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Tense meeting over residential parking plan for St. Mary's Strip marks latest round in a long fight

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Kathleen Creedon
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TPR
Midnight Swim is a venue on St. Mary's St.

Hundreds of Tobin Hill residents, business owners, and state and city officials met on Saturday to discuss a pilot program that would limit parking on the St. Mary's Strip to residents.

Bars, clubs, restaurants and music venues fill the half-mile stretch of the street near the Pearl shopping area, alongside homes and apartments, from Kings Court to East Locust.

Residents have complained about noise and rowdy patrons, loss of parking spots to those patrons, and delayed construction projects that further limit their access.

Business owners protested the plan, worried that limiting parking will hurt their livelihoods.

"There is no such thing as a residential street," said Chad Carey, owner of the Little Death wine bar and president of the North St. Mary's Business Owners Association. "These streets belong to everyone. We should all be able to use them."

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Jia Chen
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TPR
The meeting in the parking lot of St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church on Saturday.

A second meeting is scheduled for Oct. 8 at San Antonio College's Victory Center.

The San Antonio City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposal on Oct. 20.

The tense meeting took place in the parking lot of St. Sophia Church. It was originally planned to be held indoors but hundreds of people attended, so it was moved outdoors to accommodate them.

People stood in a circle, some of them booing, jeering or cheering, depending on who spoke and what opinion was shared.

Martin Ruiz with the San Antonio City Development Office, State Rep. Diego Bernal, a former District 1 councilman, and Mario Bravo, the current council representative, attended to discuss the plan and the issues, which the meeting left unresolved.

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City of San Antonio
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The preliminary St. Mary's parking plan

In April, during Fiesta, San Antonio police used barricades to close off sections of the adjacent Tobin Hill neighborhood to nonresident weekend parking, from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., as a dry run for future crime prevention efforts in the area.

Concerns over shootings and fights have only intensified the debate over who should be able to access the neighborhood's residential streets and when.

The hope at the time was that closing the streets would keep intoxicated bar patrons from stumbling past homes and through yards.

Parker Dixon, president of the Tobin Hill Community Association, said that was the case for the sequestered area. Those residents experienced a calm they hadn’t enjoyed in years, he said.

But the April experiment did not make everyone happy.

Business owners like Sean Wen, co-owner of Curry Boys BBQ, told TPR that he was worried the barricades, which were erected by 7 p.m., would kill his evening dinner business. “Strictly speaking from a small business, like restaurant perspective, like, of course, having closures at 7 p.m. is gonna, it's gonna affect you,” he said.

Residents whose areas were not sealed off by police barricades became the ones dealing with the nighttime crush of cars and rowdy patrons. The flood had simply been rerouted from one area to another.

“Unfortunately, the traffic did push out further into parts of the neighborhood that normally don't suffer any of the parking traffic hazards that we near the strip do,” Dixon said.

And even some residents of the barricaded streets were unsatisfied. They complained of not having access to their own streets or having to move the barricades themselves.

Paul Flahive contributed to this report.

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Jia Chen is a freelance journalist and photographer for Texas Public Radio. She began with TPR working as the Bexar County selected Summer Arts Intern in 2021. Her coverage includes arts & culture, technology, politics, and more. She holds a BA in Communication from University of Texas at San Antonio and has lived in San Antonio for over 20 years.