Firm studying S.A.'s claim to rights over tract

A venture headed by former Dallas Mayor Robert Folsom has been the envy of area developers for 25 years.

That's how long an arm of Addison-based Folsom Cos. has held the "right of first refusal" on the 311-acre Voelcker property in Northwest San Antonio. That right allows the company to match any bids made on the property, an urban green space coveted by developers.

But the real-estate development firm now must contend with the city of San Antonio, a would-be buyer with the power to condemn property for publicly beneficial projects.

City officials want the undeveloped property for an urban park, and Mayor Phil Hardberger has said the city's right of eminent domain would trump Folsom's right of first refusal.

The company is studying the claim.

"Since the city is involved, that changes the dynamics entirely," Joe Swedlund of Folsom Cos. said Friday. "Every case is different. We're in the process of finding out how this affects our position."

The company, he added, learned of the city's interest only in the last week.

Folsom got the right of first refusal when it bought contiguous property from Minnie Voelcker in 1981.

Voelcker and her husband, Max, operated a thriving dairy farm on the land until their deaths in 2000 and 1980, respectively. The couple's charitable Voelcker Fund is looking to sell the property to bankroll donations, mostly for medical research.

City officials expect to have an appraisal of the property by May 12 and then open negotiations with the fund's trustees, after getting the City Council's blessing Thursday. In the meantime, they've estimated the cost of purchasing all 311 acres at up to $45 million.

Despite the prospect of condemnation, Folsom isn't ruling out submitting a matching offer.

"All our options are open," Swedlund noted.

Also among those options: selling its right of first refusal to another developer. There's certainly been no shortage of interest.

The large tracts, bordered by Northwest Military Drive and Blanco Road, have had homebuilders salivating for years.

"Obviously, everybody in the world is interested in this property," Swedlund said. "Since 1981, we've had calls from parties who knew we have the right of first refusal. There have been ongoing conversations for 25 years."

The question now is whether talk of the company's claim is moot. City Attorney Michael Bernard contends it is.

"What we did yesterday cut off the right of first refusal," he said.

The council on Thursday approved an ordinance giving staffers the go-ahead to acquire the Voelcker property through negotiation or condemnation.