Microsoft will build a large data center on a 33-acre plot on the far west side of San Antonio. To clear the way for that facility, Microsoft will cut down 2,642 trees. Removing that number of trees requires an exception to the city’s Tree Preservation Ordinance, which governs how many trees a developer can remove from a site.
An 8-3 City Council vote on Thursday, January 28, 2022, reaffirmed an earlier 6-1 vote that took place in December 2021 (via San Antonio Report).
After Microsoft cuts down over 2,600 trees to make way for the data center, it will plant 833 trees around it. Even with that number of replacement trees, Microsoft still surpasses the normal guidance for chopping trees down. The Tree Preservation Ordinance requires that 20% of heritage trees be kept on site. Microsoft’s plans would leave under 4.5% of heritage trees.
Microsoft will pay $1.47 million to San Antonio’s tree mitigation fund to offset the effects of its development.
Chopping down trees is normal for construction, but the plans have drawn criticism from local politicians and residents.
“This is pretty dramatic for that piece of land,” said Clayton Perry, Councilman from San Antonio’s District 10. “What really sticks to me is [that it] does not meet the intent and spirit of the ordinance.” Despite concerns, Petty voted in favor of the exception.
Melissa Cabello, the Councilwoman from San Antonio’s District 6, discussed the long-term impact of the data center. “In the end, this is not a trees-versus-business-interest story,” said Cabello. “In seven to 10 years, we will all have moved on from this issue. But the good people of Stonegate Hill will still be there. I want to be clear: The people who know best about their neighborhood needs are the people living in that neighborhood.”
Local HOA members also discussed the move. “Since my retirement, I have worked very long and hard with the board of directors of Stonegate Hill to ensure … that we keep our country-feel in the neighborhood, ” said HOA secretary Joan Lopez.
Ana Sandoval, who opposed the variance, expressed environmental concerns for the proposal. “Having trees to absorb that carbon is really urgent. If I had some assurance that the … carbon reduction ability of the trees can be replaced in the short term, I think I would feel differently about this,” said Sandoval. “But I don’t have those assurances right now.”