San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

September 18th, 2008
Major retail project approved for prime downtown tract

ILLUSTRATIONS by ALAMO ARCHITECTS

Concho Commons as it might appear from (top) the corner of LBJ Drive and Concho Street and from (above) Guadalupe Street and Concho Street. (Below) Plans include a sunken courtyard with restaurant seating.

by BRAD ROLLINS

City leaders have given conceptual approval to a commercial development between Guadalupe Street and LBJ Drive in what could be the first new downtown construction in decades.

With about 37,000 square feet of retail and office space, Concho Commons would be built on a 1.7-acre tract that has for years been a battleground between the city and property owner W.C. Carson, who in 2003 settled a lawsuit against the city with an agreement that provides for construction of a 142-unit, six-floor residential development. The planned development district approved 5-1 by the city council on Tuesday allows for a considerably more modest two-floor structure in what Mayor Susan Narvaiz called a victory for site-appropriate urban design.

“Opportunities exist today for people who want to invest to help us make downtown what we want it to become,” the mayor said.

The plan, however, is not without its ardent critics, including the Downtown Association and the Main Street Advisory Board whose members said the plan does not provide enough parking in an area with too little parking already. At the same meeting, the council considered revamped towing regulations in continuation of debate that has focused almost entirely on downtown.

“The only reason these people are not going to meet their parking requirement is because of greed [and] the only way to make them do it is to hold their feet to the fire” and reject the plan, said downtown attorney Larry Rasco, the immediate past Downtown Association president.

San Antonio-based developer Darren Casey Interests Inc.’s site plan provides for 93 surface parking spaces, 53-57 percent fewer than standards set in the city’s land development code which would typically require 158-169 spaces depending on whether the requirement is calculated based on square footage or restaurant seating. (The plan adds 14 new spaces on Guadalupe Street but these don’t count toward city requirements). On this basis, interim planning director Cecil Pennington recommended denial of the application, saying he did so reluctantly.

“There is no doubt this is a good-looking, smart project,” he said.

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34 thoughts on “Major retail project approved for prime downtown tract

  1. No parking, no building, thank you.
    The building itself looks snappy because it looks new in the pics.
    But in my opinion it is not a good looking building. The architect could surely do design a better looking structure that would cost no more to build.

  2. Shut up about the parking! The whole idea of the downtown masterplan is to make downtown more pedestrian friendly. The building is next to the University, downtown, and by neighborhoods – ride a bike to the building, geesh!! This is the type of development San Marcos needs and becuase of the downtown masterplan, its the kind of development it attracts. For you lazy fat people that need to drive everywhere, parking alternatives are being considered. If you (or the author of this article) would have attended the meeting you would know that there were other alternatives for parking mentioned – like a two floor parking on site, or off-site leases. Development is needed in San Marcos and being lazy and fat and having to drive everywhere should not and must not be allowed to hinder the growth we need. Bike sometimes people! it’s not that hard, and I know most of you can use it.

  3. Thanks, Dick. Did it occur to you that we might want other people downtown too? Like the folks that live east of 35, or in the ETJ, or staying at hotels? I’ll bike you into the ground. I still want a place to park downtown.

  4. Actually Teddy, it did occur to me that those that dont live near need parking spaces. The development isnt providing NO spaces, it is putting forth close to 100 parking spaces. Duh! pay attention. Those that dont live near will have a place to park – I was saying the fatasses near by can and SHOULD bike or walk to downtown and surrounding businesses. Teddy, please dont be close minded and misconstrue what I say, or perhaps just pay close attention to all the details surrounding this development before you make a comment, if you had closely understood the development you’ll know parking will be provided, and the city council is also seeking alternatives for parking. C’mon Teddy, I know you’re not dumb, just pay attention bud.

  5. Thanks again, Dick. Good luck getting all the “fatasses” to walk, so that the out of town visitors can park downtown. Until that time, where, pray tell, do you want the out of town visitors to park? For that matter, where should I park, when I want to stop downtown to see some friends on my way home from San Antonio? Should I drive the extra 10 minutes to the house, take a few minutes to change out of my work clothes, then pedal ten minutes back into town? Just what I’m looking for after an hour or more in the car, another 20+ minutes of running around.

    Oh, and never mind that so many of those “fatasses” are already walking, which is why they are getting towed. If they were just parking right in front of the door they were walking into, there would be no “predatory towing” debate. The reality is that they are parking wherever they can find a space and then walking to the square, campus and elsewhere and there aren’t enough spaces for them.

    But again, thanks for claring it all up. It is good to see that there is ONE voice of reason in San Marcos who does not believe there is a parking problem. Perhaps you should run for office on your “fatasses are the problem” platform.

  6. BTW, plenty of my friends call me Teddy, so, if you’re trying to bother me, keep trying.

    If I were thin-skinned and afraid of what people might think of me, why, I guess I would have posted under a pseudonym.

  7. Oh yeah, I guess that when the story says “The plan, however, is not without its ardent critics, including the Downtown Association and the Main Street Advisory Board whose members said the plan does not provide enough parking in an area with too little parking already,” the Downtown Association and the Main Street Advisory Board, both of whom are looking out for the interests of the future tenants of that development and have been working so hard to revitalize downtown, don’t “closely understand” the plan either.

  8. Teddy, not trying to be demeaning, just familiarizing your name. And Im not saying there isnt a parking problem, so please dont put words in my mouth – what I said is that this type of development is what San Marcos needs. Also, they’re not leaving SM with a parking problem, they’re providing parking spaces and the council is also seeking some other alternatives. It is intended to be pedestrian friendly, downtown is anyway, under the new master plan, so how about we not be close minded and accept the growth and innovative business here and instead of trying to tear it down, help build it up and provide solutions for the problems that may arise. “predatory towing” as you called it, is another word for saying illegally parked cars arent being catered to. If you park in a spot illegally (i.e. you’re not allowed to park there) then why should you not get towed!? Why should we cater to people that park illegally? again a solution would be bike, walk or be proactive and head to the city council meetings and discuss your issue!!

  9. If you haven’t seen me working on solutions, then you are the one who needs to be more involved.

    As for the types of businesses we need, how about something that will provide real jobs for the college grads? That would be the kind of growth we need. More retail is just the same old, same old. We already get half of our budget from sales tax.

    If there were some careers downtown, you might see more people walking around on their lunch breaks, or before and after work, bringing more business to the people who are here and giving more people a long-term future in San Marcos.

    THAT is the kind of growth we need.

    As for the “predatory towing,” you might notice that I also used the quotes, meaning that I also think it is people illegally parking. Talk about needing to pay attention. Maybe you just read what you want to hear.

    The fact that they are parking and walking is the point. You can see cars parked in neighborhoods all over town, too. Those people are walking to campus. They are parking wherever they can find a place, because there is not enough parking. Putting in a new development with fewer spaces than it needs, adds to the problem. You are trying to over-simplify to make your point and nobody is going to buy it.

    In the end, it is you that is ignoring the bits of information that do not suit your argument and it is you who are making wildly inaccurate assumptions about me. Good luck with your campaign against the fatasses. If you think you can keep up, you’re welcome to join me on a bike ride and tell me all about it.

  10. I am curious…How do we just “Get business that create jobs for college grads?”. Isn’t that the function of the free marketplace? If the market recognized a need for these jobs in this location wouldn’t they invest their capital to profit on that need? Clearly the market sees a need for retail and apartment complexes here. I understand government can desire certain business development and offer incentives to satisfy those, but there must be willing private sector investors and clearly there are none right now. Let’s hope we get some in the future.

  11. Also, I seem to remember that this was the previous location of the 8 story student housing complex with it’s ass end facing the city. Didn’t Carson sue the city and win to allow that development there when he was denied rezoning by the council?

  12. There are many things that the city and the university can do together to attract certain businesses to San Marcos, whether they be software development, manufacturing, bio-tech, green technology, whatever.

    This is actually done very successfully in cities all over the world. I really don’t have the time, or the inclination, to go into the details here. I’ve posted suggestions elsewhere.

    Sorry. There are discussions elsewhere on this site about that topic. The current mayor, her opponent, our city council members and their opponents all have ideas on this and they may have the energy to write them up here.

    Failing that, maybe there is an urban planning course at Texas State, or you might start here:

    http://209.85.165.104/search?q=cache:2k85EJApkscJ:www.microsoft.com/issues/essays/2007/04-03ReversingBrainDrain.mspx+retaining+and+attracting+businesses&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=4&gl=us

  13. http://www.nrtoday.com/article/20060927/NEWS/109270075/-1/rss02

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/25/us/25young.html

    http://www.mmac.org/display/router.asp?docid=665

    To answer your earlier question, yes, it is a free market. Part of the job of our city officials is to make sure that San Marcos can compete in that free market.

    Competing in a free market does not mean that you have something to offer and you wait around quietly for someone to notice and if they don’t, that’s no big deal. It does not mean that if people aren’t interested in what you’ve got, you just shrug your shoulders and hope that someday they are. You figure out how you can match what you have with what they need and you make sure they understand why you are the best choice.

  14. Checking my map I see that the boundary of the Central Business Area is University Street. That means if this project were one block south it would require no parking at all. The parking proposed, 1 space for every 400 square feet of retail is not an uncommon ratio in other cities. I agree there will be a large pedestrian component to this project and I’d like to see it happen. My larger fear would be that the University will somehow contrive to take over ownership and the property will be removed from the tax roles. I hope council will explore ways to keep that from happening as they consider any variances.

  15. The fact that there are areas where there is no new parking required does not change the issue of there being a parking shortage downtown and given the nature of our population, there are likely many guidelines in other cities that would not work for ours, without some tweaking.

    How many other cities have a population that fluctuates so dramatically from one time of year to the next, or one time of day to the next, for that matter? I understand using other cities as a guide, but we have unusual challenges.

    The reality is that when I hear city council say “If we deny everything that is proposed based on [parking] until the council addresses the issue, we’re not going to see development at all,” I take that to mean that the problem is not going to be addressed, so why not make it a little worse?

    I’m sorry that Carson is stuck in the middle of this. Frankly, I’d be looking for better places to spend my money and I would let this property sit until the city fixed the parking problem.

    Still, if this site had 169 spaces, as specified in the development code, that would be 76 fewer that the city would have to create, at taxpayer expense, whenever we get around to fixing the parking problem and that is a small handful of money we could put toward sidewalks (perhaps where they were not originally built because of similar variances) or bike lanes, or trying to attract some large employer.

  16. I agree, but everyone should do a lot of things and most people are not going to have the time. For example, I don’t recall seeing anyone here at the TAB meetings, where we have had regular complaints about large numbers of students parking on residential streets and walking to campus.

    Many people have not heard the efforts of downtown businesses to convert LBJ and Guadalupe to 2-way streets in order, in large part, to gain a few more parking spaces.

    Many people are not aware of how much unused off-street parking there is.

    Contrary to what Mr. Cheney would have you believe, I understand a lot of the complexity here; perhaps more than he does. IMO, building a new development with fewer spaces than the building code calls for, adds to the problem.

    Doing this in complete absence of implementation of any other suggestions in that same master plan, or elsewhere, to mitigate the problem, is a mistake. It is very likely that the future tenants of this retail center will have the same parking problems that everyone else downtown has.

    I’m not sure the significance of the Downtown Master Plan mentioning developments like this. We have had little trouble attracting retail. I did not say that we should turn away retail. I said that we should not be making concessions to attract retail, particularly when they are in areas where we already have a very well documented problem, just as we do not need to be making concessions to attract low-price tract houses.

    This master plan even cites a need for office jobs, office space and skilled jobs for Texas State graduates, as well as many of the concerns of residents regarding problems in adjoining neighborhoods, easing the parking problems, etc. It also states that the retail market in San Marcos is nearly saturated, but office jobs downtown will fuel a need for supportive retail and commercial businesses.

    Yes, *everyone* should read the Downtown Master Plan. It does not change my position that we have traditionally had far more success attracting retail to San Marcos than we have had attracting employers who can offer careers for Texas State grads, and that this is a *critical* need in San Marcos and thus, this is where we should be making concessions and offering incentives.

    It also does not change my position that there is a significant parking problem downtown, which carries over into adjoining neighborhoods and allowing new development to go in with fewer spaces than identified in the development code is a mistake.

  17. Where is it well documented that we have a parking problem? I do business downtown about once a week and I never have trouble finding a spot. Granted, it’s not always RIGHT in front of the business I’m going to but it’s never more than a block away. If we meter downtown it will probably free up even more spaces. The spill-over into neighborhoods is more of a university related problem.
    Also, the research used to create the 1 space for 200 sq ft is questionable. It’s a typical bureucratic attemp at a one-size-fits-all solution. This is what the variance process is designed for. I’d examine all the potential businesses that could inhabit the development, assume a worst-case scenario and count the required parking spaces. Lastly, do we know for sure the Carson’s are even still involved? Do they own the land? I thought they sold out.

  18. I don’t know if they are involved but Carson Properties is listed as the property owner on the planned development district application but not as the applicant. I figured it might be a sell contingent on adoption of the pdd or something but that is a supposition and it wasn’t material enough to me to call and ask.

    I also have to say that I never have a problem parking downtown during the day. Never. Of course, this sometimes entails walking a block or two which is certainly more of a burden on the elderly or handicapped. I can usually park very nearly directly in front of the store or establishment I am visiting directly on the square although of course backing out in traffic isn’t fun. Rob at Hill Country Humidor told me one time that they do in fact have a parking problem downtown: Not enough customers/visitors parking there.

    I also take exception with the assumption that the Downtown Association is necessarily looking out for future tenants of the development. In my experience, some of its members are first and foremost looking out to preserve their piece of the turf especially as it applies to the bar owner oligarchy.

    I also noted with amusement that the laissez-faire, self-reliant Skiles family filed a written objection to Concho Commons. Because we all know they have a great record of looking out for the community especially their residential tenants.

  19. Well, I guess we all have different definitions of problems. I hear complaints regularly, from people with businesses downtown, as well as from people who live in the neighborhoods around downtown.

    The Downtown Master Plan that everyone keeps pointing to, also cites a parking problem and, surprise, recommends metered parking, which, surprise, I have also mentioned.

    The letter from the Planning Department states that the building of the center with reduced parking sets a dangerous precedent and urged an off-site parking agreement for employees be explored, but the developer declined.

    Then, there is the “predatory towing” issue, which I guess nobody heard about.

    http://www.sanmarcosrecord.com/editorials/local_story_180125121.html

    http://www.txstate.edu/news/news_releases/external_news/2003/07/parkingfines070903.html

    http://www.sanmarcosrecord.com/archivesearch/local_story_065155142.html

    Of course, the author of the last piece is suspect. 😉

    Overall, I’d say that I hear parking complaints about as often as any other issue.

    I’ll agree that there may not be enough *customers* parking downtown. There are plenty of students and business owners parking there, though. To say that this is a “university problem” is a cop out. The students are (many of them anyway) residents of this city, with a place they need to go. To say they are “fatasses” who need to walk or bike is ridiculous.

    I have had trouble finding parking downtown plenty of times. Yes, I have always been able to find a parking space, but not always quickly, regardless of proximity to where I want to go. I don’t mind walking. Driving around, hunting for a parking space is a pain in the ass and a waste of gas.

    There are always spaces in Nelson Center, but I can’t park there and walk to the square. Ditto for the lot behind the Tap Room and across from the Post Office, etc. When I go to truly pedestrian friendly cities, I park in a paid lot, the same paid lot every time, and I park and I walk. I don’t have that option here. Nor do I have a lot of parking options if I live or work on the square and don’t happen to have access to the off-street parking. Much of the on-street parking is time-restricted to 2 hours.

    Now, the university has announced a new enrollment record and they building garages along one of the most heavily trafficked, slowest moving roads in the city, which means even more students will likely decide that it is easier to park off campus than on.

    I’ve got remote park and ride lots and close-in parking on the TAB agenda tomorrow. You’re all welcome to come to the meeting and tell us why there is no problem and why this is a stupid idea. It would be nice to see some new faces.

  20. Thanks for the search and I agree you can’t trust that former SMDR writer 🙂 Downtown parking is certainly perceived as a problem … just saying I haven’t experienced it and I frequent downtown businesses, and of course the courthouse, relatively frequently. Its probably safe to say parking is more difficult than between the square and the university than it is on the square itself. I think one of the downtown masterplan consultants said something to effect during one of the meetings that we don’t have a downtown parking problem, we have a people not wanting to walk more than a block problem. I hate to discount people’s concerns but I’ve sat through enough of Rasco/Maysels slurring, blustering orations at public meetings to know that I don’t put much stock in what they say.

  21. Real, perceived or a little of both, if people think there is a problem and it keeps them away from downtown, then there is a problem. I still maintain that there are a LOT of people who are parking all over town and walking a lot more than a block.

    When there are 20 cars at the end of Alamo, what exactly is a block away that they might be walking to? Primo’s Tacos? Ditto Nelson Center. Are they walking to Falls Hall?

    I might say that there are a lot of business owners/managers who don’t want to walk more than a block and in a way, I’m torn when I see owners hogging the spaces that really would draw the customers in and it really bothers me that they haven’t been able to get together and figure out some way for all of them to park off the street, or at least a block or two from the stores. I’ve said plenty of times that there is room here for everyone to fix the problem.

    When developers are asking for variances to allow for less parking spaces and reportedly ignoring requests to look into off-site parking for employees, and the city grants the variances and when the university increases enrollment, but does not increase parking spaces (according to what they told the TAB) and consolidates parking in difficult to access locations and the business owners have more unused parking off-street than all of the on-street parking and on and on and on, when exactly is the problem going to be resolved?

    Again, real or perceived or a little of both, if it has been estimated that the new development needs 170 parking spaces and 55 of those would be to handle employee parking and the development will only have 96 spaces, I see a development with 41 spaces for customers, which sounds like a lot, but is actually 36% of the recommended number of spaces for customers of that development.

    That makes me wonder how well those retailers will fair and how long it will be, before this is another “predatory towing” site and another source of town and gown tension, none of which are good for the city.

    Sorry. That’s how I see it.

  22. Ted, when you say you can’t park at Nelson Center and walk to the square, and with repeated references to predatory towing you seem to be implying that you think there’s something unfair about that situation. Can you clarify your position? Also, you say you have “mentioned” metered parking. Do you support parking meters downtown? How is calling overflow parking on Alamo Street a university problem a “cop out”? To me it seems like we’re holding the Concho Commons developers to some artificial standard when we as a city refuse to take proactive steps to solve our own parking problems. Free parking in the CBD is anachronistic. You don’t see it anywhere any more. I also think the university needs to take responsibility for its part in the problem. About 2 years ago I asked the woman giving the presentation on the university’s master plan about parking. She told me the garages etc would result in no increase of parking spaces on the campus and that the university had no measures to discourage vehicles being brought into the city. As a result of their 800-pound-gorilla attitude we have to circle the block a few times to get a spot and we have to struggle over whether to approve an investor’s project. While I appreciate your efforts to foster smooth relationships with the university (“The students are (many of them anyway) residents of this city, with a place they need to go.”) they’re not above the law and nothing reminds them of that better than coming back to an empty parking space where their car used to be.

  23. I support meters. I would be interested to hear what happened the last time we used them.

    My position is on “predatory towing” that people are parking at Nelson Center and walking elsewhere, because they can’t find a better place to park. No, they should not park there. I have said repeatedly that they are parking illegally and I have said repeatedly that I do not believe there is a predatory towing issue.

    There clearly is a need for parking. Otherwise, people would not risk getting towed, to park in Nelson center and would not park at the end of Alamo, etc. People would not be getting towed and claiming there was a predatory towing problem, if there were places for them to park. People also would not be getting towed and claiming there was a predatory towing problem, if they were parking in front of the door they were walking in and refusing to walk a block, as some have claimed. It is up to ALL PARTIES to work to address that need.

    I’m holding everyone to the same standard. I’m tired of one group blaming the property owners and another blaming the city and another blaming the university and NOBODY addressing the issue.

  24. I agree with parking meters and the money being used to fund a surface parking lot and eventually a garage. I am downtown at least 5 times a week at various times of day and can always park for free. Why would I pay to park? If a student wants to park on the street and take a chance that they can get back from their class before a ticket is issued, (usually the case I’m told) then a meter would a least generate some income. The hardest time to find a parking space IMO is after 9pm when the bars start filling up.

  25. Ted,
    A shame that support for bike commuting/routes/lanes did not rate higher – more bike riding would certainly help ease traffic and parking problems.

  26. I guess I need to work on being clearer.

    Bike routes/lanes rated the lowest for satisfaction, followed by downtown parking. Meaning, they rated the highest for areas we need to work on.

    And, we are working on the bike stuff, but that’s all kind of new to us and it is never entirely clear to me how much money is available or what projects are currently funded and which of those are going to get done. Plus, the bike stuff and the pedestrian stuff are kind of lumped together and both are often tied to planned road improvements. Sadly, there is no easy path to a bike-friendly city right now, but there are people, myself included, trying to plow through it, which is probably why I get so irritated when I see other issues being ignored (my perception).

    I think meters would be great. They would help to address the issue of students parking downtown and walking to campus, as well as business owners, attorneys, etc, parking on the square all day and might entice a few people to figure out a way to use all of the private, off-street parking. I am open to the idea that I am wrong about meters and I would like to know what happened last time we tried them.

    IMO, if you want to foster a more vibrant downtown community, there needs to be a downtown parking solution and, because of the proximity to the university, that solution needs to take the university into consideration. Yes, the university should provide more parking and should put their garages in better locations. They didn’t do either.

    We can complain, or deny there is a problem, or we can offer the students more convenient parking at a competitive rate and try to entice them into our downtown businesses after class. The same goes for the square and Nelson Center and all the rest. Local businesses could have a pot of painted quarters that they hand out to their customers, like validating tickets in garages. Maybe that would help.

    If parking is especially hard to find at night, when the bars fill up, then maybe parking revenue from those time periods could help fund some of the trash cleanup that desperately needs to be done, all over San Marcos, much of which is empty beer cans and discarded fast food wrappers that appear overnight.

    Tell me this, if I want to go downtown for a movie and then hit Alvin Ord’s for a sandwich and maybe walk through a few shops on and around the square, where is it that I am supposed to park, in this pedestrian friendly city? Do I park at Nelson Center? No way, because I’m leaving their property to go to the movies. Do I park on the square? Hell no, I can’t park there, because there’s a 2-hour time limit. I pull into a couple of empty lots here and there, but they each have their own signs, telling me who they are reserved for.

    Sure, there are some places where I can park as long as I want and go wherever I want, but it seems like Sales and Marketing 101 not to make your customers have to work to figure out how to buy your product.

    If we want out of town visitors, Outlet Mall shoppers, students, residents from various parts of town, or anyone else to spend an afternoon walking through downtown, spending some money and creating the vibrant community everyone seems to be looking for, we need to simplify the parking situation and we need to provide more parking. That doesn’t have to mean free parking and it doesn’t mean that everyone gets to park right in front of the door, but it does mean having enough parking spaces so that it is not a chore to find one and it means not penalizing people for doing *exactly* what we want them to do, which is park and spend the day walking around town, even if, God forbid, part of that time is spent walking on campus.

  27. Thanks. I find that the more I get involved in all sorts of issues, the more I find my views evolving. When the downtown parking committee, or whatever it was, came to the TAB to lobby for some changes to the streets (LBJ and Guadalue to become 2-way), to create more parking, my initial reaction was “This is stupid, I’ve never had a problem finding a parking space.”

    This was just as the new computer controlled lights were supposed to come online and fix the traffic problem (they are online now, but still need some work). I recall arguing with quite a few people at the meeting, about whether there was really a parking problem and saying that I was absolutely not interested in giving up any gains in traffic flow, by rerouting the streets for a few parking spaces that nobody would ever use.

    Still, I started to pay more attention and think more about what other people were doing and then my wife got a few tickets (working on the square) and the towing complaints kept rolling in.

    For awhile, I could tell that something obviously wasn’t working, but I couldn’t say what or why and I’m still not sure I get it all. I still don’t like the idea of re-routing the streets, but now I when I see the wrong-way drivers every semester, I think, hmmmm…

    My views have definitely changed, though.

    Glad to hear I’m not the only one open to new ideas.

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