Grassland restoration is included; work on the North Side site could start in January.
A city review board has approved plans for the first phase of Phil Hardberger Park, an ambitious urban park project with hiking trails, restored grassland and such earthy features as composting toilets and a natural land bridge. Wednesday's blessing from the Historic and Design Review Commission allows work on the former 311-acre dairy farm to begin as early as January, with construction starting on a picnic area, playing fields and nature trails.
"It's a great thing for the future of San Antonio," said Timothy Cone, the commission's vice chairman. The most unusual of six major components approved unanimously Wednesday is a 2 1/2-acre oak savanna that seeks to restore native grassland habitat that once flourished in Texas. Ecologists estimate that only 1 percent of what was once 20 million acres of state grassland remains. Park planners, in response to concerns about tree preservation, have vowed to selectively remove trees in hopes of adding ecological diversity for birds, mammals and others that thrive on grassy prairies. Trees also will be an issue in development of the Water Loop Trail, which will run about 1 mile on the east end of the park. In places where the trail intersects clumps of heritage trees, the city will preserve the trees and build rectangular terraces where visitors can rest.
"And that happens in a number of places," said Stephen Stimson, a landscape architect on the project.
Wednesday's approval sets the stage for the park to begin taking definition amid great expectations some have for the North Side project, to be funded as part of a $550 million bond issue voters approved last year.
While residents have asked for things such as access for mountain bikes and an area for skateboarding, the park's master plan envisions more natural features, including a 175-foot-wide land bridge for deer and other wildlife to cross over Wurzbach Parkway. Aside from a paved access for buses, it seeks to use as little impervious cover as possible, to avoid altering drainage patterns, Stimson told the commission.
The city will return to the commission next year to ask for approval of the next phase, which will include parking areas and a pavilion. In response to concerns from the commission, Stimson and city parks officials said they're working with the San Antonio Fire Department to develop plans for fire prevention and management.
In other action, the commission approved plans for renovation of a mansion known as Terrell Castle in the Government Hill Historic District, near Fort Sam Houston. The four-story, 26-room structure designed by noted architect Alfred Giles was built in 1894 for Edwin Terrell, a Belgian diplomat. It since has been used as apartments and a bed-and-breakfast.
A new owner plans to restore the mansion to use for parties and receptions arid wants to restore its early appearance and original name: Lambermont.
The commission also voiced support of plans for a 15-story hotel in the 400 block of East Houston Street, by the Maverick Apartments. But members said they want to study the exterior design before work begins.
The old United Cigar Building will be demolished to allow for construction of the hotel, which will be part of the "Aloft by W Hotels" brand created Starwood Hotels in 2005.
PHIL HARDBERGER PARK PROJECTS
The Historic and Design Review Commission approved plans Wednesday for the first phase of development of the 311-acre park. Construction is expected to start early next year.
The oak savanna restoration on 2 1/2 acres seeks to revive the type of native Texas grasslands that once covered an estimated 20 million acres.
An entry driveway from Northwest Military Highway will provide access to the west end of the park.
A 9-acre South Field area will include two ball fields, with buffalo grass in surrounding areas and most heritage trees preserved.
The 1-mile Water Loop Trail on the park's east end will be made of permeable material and will be about 8 feet wide. Where it intersects clusters of heritage trees, terraces will be built for visitors to rest in the shade.
Two straight trails will extend east toward Voelcker Lane and Blanco Road.
A 'picnic grove' near the Blanco Road entry will have barbecue pits and picnic tables in a shaded area, with parking on the perimeter.