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West Side groups celebrate developer's rejected appeal to demolish historic buildings

City staff presenting to the Zoning Board of Adjustment about David Adelman's appeal of his demolition request denial.
Josh Peck
City staff presenting to the Zoning Board of Adjustment about David Adelman's appeal of his demolition request denial.

West Side preservation groups celebrated on Monday after a city zoning board rejected real estate developer David Adelman’s effort to appeal a denial of his request to demolish two historic buildings in Cattleman Square.

The city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (BOA) voted 6-5 to deny Adelman’s appeal to demolish the Rich Book and SA Dye Works buildings.

The decision followed testimony from dozens of community members and presentations from city staffers, Adelman, and Adelman’s business partner Barclay Anthony.

Rich Book and SA Dye Works were built in 1923 and 1915, respectively. Rich Book was established by Morris Richbook, a Romanian Jewish immigrant, as a department store. Since then, it hosted a number of businesses, including a printing shop that published the bilingual newspaper La Prensa, the Majestic Cafe, and a clothing store.

Adelman requested to demolish the two buildings — which were deemed historic in 1988 — because he said it would be an unreasonable financial hardship to rehabilitate the buildings. That’s one of the few reasons an owner of a historic building is permitted to demolish it.

He estimated the Rich Book Building would cost $6 million and the SA Dye Works Building would cost another $1.2 million to restore to a state where they would be fully operational. He added there have been no takers to purchase the buildings for $4 million — a bundle that includes several other properties on the block.

Adelman said he wanted to clear off the buildings so he could construct a $50 million five-story mixed use residential and commercial complex with 121 market rate units and a parking garage.

West Side preservation groups came out strongly against Adelman’s plans. The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center and its director Graciela Sanchez led the effort against the project.

“David Adelman knew in 2014 when he bought that building that it was historic,” she said. “David Adelman is on top of the day-to-day, and he knows who our organizations are and how we are about preserving our West Side Mexican [and] Mexican American community. It saddens me that they want to push forth their vision and ignore our concerns.”

David Adelman waiting to speak at the Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing on his demolition request appeal.
Josh Peck
David Adelman waiting to speak at the Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing on his demolition request appeal.

Dozens of community members spoke out against Adelman’s plan in front of the city’s Housing Design and Review Commission (HDRC) in March. City staff at the time recommended that the HDRC approve Adelman’s request, but board members voted against him because they said he had not presented sufficient evidence of an unreasonable financial burden.

Adelman said the HDRC had used improper criteria to make its decision and did nothing to contest his claims about the financial burden brought on by the two buildings. He asked the BOA to find that the initial ruling was made in error.

Members of the BOA narrowly agreed with the HDRC’s decision on Monday.

Sanchez and other residents claimed Adelman had done little to look for ways to raise the funds needed to rehab the buildings — including seeking incentives available to the building because it sits in a Bexar County Opportunity Zone — according to them and city staff.

“It seems like David Adelman, buying [Rich Book] 10 years ago knowing it was designated historic, didn’t seem to care about it because their intention was always to demolish this building from the onset,” she said.

When a board member asked Adelman if the property was in fact in an Opportunity Zone, he appeared uncertain.

“I don’t think so, and actually I’m not sure if it would apply to us because we owned it before [Opportunity Zones were established],” Adelman said. “Actually, I’m not sure, I’d have to look into that and get back to you with an answer.”

West Side residents said they wanted to convert the vacant Rich Book building into deeply affordable housing instead of the market rate units Adelman wants. Sanchez said she’d be happy to take the building off of Adelman’s hands if he offered a fair price.

“And so I said to Adelman and to Mr. Barclay, if it costs $100 we’ll pay you twice as much, we’ll pay you $200,” she said. “And Mr. Barclay didn’t say no.”

After the Board of Adjustment hearing, Adelman said he intends to take the case to district court within the next 30 days.

The Esperanza Center’s pro bono attorney Amy Kastely said she intends to make the Center a party in that court case when Adelman eventually files for his next appeal. “We will try to join the case, and I expect that the court will permit it,” Kastely said.

In the meantime, Adelman said he is more than happy to sell the properties.

“We would sell it in a heartbeat,” he said. “If they (the Esperanza Center) want to make a serious offer, they know my phone number, they know my address, they know how to get ahold of me. And they’re welcome to do that.”

He said he’d be willing to sell off the properties individually to make it easier. But, he added, any sale would require the buyer to have a “viable restoration plan” so they don’t stay vacant and blighted for several more decades.

Adelman said he has the same goal as the West Side community organizations, even if they don’t see it that way.

“We share the same hopes and dreams that that neighborhood shares that there could be a thriving urban renaissance in that area, and the unfortunate part is we’re at odds, but we both share the same vision for the neighborhood,” he said.

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