CALEB ETHEREDGE, FOR THE EXPRESS-NEWS : APRIL 12, 2015
Urban infill development is a vital market segment that should be a primary focus for local developers and policymakers, as it provides a clear path to maintaining San Antonio’s high quality of life in the face of tremendous growth. In particular, infill development can provide benefits through green infrastructure that lessens the strain on existing overburdened utilities and a constantly challenged freshwater supply.
As San Antonio continues to experience rapid growth for the foreseeable future, it’s critically important that new development and redevelopment efforts take place in the city’s core, utilizing sustainable approaches through the use of Low Impact Development (LID) principles. These will help improve water quality and protect natural ecosystems.
The city of San Antonio has recognized that population growth will not slow down in the near future and has placed great importance on promoting development in the heart of the city by establishing incentives to encourage residential development in the area. These policies make great economic sense because the urban core offers excellent residential growth opportunities.
There are other incentives available — often overlooked or unknown — for developing in accordance with LID principles. These integrate nature and green infrastructure into the urban design of the city and can be implemented in collaboration with a landscape architect and the San Antonio River Authority (SARA).
The basic thrust of LID is managing stormwater as it would occur in the natural environment through design techniques that infiltrate, filter, store, evaporate and detain runoff close to its source. There are several current prominent examples of local projects that employ these progressive development approaches, including the currently-under-construction, mixed-use project along the river in Southtown — on the old Big Tex Grain Company site. This project conveys water from rooftops and street drains into planting areas — filtering the water before it enters underground storm pipes and flows into Mission Reach.
Another great example is the ongoing redevelopment of HemisFair Park. This project’s enhancements include transforming existing urban streets into beautifully planted boulevards that also serve an important ecological function. Once the project’s master plan is fully implemented, these rain garden-lined streets will provide a pertinent stormwater function, while also establishing a modern-day link to our historic acequias.
But there is even greater potential to be realized through a holistic approach. LID doesn’t have to be relegated to a project’s streetscape. Looking to Austin, where LID development approaches have been more fully embraced in recent years, there are many examples of its potential as a development approach benefiting all parties and the environment.
Eastside Village, a new high-density residential project located on a commuter rail station in east Austin, is a showcase of LID’s potential value. The complex integrates a system of connected rain gardens into the pool’s infinity edge for a refined, seamless design that filters and conveys stormwater.
Many San Antonio-area projects have taken the first step in designing to LID standards through approaches such as disconnecting downspouts from the storm sewer and letting water discharge into a landscaped area. However, taking the next step to be recognized as LID by the city will not only make development projects more financially viable through incentives. They will also have a big impact when implemented on a larger scale throughout urban San Antonio.