Residents on the blocks of Carolina and Florida Streets that lie between Labor Street and the I-37 highway have a new problem.
They already suffer from their proximity to the highway. On and off ramps for the highway dump directly onto those streets. There’s no buffer. The result is heavy traffic and traffic that moves too fast for residential streets.
But now they’re threatened with another challenge. There’s a large empty lot at the highway-end of those two streets, and a developer wants to put a 7-11 gas station and convenience store into the space.
Carolina and Florida Street residents are fighting the development, and they’ve brought the issue to the neighborhood association.
The property is owned by GrayStreet Partners, a San Antonio real estate investment firm, but they are under contract to sell it to a developer, Verdad, that specializes in building fast food restaurants and chain retail operations — including 7-11 stores.
Neighbors are concerned that a gas station next to both a freeway and a residential neighborhood will be dangerous, attracting traffic — including trucks — from the highway. And, they point out, a 24-hour 7-11 is hardly a good fit for an historic neighborhood.
Photo gallery, above: Carolina and Florida streets are narrow and often choked with traffic. The proposed gas station is at the end of the streets by the I-37 freeway, where it will attract traffic from the highway twenty-four hours a day. The gas station will back up to existing homes. Note that there's already a gas station and convenience store on the other side of I-37 in an area of industrial buildings. That more appropriate location already serves the neighborhood, for those that want it.
Neighbors also point out that there's already a gas station and convenience store about one hundred yards away on the other side of the freeway, well-separated from residences. That location already serves neighbors who want a nearby gas station.
Carolina Street resident Eloy Rosales has been part of the neighborhood group working on this issue, and he participated in a meeting with Verdad’s representatives. He doesn’t believe that Verdad is negotiating in good faith.
“They showed us a conceptual site plan,” he says, “but It really didn't make sense.” He described a plan that, for example, had key elements facing in the wrong direction.
“They just threw something out to say here, look, this is what we're going to do. What do you think?” Eloy says. “So when the neighborhood looks at it and says, well, you know what, the store should be facing the highway and the dumpster should be on this side of the property. Blah, blah, blah. And they're going to say, oh yeah, you're right. You know what? We're going to do that for you."
“Then they’ll say that we had input.”
But, he says, “the bottom line is, we just don’t want it. We don’t want a gas station with a convenience store there.”
The neighborhood’s legal leverage is limited. The property previously held a fleet fueling station, so its zoning would permit a gas station. The construction would have to pass muster with the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC), but that wouldn’t prevent Verdad’s planned use.
Lavaca Neighborhood Association president Cherise Rohr-Allegrini points out that the prior use of the property — as a fleet fueling station — is more a reflection of the neighborhood’s historic powerlessness than it is an argument for the appropriateness of that use.
She points out that, when highways were routed through the city decades ago, they carefully avoided disrupting wealthy neighborhoods like Olmos Park and Alamo Heights, but ripped apart poorer neighborhoods like Lavaca without any concern for the damage being done.
“Yes, a gas station was there before, but it shouldn’t have been,” she says.
“When the highway was built in 1959, there was eminent domain and people were forced out of their homes. And who were the people who were forced out? The low income families, people of color especially.”
“Neighborhoods with political power, like Alamo Heights and Olmos Park, didn’t have that problem. The highway in those parts of the city curves around to avoid neighborhoods, it doesn’t cut through them.”
“A highway should not be in the middle of houses.”
“You know what Florida and Carolina are like,” Cherise says. “You come off the highway and you are immediately at a house. There are not a lot of off-ramps along the interstate that are like that. Usually there’s a buffer.”
“So it should never be there in the first place. And it feels like we’re being forced to accept our fate because fifty years ago nobody was able to fight it.”
“Well, you know what? Now we’re going to fight it… we don’t need to accept this.”