By ED MIHALKANIN
Going against the advice of its Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), which went against the advice of the city’s Sector One Plan, the San Marcos City Council refused a zoning change at Hunter Road and Wonder World Drive Tuesday night.
Developer Larry Peel, property owner Mark Wheeler and consultant Ed Theriot of ETR Consulting asked the council to re-zone a 22.5-acre tract from General Commercial (GC) to multi-family use (MF-18) so they could build apartment at the site.
After an extended discussion, the council denied the request by a 4-2 vote, with Mayor Susan Narvaiz and Councilmember Kim Porterfield comprising the minority side (Councilmember Pam Couch was absent). Councilmembers opposing the request said multi-family use would congest the area with traffic, adding that a change would demonstrate a lack of plan discipline. The developers, along with the minority councilmembers, said multi-family use actually makes more sense for the site.
Peel said that the individual apartments would range from 700 to 1,700 square feet, so they would be marketed to singles, couples and empty nesters. Wheeler said his group tried to market the land for a grocery store, but “no store was interested in this land.” Wheeler added “there is a very big demand for housing in that neighborhood that is not single family.”
A few citizens spoke against the rezoning. Charles Blue pointed out that the apartment complex would have an entrance onto Hunter Road, which has implications for increased traffic on Hopkins Street.
Gary Guzaldo, acting resident of the Heritage Neighborhood Association, said the current commercial zoning for the land “will help protect the integrity of our neighborhood.” Guzaldo asked the city council to consider one question: “How is this [the proposed rezoning] going to benefit the city?” Guzaldo said it “seems a waste of land to change it from commercial” to apartments.
However, city staff said the change would create numerous benefits. San Marcos Development Planning Manager Chance Sparks noted that the developer accepted a reduction in the number of parking spaces that would normally be allowed, increased landscaping from 20 percent to 25 percent, and proposed to provide a small lake to be used for storm water run-off.
Further, the development reduced the amount of impervious cover compared to the amount allowed for a commercial development. Also, the developer would be required to develop some type of watershed protection plan. In the staff’s opinion. “the development would not cause problems” for flooding, Sparks said.
Sabas Avila, San Marcos Interim director of Capital Improvements, said commercial use “would generate the highest traffic counts” and that the apartments would generate less traffic. He pointed out that while the proposed apartment complex did have an entrance on Hunter, any commercial development would be allowed to have two entrances. Avila added that, “I usually don’t like to see specialty retail.”
Sparks noted that while commercial property is a sales tax collector, the residents of the proposed apartments would produce sales tax revenue as consumers. Sparks, also, said that Purgatory Creek “would be a buffer between the apartments and the Hopkins Street neighborhood.
Councilmember Gaylord Bose noted that the city’s Sector One Plan “argues against multi-family at that site” and pointed out that the proposed development is consistent with the sector plan in only three out of approximately sixteen areas of the plan.
Councilmember Chris Jones was most concerned about the entrance issue on Hunter Road, as was Councilmember Fred Terry.
“My main problem was the exit and entrance on Hunter Road,” said Terry, who added that “it is a great project,” but also noted that the speed limit on Hunter at that location is 45 miles per hour.
Councilmember John Thomaides asked, “Is this the right project for the community? Is this smart growth?” He answered, “I don’t think so.”
Thomaides reminded the council that it had voted for the sector plan and that a previous council had voted down apartment buildings in that area in 2000. Thomaides said he is very “concerned about the precedent” of approving an apartment building in that area. He concluded by saying, “We plan the work but don’t work the plan” and asked the council to “respect the neighborhoods and deny the proposal.”
Council member Kim Porterfield said she voted for the rezoing because it was the recommendation of the P&Z and, “I respect the work that citizens do on that commission.” Porterfield said she agreed with the P&Z that “mixed use was a good use of that land because of the things within walking distance” of it such as banks, a school, the new post office and restaurants.
Narvaiz said that one of the reasons she voted for the project was the recommendation of the P&Z including the commissioners who have a reputation for being concerned about neighborhood issues. Narvaiz noted that “under the current zoning, we could get a developer who wasn’t was good as the developer of the proposal before the council.”
Narvaiz said, as well, that the completion of the Wonder World Drive extension will change transportation patterns in the city, so the proposed development would not adversely affect the neighborhood.
Theriot said in response to the vote that, “we are currently discussing our options. It is a great project. There are a lot of benefits to the project, including parkland dedication, reduction in impervious cover and the overall quality of the project. We will be discussing internally how we will move forward.”