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Lloyd Barnes, president of Huntleigh Park Residents' Association, stands at the intersection of Hollyspring and Susanwood on the city's East Side. The intersection would become an entrance into a controversial multi-family development. Barnes and the neighborhood association oppose plans for two new housing subdivisions on the East Side. Photo by Mark Greenberg
East Side residents leery of planned housing in their neighborhood

Beatrice Hernandez can't understand why a group of East Side San Antonio residents doesn't want her as a neighbor. She's not a criminal. She doesn't party 24 hours a day in her Northwest Side apartment near Wurzbach and Bandera roads. She is dependable, and shows up on time for her job at SBC Center - although VIA Metro seemingly plots to prevent her from successfully navigating the city bus system.

The only thing that makes her seem different from other people is that she is confined to a wheelchair.

Lloyd Barnes, president of the Huntleigh Park Residents' Association on the East Side, doesn't have anything against Bea Hernandez. But he adamantly opposes a city approved residential development that would bring her and other disabled citizens to his neighborhood.

Barnes and several fellow association members are fretting over a plan, sponsored by the non-profit organization, the Council on Independent Living/Community Development Corporation, to build Huntleigh's Crossing, a project that would build 24 single-family homes and 24 duplexes on about six acres in the 4600 block of East Houston Street.

Many elderly residents already live in Huntleigh Park, and Barnes said he is not opposed to more people, but rather, more projects in the area: "This project itself should not be in the neighborhood."

Residents contend that another project in the area would snarl traffic on Whispering Creek, which provides an outlet to Houston Street. Both streets run near Davis Middle School, and traffic increases when parents drop off and pick up their children. Otherwise, the street does not appear to be highly traveled for the remainder of the day.

Barnes and other association members have opposed different projects over the years, explained the Reverend Johnny Guyton of Huntleigh Park Baptist Church, which sold three acres to COIL/CDC for Huntleigh's Crossing. "This association has always had a history of being against things. They fought this thing for months, but their reason didn't make much sense to me. Disabled folks don't drive cars."

"We didn't want to be stuck away some place. Our brains are not in our legs. We came with an answer and a solution. I never thought it would come to this commotion."
— Beatrice Hernandez
The Huntleigh's Crossing project is not the only development that has disturbed nearby residents. A 200-unit project on the north side of Houston Street, named Outspan Townhomes, is almost finished. Some of the townhomes will house disabled residents. Guyton explained that residents in the area also opposed construction of Sun Park Lane, a residential project for the elderly, and the Kings Point Apartments.

Barnes said association members are talking to attorneys about suing the city to prevent Huntleigh's Crossing from being built on vacant land west of Davis Middle School. "We want District 2 (represented by Joel Williams on the City Council) and San Antonio to know we were given an absolute rotten deal in this matter. We're not going to simply bow our heads ... we will peacefully fight."

Huntleigh Park residents might have good reason to be skittish about new development in the area. In the 1980s, Browning Ferris Industries located a massive - and still growing - landfill a few miles to the east near Houston Street, in Martinez; locals have dubbed it Mount Trashmore. In the 1990s, a half-dozen fuel storage tanks were erected adjacent to Sam Houston High School.

"We were supposed to get Sea World, but we got BFI instead, and the oil tanks," Barnes said, referring to former mayor Henry Cisneros, who initally announced that Sea World would be an East Side attraction, then reversed his position, and said the entertainment park would be located in Northwest San Antonio.

COIL/CDC Manager Madilyn Bowen said that unfortunately, the Huntleigh's Crossing project has come "at the tail end of bad experiences" for residents of the area. "It's all my fault. I found the property."

COIL/CDC Executive Director John Sampson pointed out that the elderly residents of Huntleigh Park are potential residents of Huntleigh's Crossing. "Those residents could live there ... They could retire and stay in the neighborhood."

Councilman Joel Williams attracted the ire of Huntleigh Park neighbors when he endorsed the zoning change that increased the project's density. But he said he believes the residents eventually will welcome people like Bea Hernandez. "I think in a year or two, they will be proud of the kinds of homes that are going in there. The association did not take into account that the residents (of Huntleigh's Crossing) will patronize the businesses and shops in the area. This is economic development."

Hernandez, who can live independently, but can't maintain a yard, said she wants a place to live where she doesn't have to struggle to do things that non-disabled people would take for granted. She said her Northwest Side apartment is nice, "but it was not built with us in mind." She wants counters and cabinets that she can easily reach, and pointed out that disabled people would have something to contribute to the East Side neighborhood.

"We didn't want to be stuck away some place. Our brains are not in our legs. We came with an answer and a solution. I never thought it would come to this commotion." •

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