Shared from the 10/21/2016 San Antonio Express eEdition

N. Side apartment fight is looming

William Luther / San Antonio Express-News

Developer Mike Hogan wants to build a 288-unit subsidized apartment complex in the Ingram Hills neighborhood.

Politically connected developer Mike Hogan and residents of the North Side enclave of Ingram Hills are gearing up for a battle over whether to turn one of the area’s last vacant tracts of land into a federally subsidized apartment complex for low-income renters.

Hogan, a frequent campaign donor, says the 288-unit complex would be an asset to the community, bringing more affordable housing to a city that desperately needs it.

He’s applying for $14 million in federal low-income housing tax credits, which would limit the complex to renters making at or below 60 percent of the local median wage and would set rent for a three-bedroom at about $899 a month.

But his argument doesn’t fly in Ingram Hills, which has managed to preserve a few pockets of tranquility in the midst of the North Side’s roaring growth, thanks to a robust neighborhood association.

Residents say the $39 million complex, named Majestic Ranch, would worsen traffic and make area schools even more crowded — Villarreal Elementary School already is using portable classrooms.

The proposed 14-acre complex, at Callaghan Road and Horseshoe Bend, would violate the Ingram Hills neighborhood plan that the City Council approved in 2009, which calls for putting single-family homes and retail shops there. The current zoning allows for low-rise offices and retail.

“The fact that it was going to be a subsidized property, or a low-income property, is not the issue at all,” said Richard Menchaca, a longtime member of the Ingram Hills Neighborhood Association. “It’s the concentration of people for our schools, the concentration of traffic it would be adding to our area, and then on top of that, first and foremost, the fact that it is completely ignoring our neighborhood plan.”

While some residents say they aren’t opposing Majestic Ranch because it’s subsidized housing, others have posted concerns on the NextDoor social media site that bringing in low-income housing would be “property value suicide,” as one resident put it.

Hogan, a 40-year veteran of the local real estate industry who develops subsidized multifamily projects through his firm HomeSpring Realty Partners, will go before the city Planning Commission on Wednesday and the Zoning Commission on Nov. 1 to seek permission to rezone the 14 acres to multifamily. The plans are also subject to City Council approval.

“This is really going to uplift the neighborhood. In fact, I’m outbuilding the neighborhood on the quality issue,” Hogan said. “We need affordable housing all over this city.”

Relations between Hogan and the neighborhood association deteriorated quickly after he approached it last November with plans for the complex, and each blames the other for the impasse.

Hogan says the association cut off communication after he agreed to turn Majestic Drive into a tree-lined boulevard, among other changes. Association members say he has been dismissive of their concerns.

Ingram Hills residents are split on whether they would accept any multifamily project on the property. Some say they would allow it as long as Hogan builds a buffer of single-family homes between it and the rest of the neighborhood, while others are completely opposed.

“He’s compromising on things, but in the end … we decided we don’t want it at all. Period,” said Pete Araiza, the neighborhood association’s treasurer.

For his part, Hogan says the property would be difficult to develop into single-family homes because of a drainage ditch that runs through it.

It isn’t unusual for developers and residents to butt heads over a construction project, especially on the North Side, but the spat between Hogan and Ingram Hills residents has become unusually heated. Hogan, who thinks the residents are opposing the complex mainly because it’s federally subsidized, has taken to writing flattering posts about it on Facebook, while Ingram Hills residents gripe about it on NextDoor.

Opponents of Majestic Ranch are pessimistic about their chances in facing off against Hogan because of his donations to local politicians.

“I think this is just one more example of a developer using their particular influence on a councilperson to push their agenda forward, and to heck with the residents,” Menchaca said.

They say Hogan makes frequent campaign contributions to city officials. Hogan and his wife have donated at least $8,500 to Mayor Ivy Taylor and City Council members in the past two years, campaign finance reports show. The donations include $2,000 to District 7 City Councilman Cris Medina, whose district would include Majestic Ranch.

Hogan also serves on the city’s housing commission and capital improvements advisory committee.

Medina said it’s too early to say whether he supports the project but that he “like(s) what he’s seen so far.”

“It potentially has an opportunity to transform that corridor … and the rendering I’ve seen looks great,” he said. “As a city, we’ve got to project and plan for much more growth, and quality affordable housing is part of the equation.”

Donating money to city officials is common sense, Hogan said, considering their power over development projects.

“Why wouldn’t I (donate money)? The city of San Antonio controls every building permit … it controls all the utilities,” Hogan said. “Our industry in this town is controlled by City Council and the city of San Antonio. It only makes sense that you do something.”

The issue of campaign contributions “distracts from the real issue of building nice housing,” Hogan added. “To say I could buy a councilman for $500 is ridiculous on its face.”

Hogan’s campaign contributions have had “zero influence” on his opinion of the project, Medina said.

Hogan estimates he has built 6,000 apartments in his career. A few years ago, he built Woodlawn Ranch, a 252-unit subsidized complex he says is similar to what he has planned for Majestic Ranch. On Wednesday morning, Woodlawn Ranch appeared well-kept, with a sparkling blue pool and residents’ balconies adorned with Halloween decorations for a contest.

Hogan currently is building another subsidized complex on the former Pecan Valley Golf Course on the Southeast Side, which also has drawn community opposition.

If the city approves Majestic Ranch, the lot is expected to be sold to a partnership that includes the San Antonio Housing Trust Public Facility Corp., a nonprofit created by the city to support affordable housing, Hogan said. The current property owner is Ingram Hills resident George Block.

After the property is sold, Hogan then would build the apartment complex and enter a contract to manage it, he said. If the San Antonio Housing Trust becomes co-owner of the complex, it would be eligible for a full property tax exemption.

In recent years, North Side residents have showed up in force at Zoning Commission and Planning Commission meetings to fight developers over other proposed projects, including apartment complexes in Jade Oaks and Oakwell Farms and on the former estate of former Texas Secretary of State Roy Barrera Sr. Residents lost each of those fights, but that land didn’t need to be rezoned for multifamily housing like Majestic Ranch.

Ingram Hills is half a mile from the bonanza of retail and office buildings along Loop 410, but large parts of it consist of half-acre lots with historic homes and some pastoral views. A few subsidized apartment complexes have been built along the outskirts of the neighborhood over the years, and residents say they’re glad to have a mix of incomes in the area.

The neighborhood association scored some wins in the battle against encroaching density under the leadership of longtime president Joan Price, a stalwart negotiator with developers who died in 2014. In her obituary, one resident said she “was always going up against excessive low-income housing.”

But a new challenge opened up for the neighborhood about a year ago when the city fixed drainage issues that freed up several vacant lots for development — including the one eyed by Hogan. Residents are worried that converting the property to multifamily would set a precedent.

“There are some other vacant properties in the neighborhood, and it would basically open the door for them to cast aside our neighborhood plan,” Menchaca said.

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