifically, we think that the Mission Protection Overlay Districts, a set of City guidelines intended to protect some of the viewshed around the Missions, are inadequate. Among other problems, the Overlays do not recognize the unique character and settings of the five separate and very differently situated complexes that form the Missions. According to the Director of the City’s Office of Historic Preservation, the guidelines were “never intended to be the answer to everything. It was intended to be a viewshed protection, which is basically a height restriction. We certainly never thought that we would stop looking at it. So it might be that additional tools are needed and desired by the community.” To date, no revisions have been made and we are not aware of any further discussion with the community.
We are also convinced that questions of local communities and World Heritage are bigger than any one City Council District. We think the South Side Missions area would benefit from the establishment of something like a ‘Missions Community Impact District’, which would go beyond considering scenic views to grapple with the greater challenges of urban development. We have called on the Mayor to convene such an advisory committee, to substantively include all stakeholders. The Mayor’s Office has not replied to any of our correspondence.
Earlier this year, the City established a World Heritage Office and appointed a director whose charge has included collecting recommendations for future proposed land use amendments in what the City has defined as the World Heritage Area. We have provided comments on the currently released draft of the proposals. Open Letter to Colleen Swain
Meanwhile, we have proposed some big picture ideas for conversation:
“Green Spaces” and the 2017 Bond Cycle Preserving open space that allows some recognition of the Missions’ physical connection to the river, and to each other, is important. Better protections for skylines and possibly light and sound pollution ordinances are a piece of this protection puzzle as well. We propose that the funding required to acquire for the public any remaining privately held spaces that are key to this effort should be included in the City of San Antonio’s 2017 Bond Cycle.
Missions Cultural District The San Antonio Missions World Heritage buffer zone may not adequately focus attention and resources on the importance of preserving and enhancing the communities that live the intangible cultural heritage for which UNESCO designation was awarded. A Missions Cultural District could provide this positive focus.
Heritage Investment Fund Infrastructural and other needs that will benefit both residents and tourists are substantial. Maintenance will be ongoing. Some portion of tourism revenues can be attributed to the Missions, and we think that a percentage of the Hotel Occupancy Tax should be allocated to a fund designed to help build stronger communities around the Missions. This would be something like a “community benefits fund,” in place elsewhere, with a mandate to prioritize projects that emphasize sustainability and supporting environments that allow intangible heritage – our many local cultural traditions — to flourish.
Tax Incentives Not all development is equal, and some kinds of development cost more and may have lower profit margins. We would like to see a tax-based incentive program that reflects clearly defined development goals established with substantive community input. Similarly, we would like to see job creation and employer incentive programs.
So far, unfortunately, we cannot report that any City official has even acknowledged these ideas. To date, our local District 3 Councilmember has refused to engage in any discussion of these ideas with us.
Stay tuned. We are an all-volunteer group and commitment is our primary resource. We will do our best to keep this page updated, and to keep raising the questions we think more of our leadership should be asking. Your questions, comments and ideas are welcome.
We will continue to report publicly on the response to our letters and the results of our meetings.
August 6, 2016 | Third Open Letter to Councilmember Rebecca Viagran
July 27, 2016 | Open Letter to Colleen Swain
March 4, 2016 | Second Open Letter to Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran
December 3, 2015 | Open Letter to District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran
October 15, 2015 | Open Letter to the Mayor of the City of San Antonio
October 15, 2015 | Open Letter to the City Council of San Antonio
October 15, 2015 | Open Letter to the Zoning Commission of the City of San Antonio
October 15, 2015 | Open Letter to the City of San Antonio Office of Historic Preservation