TX: Explosive Population Growth Could Double San Antonio's Footprint

Aug. 29--SAN ANTONIO -- If the region's growth continues in the same unencumbered fashion as it has for decades, San Antonio's footprint likely will double in size by 2040, growing from 500 square miles to more than 1,000 square miles, the city's planning director said Thursday at the first meeting of the City Council Comprehensive Planning Committee.

More than 1 million people are expected to move to Bexar County in the next 25 years, raising questions about where newcomers will live and how they will be connected.

Bexar County's estimated population is 1.8 million, of which 1.4 million live in San Antonio, according to the most recent census data.

John Dugan, director of the city's Planning and Community Development Department, said the explosive physical growth might be tempered if the city adopts smart-growth strategies and pursues more infill development within San Antonio's existing footprint.

If about 60 percent of the job and housing growth occurs roughly within Loop 1604, the city might only grow to 600 square miles in the next 25 years, Dugan said.

"Can we do smart growth in San Antonio?" Dugan said. Is there enough land in the city to accommodate substantial infill development? "The answer is, yes."

The city is developing two plans that will work in tandem to address expected growth: a comprehensive plan, which is a way to plan a city's growth over time, and a multimodal transportation plan. Both should be completed by spring 2016.

Development of both plans will include citizen participation. As part of the comprehensive plan, the city will form an advisory board and a citizens' planning "institute."

The city plans to invite representatives from about 265 neighborhood groups to participate in the institute, to educate them about various aspects of comprehensive planning and then send them out as ambassadors in the community.

The advisory board will be a place for the various entities who have a say or stake in growth -- like VIA Metropolitan Transit, San Antonio Water System, CPS Energy and school districts -- to come together and coordinate their various plans, working together toward the common goal of better managing the region's seemingly never-ending expansion.

"I think it's important to everyone in the city to talk about organized and planned growth, because we've seen over the history of San Antonio that unmanaged growth has led to unsustainable systems, whether its transportation, water (or) electrical utilities," said District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg, who's chairing the new council committee.

The transportation plan will address how to provide sufficient mobility choices to the 1.1 million people who are coming to the region and prioritize specific transportation projects. Highways aren't the only answer anymore; people need choices, said Mike Frisbie, director of the city's Transportation and Capital Improvements Department.

To the folks who say they want to stay behind the wheel of their big Texas pickup, Frisbie said that's OK. By developing alternative modes of transit, "this allows us to get the rest of the people out of your way," he said.

The Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization estimates there will be 675,000 more jobs in Bexar County by 2040.

Consultants working with the city on the comprehensive plan identified 13 emerging and existing employment activity centers in the city. About half of the jobs coming to the city will be located in these activity centers, Dugan said.

However, Dugan also noted that San Antonio is losing its share of household growth in the metropolitan area -- for example, Bexar County, beyond the city limits, is growing at a faster rate than San Antonio.

District 9 Councilman Joe Krier, who sits on the committee but had to leave midway through Thursday's meeting, said some of the growth outside the city is the result of "decades of regulation" that have resulted in higher construction costs in the city, even for entry-level housing. He is concerned about too much planning, rather than letting the market drive where development goes.

But Nirenberg said the city needs to look at growth in a comprehensive way, at everything from water to transportation to air quality, or else everyone will suffer.

"Working together on these issues will help us manage those aspects of growth that have created the strain on everybody's pocketbook," Nirenberg said.

vdavila@express-news.net

Twitter: @viannadavila

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