San Antonio’s Parks & Recreation Department got an earful from dozens of residents joining a weekend site tour of proposed bond project construction at Brackenridge Park set to claim over 100 trees.
Residents have one last shot at stalling the project.
About 105 trees are slated for destruction to clear the way for a 2017-related bond-funded construction project in San Antonio’s Brackenridge Park. Residents flocked to a site tour hosted by San Antonio Parks and Recreation and the Office of Councilmember Mario Bravo (D1) with a litany of complaints, concerns, and recommendations for a project described typically as being about restoring historic structures, but which would also clear out trees for the construction of a new watercourse and plaza, the repair of river walls, create new “view sheds,” and reduce a migratory bird rookery.
You can view the bulk of the Parks Department presentations and often testy exchanges with local residents in the below 1-hour video:
The project cleared the San Antonio Planning Commission in late January, with some planning members arguing the public had their say concerning the trees when they voted on the City bond in 2017. (However, we’ve since met former bond committee members who say trees were never discussed).
Final project clearance was planned for February 2, 2022, at San Antonio’s Historic and Design Review Committee. That was delayed through the intervention (best as we can determine) of the Office of Councilmember Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2), which then hosted a video town hall on February 10, 2022. On that call, McKee-Rodriguez requested the project be limited to just a section of failing river wall deemed an urgent consideration by Assistant City Manager David McCary before it goes to the HDRC this week. That would allow more time for community engagement on the plan’s other elements.
So now it appears a final vote approaches this Wednesday, February 16. There is no requirement at this point for City Council to consider the item.
Interestingly, the project language is still changing. As we wrote previously, the project before the Planning Commission contained no mention of bird mitigation. That changed in the midst of some controversy over Parks Assistant Manager Bill Pennell’s public comments about the ongoing harassing of migratory birds at Brackenridge. Project description language was included in the HDRC’s draft agenda for last week that read:
The proposed tree removal plan is to prevent further damage to above-ground historic resources; to prevent rookeries from developing and causing unhealthy environments; to provide regular tree maintenance, including dead tree removal; and to enhance the view shed in conjunction with the proposed Brackenridge Park 2017 Bond project.
During a public hearing organized by McKee-Rodrigeuz, City staff claimed repeatedly that bird mitigation was not a part of the project. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that this bird mitigation language was subsequently scrubbed ahead of the February 16 vote. The project description now reads simply:
The proposed tree removal plan is to prevent further damage to above-ground historic resources in conjunction with the proposed Brackenridge Park 2017 Bond project.
(Under questioning during the public tour, Pennell again described how birds will be “relocated” from Brackenridge before the project. And he confirmed Parks is working with USDA and Texas Parks and Wildlife on a project “very similar” to the 2019 destruction of the decades-old rookery at Bird Island in Elmendorf Lake Park at Brackenridge.
Many tour participants took issue with various aspects of the proposal in addition to that of bird displacement, with most vocally balking at the site of elder trees slated for destruction, including, in one case, an elder tree being removed for the construction of a new pedestrian bridge and plaza at the Old Pump House.
“This isn’t a safety issue here. This isn’t a declining tree issue here,” said one local resident. “This is to put something new here at the expense of trees is what I see right now. … There is an alternative here to consider.”
Here’s a bit from that exchange:
You can see many similar exchanges in the tour video at top.
Meanwhile, the HDRC is registering guests for in-person comments up until the item is taken up at 4:30pm on Wednesday, February 16, 2022, according to the HDRC website. Due to COVID-19 consdierations, however, folks are encouraged to attend remotely and call in comments by noon that day.
The Historic & Design Review Commission will hold its regular meeting in the Board Room at 1901 South Alamo beginning at 3:00 p.m. Once convened, the Historic and Design Review Commission will take up the following items no sooner than the designated times.
To protect the health of the public and limit the potential spread of COVID19, masks are strongly recommended for persons attending this meeting in person. You can access via livestream and call to listen in. To call to listen in English or Spanish, call 210-206-LIVE(5483).
Remote participation through voicemail comments is strongly recommended. Members of the public can provide their comment via voicemail by dialing 210-206-HDRC(4372). Voicemail messages will be played before or during consideration of the item. Please include your full name, home or work address, and the item number and address of the request. Recordings are limited to 2 minutes; voicemails must be received by 12 noon on the day of the hearing in order to be played.
Below is the agenda packet and a highlight of the trees to be removed. Red circles signify departing trees under the plan. Highlights signify trees being removed with “historian oversight.”: