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Beacon Hill Neighbors Recommend Zoning Change Request For Controversial Art Gallery

Ryan Loyd
TPR News
Residents cast their ballot on whether or not to recommend approval of a zoning change request. They overwhelmingly supported the request.

In an overwhelming vote in favor of a well-publicized zoning case in Beacon Hill, residents of the community just north of downtown gave their approval for an art gallery and design business.

The neighborhood vote Monday night is just another step in the process of re-zoning French & Michigan, which takes its name from the intersection at which it is located. The building is currently zoned as residential, but its legacy has been mostly as a commercial structure located just off Fredericksburg Road.

Hundreds of residents packed inside Beacon Hill Presbyterian Church during the regular meeting of the active neighborhood association. They came to hear the owner of French & Michigan, Billy Lambert, share his side of the story and what he plans on doing with his business.

Lambert said he wants to grow plants on the window sills and sell them to people as part of his design firm, where at least eight designers and architects work.

He also wants to offer coffee and pastries to his clients and residents, and rental space for events. Another aspect of the business is an art gallery.

"This building is really unique and special, and it's really kind of drawn people out because to me, it is really one of the most beautiful buildings I've seen in San Antonio," Lambert said to the residents at the meeting.

But opponents spoke, too, and said their main concern is parking. One resident stood up and asked if people are allowed to park anywhere they want on a city street, seemingly to emphasize the point that parking wouldn't be an issue because there is plenty of street parking available for Lambert's employees, clients, artists and others.

Folks like Raquel Martinez said for years the building was home to a number of businesses and parking was never an issue.

"I've been in the neighborhood 54 years, born and raised here, and it's always been a business," she said. "It's always been a business except for a couple of years that someone was living there and that was it. Other than that, it's always been businesses, and we've never, ever, ever had any issues as far as parking's concerned."

Opponents also told the crowd that the zoning change would stay with the building if Lambert becomes very successful and decides to leave the location.

Community leader Maria Berriozabal said the fabric of the neighborhood is in jeopardy if residents gave their approval. "It's mostly a residential area and I asked a long time resident of Beacon Hill, I'm very concerned over the survival of our housing," she said.

After presentations, residents cast their ballot and when everything was tallied.

"The final vote was was 62 in favor and 37 against," said a neighborhood association leader.

Those in favor dominated the night. Now Beacon Hill will pass along the results to the city's zoning commission, which meets in a week. In December, the planning commission voted to approve an amendment to the Midtown Plan for the parcel from half low density residential and half mixed use to all mixed use.

Ryan Loyd was Texas Public Radio's city beat and political reporter. He left the organization in December, 2014.