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January 8th, 2009
Carma comes to San Marcos council with new development

News Reporter

The San Marcos City Council addressed issues ranging from water lines and park construction to the use of federal funds for demolishing residents’ homes at its first meeting of the year.

But the highlight of Tuesday’s session consisted in a presentation by Carma Texas, Inc., General Manager Shaun Cranston, who introduced the council to his company’s plans for a 1,338.5-acre development on the west side of Interstate-35.

Paso Robles is conceived as a Tuscan-themed housing project including more than 300 acres of open space, a parks and trail system and an 18-hole golf course. Carma Texas, Inc. is the developer for Blanco Vista, a master-planned community near Five Mile Dam Park, west of Post Road. Plans call for 3,427 homes in the Paso Robles development.
Cranston said his company wishes to give the community a “Tuscan feel,” including the placement of “ornamental vineyards,” because Carma researchers discovered this area of the Hill Country to be “the second-largest wine-producing area in the United States.” Only the Napa Valley in California produces more wine.

“We’ve worked for over two years with both the environmental consultant as well as with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, who have been on site, who have done extensive surveys of the land, and who we’re working with closely to make sure we have the proper program in place to make sure that the existing unique topological and geographical features are all preserved within our plan,” Cranston said.

Mayor Susan Narvaiz asked that Cranston’s presentation be uploaded to the city’s website for the benefit of inquiring residents. Upon being questioned by Councilmember Pam Couch on the subject, Cranston said a variety of Paso Robles homes would be offered at prices accessible to different income levels.

The city’s planning and zoning commission (P&Z) generally supported the project following a Dec. 9 presentation, though the details will require more work. Carma wants approval for a Planned Development District (PDD) and hook-ups to the city’s water and wastewater services. Cranston said he expects to use the city’s effluent lines near the outlet malls to irrigate the golf course.

Carma is coming back to San Marcos despite a rough start for its Blanco Vista development, which is slated for 2,000 homes just west of Interstate-35 between Stagecoach Road and Yarrington Road. Due largely to a sluggish housing market, only 55 homes were up when Cranston met with the P&Z in December, with about 30 families residing in the subdivision.

Regardless, Cranston expressed cited his confidence in San Marcos’ long-term growth potential when asked in December why he would propose an even larger development when his existing development in town was struggling.

The council took no action after Tuesday night’s presentation

However, the council did approve an application for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) after Councilmember Chris Jones requested that it be described in less turgid detail for the benefit of the public and the council. Assistant City Manager Collette Jamison explained that the resolution, if passed, would allow the city to use federal grant money provided under the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program for the removal of demolition produces and debris, as well as the relocation of structures.

Jamison said the city has received up to $748,000 and never less than $465,000 in CDBG grant money.

“We were on the way back down, and I think we’re at $582,000,” said Jamison.

She said 20 percent of CDBG funds would “go for low income and community-type projects.”

Jones expressed reservations about allowing the city to use CDBG grant money to relocate or demolish buildings. He said using the money for such purposes would constitute “a huge policy shift.”

Narvaiz responded by saying the use of CDBG money for demolition and relocation would allow the city to offer residents more help with demolishing their houses and relocating or rebuilding in the event the government declared the homes unlivable.

According to the City of San Marcos Community Development Block Grant Consolidated Plan 2005-2009, 109 housing units determined to be “unsafe structures” have been demolished in San Marcos since 1995.

After Narvaiz reiterated her opinion that it is unfair for the government to condemn someone’s home while demanding the homeowner shoulder the burden of paying for its demolition, Jones said he agrees, but still doesn’t think federal dollars should be used for that purpose. Jones said he would vote for the resolution “with the hope that” the council formulates “very clearly” the criteria by which CDBG money can be used for demolition projects. The council voted unanimously for the resolution.

The council also unanimously approved a resolution facilitating the expenditure of $3.1 million in Hays County bond funds for the development of Five-Mile Dam Park Complex, Purgatory Creek Preserve, Gary Sports Complex, Rio Vista Tennis Courts and a regional skate park. Narvaiz and Councilmember John Thomaides argued for the interlocal agreement before the Hays County Commissioners’ Court.

Director of Community Services Rodney Cobb said funding is already in place for the skate park and tennis courts. Cobb said construction of the fast pitch fields and the development of Purgatory Creek Park will take place next year. Cobb said the city would provide matching funds of $1.15 million for the 5-mile complex, $1.4 million for Purgatory Creek improvements, $2.4 million for the fast pitch complex, $400,000 for tennis courts and $180,000 for state park improvements.

Councilmembers also voted unanimously to begin negotiations with Hays County for the collaborative design, construction, and maintenance of a memorial to honor President Lyndon Baines Johnson and Martin Luther King at the intersection of MLK and LBJ Streets. Cobb said proponents of the memorial’s construction hope to have the interlocal agreement “signed, sealed, and delivered by MLK Day, which is why we put it on the agenda for now.”

Said Jones, “This is one of, I believe, the only locations identified in Texas where MLK and LBJ (streets) actually intersect.”

Councilmembers discussed establishing a Veterans Affairs Committee composed of citizens. The committee would serve in an advisory capacity in support of military veterans and improvements to the Hays County Veterans Memorial.

Couch suggested making a place on the Veterans Affairs Committee for veterans of specific conflicts, like Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. She suggested including Texas State University students who are veterans.

Jones said the council has a role to play in “providing something that will help us bridge the gap between old veterans and our newer veterans.” Narvaiz concurred, adding that the Veterans Affairs Committee should work to represent the interests of San Marcos veterans by engaging with state and federal governmental entities.

The council also voted unanimously to approve an agreement with Green Guy Recycling Services and to acquire an $84,617 easement from Texas Instruments to build a water line.

The only citizen to utilize the public comment period was city resident Kenneth Dees, who said Texas State University students compromise his neighborhood’s “integrity and safety.”

Said Dees: “Back before the – back in November I was able to meet with the new city manager…and he was able to accomplish in two weeks what I’ve been after staff to do for almost two years. One side of Ridgewood Street on the end of Alamo (Street) has finally been marked ‘no parking anytime.’ The other side (of Ridgewood) is up to you. If you do not get this part marked for park users only, then our neighborhood will continue to be overflow student parking and a late-night gathering place. This has caused one of my neighbors to call the police on several occasions because of this problem.”

Dees recommended putting visible curfew signs at all three entrances to Chulle Canyon Greenspace, which borders Ridgewood. He praised the city for cleaning up the area near the entrances to the park, but regretted that the operation involved tearing down a barn on the Texas Parks and Wildlife birding trail.

“I was disappointed to see that go because we’ve got some birds looking for places to live, and it’s too late now for them,” said Dees.

Shaun Cranston of Carma Texas, Inc., talks up his proposed 3,427-home Paso Robles development before the San Marcos City Council.

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