Activists climbed the Hays Street Bridge to hang a banner opposing development after plans for a brewery on public land emerged in 2012.
The City of San Antonio and a group of neighborhood activists that spearheaded the effort to save the Hays Street Bridge are back in court this week in a lawsuit that could dictate what the area around the iconic east side structure looks like in the coming years.
City lawyers and the Hays Street Restoration Group are set for oral arguments Tuesday morning before the state's Fourth Court of Appeals as the city fights a lower court ruling that, depending on how you read it, could block further plans for private development around the bridge. At issue is a Cherry Street lot that lines the bridge's northeast side. The community group, which led the fight to restore the bridge, argues that the city has sold public land to a private developer that they'd promised to turn into park space.
In some ways, the legal wrangling over the future of the Hays Street Bridge is emblematic of the kind of spats we might see more of as long-neglected pockets of the city, particularly near the urban center, see renewed interest from developers. Built in 1910, the bridge was an important connector between downtown and the east side. But in the 1980s, after years of neglect, the city called the bridge dangerous and barricaded it. The bridge sat deteriorating for decades until neighborhood activists and historic preservationists, who saw its potential as a near-downtown landmark and vibrant public gathering space way before anyone else did, spearheaded efforts to save it.
In its lawsuit against the city, the restoration group pointed to a memorandum of understanding it had with the city around the time the Cherry Street property was donated as part of the effort to rehabilitate the bridge and the surrounding area, a memo that stipulates the Cherry Street property be part of the larger Hays Street Bridge restoration project. Gary Houston, a member of the group that helped raise money to revive the bridge, told us the plan was always to have a park near the bridge, in part to anchor it as a public gathering place.
Instead, the city sold the land to Alamo Beer Co. owner Eugene Simor. When the city and restoration group first reached an impasse over the Cherry Street lot, Simor just tweaked his initial plans and built his brewery across the lot on property he already owned south of the bridge. Ultimately, the restoration group filed a lawsuit to stop development on the Cherry Street lot. Both the city and restoration group claimed victory after a brain-twisting trial verdict that's still being ironed out on appeals.
In its appeal up before the Fourth Court Monday morning, the city basically argues that it's immune from such a lawsuit. City lawyers also continue to argue that the original agreement with the restoration group over the land next to the bridge wasn't a legal contract and is therefore unenforceable.
Amy Kastely, a lawyer for the bridge restoration group, insists the group fighting to keep the bridge a public space. The city's already sold the Cherry Street lot to Alamo Beer Co's Simor (money from the sale went to a special city account for maintenance of the Hays Street Bridge, which the city says fulfills its obligations to the restoration group). Simor told us via email that Alamo Beer "is developing plans to build a restaurant on the site that will complement the existing beer hall and beer garden." In the past, he's floated ideas of mixed-use development
around the bridge.
Simor's plan would also include a partial takeover of the bridge deck, something that's long irked the group that fought to save the bridge in the first place. Simor told us via email he plans to put tables and chairs for his patrons on an 11-by-100 foot section of the deck that's "less than half the width of the bridge and would allow plenty of room for pedestrians and cyclist [sic