Massive Alsacian Oaks development innovates in Castroville to meet San Antonio’s growth

A large 453-acre planned development was recently inaugurated just east of the rural and historic town of Castroville, catering to San Antonio’s westward expansion on its own doorstep.

Castroville is a town of around 3,000 that is steeped in its own history – a living monument to settlers who came from France’s historic Alsace-Lorraine province to colonize the area in the mid-1840s, according to the Texas Historical Commission .

Highway 90 crosses this city passing by several historical monuments, including a stone terminal dedicating the place where Castroville was founded. It is named after an empresario named Henri Castro who brought about 50,000 settlers to Texas.

Construction crews have started clearing land east of Castroville for new commercial and residential development that is expected to more than double the population.

Mayor Darrin Schroeder says he personally does not agree with such growth. And the city is not ready at the moment.

But the growth is already here

Alsatian Oaks will feature 950 homes with interwoven neighborhood trails and parks when completed. The entrance to the subdivision will include more than 400,000 square feet of restaurants, retail and medical offices.

The 435-acre development will be located just off Highway 90 before entering the heart of Castroville.

Commercial Real Estate Merit

It represents a $ 165 million investment in San Antonio-based developer Merit Commercial Real Estate’s Castroville, led by CEOs Will Collins and Ryan Harrison. Merit was only formed recently in January 2021 following the merger of Collins’s Terracor Real Estate with Harrison’s Freestone Commercial Real Estate.

This development has been underway since 2009, when Collins, who ran Terracor Real Estate at the time, purchased the property. It also includes a plot next to the future Alsacian Oaks where it closed a transaction with big box retailer Walmart, which opened a store in 2017.

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With construction crews beginning development, Collins says the first phase of the residential portion will include 233 residential lots ranging from 6,000 square feet to 7,200 square feet. The size of the first phase has more than doubled from the 100 batches planned before the pandemic.

Construction crews were already clearing the ground for Phase 1 of Alsacian Oaks on Thursday, October 14.

Construction crews were already clearing the ground for Phase 1 of Alsacian Oaks on Thursday, October 14.

Steven Santana | MySA

The first homes will be ready for sale by February 2023, and Collins expects 75,000 square feet of retail space to be completed by 2022.

That’s a lot for a town the size of Castroville, and a population Collins admits is wary of growth.

“I would say the general feeling is that if the citizens of Castroville could stop all development, I think they would generally be in favor of it – just keeping their community intact as it is today,” said Collins.

The only problem: growth is already at the gates of Castroville.

With Highway 90 as its corridor, Castroville is also in the San Antonio area’s fastest growing submarket, with over 5,321 new housing starts and an average home price increase of over 27. % in the past year, according to Merit research.

Alsatian Oaks responds to this growth. And the point is, Castroville accepted.

Little Alsace of Texas

The historic town hall of Castroville is located on Fiorella Street.

The historic town hall of Castroville is located on Fiorella Street.

Steven Santana | MySA

I met Mayor Schroeder on a recent Thursday afternoon at Castroville Town Hall, which is in the old Medina County Courthouse before the county seat moved to Hondo in 1892.

The Dziuk Meat Market in Castroville is just off Highway 90.

The Dziuk Meat Market in Castroville is just off Highway 90.

Paul Stephen / San Antonio Express-News

The structure was used for many things before becoming town hall. Like any historic building in Castroville, if you were to stay outside and admire it long enough, someone will eventually stop and tell you all about it.

The wooden floors inside the cove and burst as you walk along them, as they’ve been around for as long as the ancient Alsatian documents and memorabilia on display.

It’s just Castroville. It is a conservative and narrow city of people who cherish history as much as their last names. It’s small enough that any celebration can turn into a citywide party, and it usually is.

The Steinbach Haus, located at 203 US Highway 90, serves as a welcome center for visitors to Castroville.

The Steinbach Haus, located at 203 US Highway 90, serves as a welcome center for visitors to Castroville.

Lisa Harrison Rivas

Attend one of its festivals, including the historic St. Louis Day Festival, you’ll likely see Alsatian dancers from Texas performing traditional dances from its founder’s home region. It clings to its identity as “Little Alsace of Texas”.

It’s an identity Castroville doesn’t want to lose when San Antonio knocks on the door.

This is something Mayor Schroeder understands when he says he does not agree with growth that could drastically change the makeup of Castroville. But he is also realistic and understands that it cannot be stopped.

Schroeder says Castroville is surrounded by land that has been passed down from generation to generation. It is inevitable that someone will end up selling it. “It’s their right,” he concedes.

Schroeder is also what some would consider an outsider. He’s from San Antonio, a city he loves too. In addition to his duties as mayor, Schroeder is the senior regional IT program manager at Microsoft and moved to Castroville in 2017 when the Microsoft data center near Texas Research Park near Highway 211 began operations. He was elected mayor in May, beating local Mickey Gallegos with over 77% of the vote.

Schroeder – along with the current city council and most of the community – understand that if you can’t stop the growth, the best thing you can do is help guide it.

Thoughtful enlargement

The key to guiding its growth is a development agreement that the five members of Castroville city council approved in September 2019. The agreement is the result of collaboration between city leaders, Collins, and Clay Binford, a lawyer for Norton Rose Fulbright and a native of Castroville who represented the city during the planning process.

Schroeder says the deal helped ensure Castroville enjoyed development doubling the population and creating $ 342 million in total property value. Alsatian Oaks is also expected to generate more than $ 13 million per year in property and sales tax revenue for the city and other local tax jurisdictions in Medina County by 2028.

This is the view of Alsatian Oaks construction crews from Highway 90.

This is the view of Alsatian Oaks construction crews from Highway 90.

Steven Santana | MySA

Infrastructure improvements

As it stands, Schroeder says Castroville’s infrastructure is not ready to handle Alsatian oaks.

Part of this is to improve the water and sewer infrastructure east of the city. The development agreement guarantees that Merit will pay for these infrastructure improvements, which represents an investment of more than $ 13 million – $ 7 million for phase 1 and $ 6 million for phase 2.

Castroville is not ready for traffic either. Traffic on Highway 90 has increased to more than 50,000 vehicles per day over the past year, according to a study by Merit.

This is why Merit is also building a road through the subdivision that will take drivers on a north road that connects to Farm to Market 471, which brings them back to Castroville. Schroeder calls it a “northern route”. This will be completed by tax reductions in the area that Castroville annexed in September 2020.

“I think this is a case study for other small municipalities that do not have the resources to fund the necessary infrastructure improvements that need to be made,” Collins said. “We all have the same objective in mind, and that is to improve the infrastructure to allow quality development and the city of Castroville.

Merit will also make a contribution of $ 1.5 million to the City for a quality of life or public service project.

Schroeder says the end goal is to ensure that Castroville’s own growth makes the city a self-sustaining entity that won’t be swallowed up by San Antonio in the future.

“The goal is to create something that is beneficial for everyone,” says Schroeder. “Let’s encourage them to grow something good.”

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