Microsoft has received permission to remove 2,642 trees from a 33-acre lot in far west San Antonio, where the company plans to build a large data center. The tech giant will contribute $1.47 million to the city’s tree mitigation fund aimed at offsetting the impact.
The city council voted 8-3 on Thursday to reaffirm a 6-1 vote the Planning Commission took in December that granted Microsoft an exception to the city. Tree Preservation Ordinance for installation at 3545 Wiseman Blvd.
Several residents of the Stonegate Hill subdivision celebrated the decision as an alternative Microsoft plan was to build a two-story facility if the variance was not approved.
“The property values of the 19 homeowners immediately adjacent to the 60-foot-tall monstrosity would likely drop,” said Jim Eckburg, vice president of the Stonegate Hill Homeowners Association.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about trees versus commercial interests,” said Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6), whose district includes the ward. “In seven to ten years, we will all be over this problem. But the brave people of Stonegate Hill will always be there. I want to be clear: the people who know the needs of their neighborhood best are the people who live in that neighborhood.
Neighbors had known for years that something industrial would be built there, said HOA secretary Joan Lopez. “Since my retirement, I’ve worked very long and hard with the Stonegate Hill board to make sure…we keep our country vibe in the neighborhood.”
Microsoft will plant 833 trees to provide a buffer zone around the facility, according to plans filed with the citybut they are removing more trees than the city’s minimum preservation requirements allow.
The city code allows developers to cut down trees and contribute to the mitigation fund, but it stipulates that at least 20% of heritage trees, which are over 24 inches in diameter, and 20% of significant trees , over 6 inches, must be kept on site.
Microsoft’s plan will leave nearly 4.5% legacy trees and 3% significant trees.
Beyond the technical discrepancies, director of development services Mike Shannon said the proposal did not meet the intent of the order.
The goal is to balance preservation, development and canopy “not just now but in the future,” Shannon said. “It was just a little unbalanced for us administratively.”
But once the planted trees reach maturity, their shade canopy will exceed code requirements, said Bill Kaufman, a local attorney representing Microsoft in the case.
“New trees are growing and thriving,” Kaufman said, adding that many of the trees currently on the property are “not exactly healthy.”
Several council members said they had mixed feelings about whether to approve the waiver.
Usually, if a company works with the neighborhood on a solution they all agree with, Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) said, “I would automatically say: yes, no problem. Check my two boxes.
But the degree of deviation from the tree ordinance gave him pause.
“It’s quite dramatic for this piece of land,” Perry said. “What really matters to me is [that it] violates the intent and spirit of the order.
He asked why Microsoft chose this particular land.
In addition to other factors, large data centers should be located near other centers “to provide redundancy in the event of a calamity,” Kaufman said, and the property is just southeast of the data center. of Valero Energy Corp.
In the end, Perry voted in favor of the variance.
Council members Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2), Teri Castillo (D5) and Ana Sandoval (D7) praised Havrda for standing up for her neighborhood, but they took issue with the variance.
“This vote is very difficult for me,” Sandoval said, citing concerns that carbon captured in trees will contribute to climate change. “Having trees to absorb this carbon is really urgent.
“If I had the assurance that the… carbon reduction capacity of trees can be replaced in the short term, I think I would have a different opinion on that,” she said. “But I don’t have those assurances at the moment.”