The San Marcos City Council approved a Planned Development District (PDD) for a lot at Concho and LBJ Streets. The 5-1 vote went against recommendations by the city staff and the Downtown Association. Councilmember Gaylord Bose was the dissenting vote and Councilmember Daniel Guerrero was absent.In a packet provided for the Council, the city staff acknowledged that while “this is a project with architectural and urban design elements that are desirable in the downtown… the applicant has never adequately addressed the critical issues identified early in pre-application discussions (and) repeated by staff in all formal reviews of the PDD.” The staff pointed to two main issues in recommending denial. First, the Concho Commons “PDD exceeds impervious cover standards but the applicant will not state a performance standard for water quality, greater than the code to mitigate this request.” Second, the “PDD provides, on site, 53 to 57% of the required parking” in spite of commissioners and city staff “urging the applicant to provide staff parking (32% of the required spaces) through off-site lease agreements.” City staff “reluctantly recommended denial of the proposal as the inadequate response to the issues of concern will negatively affect properties in the CBA as well as the San Marcos River.”
Mayor Susan Narvaiz and Councilmember Kim Porterfield both cited the Planning and Zoning Commission’s majority vote in favor of the project as one reason for their yes vote. Narvaiz and Councilmember Chris Jones pointed to the new Downtown Master Plan for support of their action. The plan had just been approved earlier in the same meeting. Narvaiz said, “We had just approved our new Downtown Master Plan and it didn’t seem reasonable to dent the proposal when it was in line with the goals of our Downtown Master Plan.”
Council members Porterfield and Pam Couch emphasized what a significant investment this project was. “This is a major investment. The company has a lot at stake and it would not propose a project that would put it in jeopardy,” said Couch. She and Porterfield also brought up general issues of urban development as a basis for their vote. Porterfield said the project is next to Texas State University, an area of high density. She said the businesses in Concho Commons are designed to cater to faculty, staff, and students, so they will be geared to pedestrian traffic. “We want to encourage higher density in our downtown and this project is an example of that,” said Couch.
Councilmember John Thomaides said this project reflects what he thinks downtown San Marcos will be in the future. “This project includes components that are part of what experts in urban planning say cities need to be healthy such as vertical zoning, increased density and accessibility by pedestrian and bicycle traffic.”
Porterfield expressed doubts over the method for determining parking requirements for new developments. “I also question the formula for determining parking requirements. I’m not sure using the parking formula for this project that is used for a shopping center, for example, is appropriate”
Councilmember Chris Jones and Porterfield stressed the need for the council to develop a downtown parking plan. Jones said he is confident the Council will develop a parking strategy that addresses the parking issues of this project. “Establishing a parking plan needs to be the council’s first order of business,” said Porterfield.
Bose was not immediately available for comment.
The Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) were the first to approve the project. P&Z voted 5-2 in favor of the Concho Commons project on September 9. Chair Sherwood Bishop and Commissioner Bill DeSoto voted against it. Commissioners Cecil Pounds and Jim Stark were awaiting training and did not attend the meeting.
Commissioners Allen Shy and Ryan Thomason compared to the project to what is in the area now. Thomason noted that “Everything over in that area exceeds the current impervious cover standards (while) the PDD we approved has considerably less impervious cover than what is currently on that site.” For Thomason, “it didn’t appear to have a legitimate parking issue when it is compared to the sites and businesses around it.” Shy said he did not see any difference between the PDD and the current businesses in the area.
Commissioners Shy and Bill Taylor said the project being geared to pedestrians as being important to their vote. Taylor said the project’s consultants presented the development as a pedestrian friendly. “I don’t think the [city] staff took into consideration the percentage of walk up business” for the project, said Shy.
Bishop and DeSoto were both concerned about the parking issue. Bishop said he voted against the project “mainly because of the parking issue. I didn’t think they should be allowed to design their project in such a way as to worsen the parking situation for other downtown businesses. The parking numbers that were provided by the Concho Commons project were ambiguous and some were in inaccurate.”
Taylor agreed that the “parking issue needs to be addressed” but didn’t want the P&Z to “kill the project. The city council was the place to work on the parking issue, not P&Z,” said Taylor. He added his concern for the drainage issue and said he hopes the council will address it.
Kyle Maysel, Chair of the San Marcos Downtown Parking Advisory Board (PAD) expressed deep concern over the substance of the project and over procedural issues. Maysel said the “PAD received no notice through official channels about the [Concho Commons] PDD. It’s discouraging that a representative of a developer can have unlimited time in which to promote a project while a representative of an official city board only gets three minutes during the citizen comment period.”
Maysel said his biggest concern is the lack of proposed parking. “It’s a general principle of the PAD that the city shouldn’t be granting this type of massive parking variances. This inflicts problems on existing businesses. The city is creating a perfect storm by giving variances where there is already an existing parking problem.”
Commissioner Randy Bryan and Curtis Seebeck could not be reached for comment.
by ED MIHALKNIN & ANDY SEVILLA
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