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

March 23rd, 2009
University says growth has limit

The Texas State campus as seen last week from a B-24J. Photo by Sean Wardwell.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

One doesn’t go long in San Marcos without hearing a common complaint in the local town vs. gown fabric: Every time Texas State expands, it takes more land off the city’s property tax rolls, since the university’s property isn’t taxable.

The growth of Texas State’s main campus from 11 acres in 1899 to more than 468 acres today has fueled worries, especially in recent years, that the university grows only at economic cost to the city, Hays County and the San Marcos CISD. Eyebrows are raised about a university master plan showing the south porch of campus sweeping downhill and approaching Hutchison Street, taking the northern edge of downtown.

However, the university says it has no intention of expanding beyond its present general boundaries, which basically consist of University Drive on the east and south, Sessom Drive on the north and RR 12 on the west.

Maybe as recently as two decades ago, when the city and the university both were much smaller than they are today, the growth of neither much conflicted with the other. But now, when an addition to the university is a subtraction from the local tax rolls, the difference can hardly escape notice.

For example, the university has acquired about 131 acres through 12 separate land deals in the last five years, including its most recent buy of the 4.14 acre Hidden Village apartment complex from KAL Pacific, LLC in 2008. The Hidden Village property was appraised at $2,493,440, which means the city lost about $13,220 in annual property taxes out of the deal, while Hay County was short approximately $11,405 and San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District lost about $34,160. The university plans to replace Hidden Village with parking spaces to accommodate the expansion of Bobcat Stadium.

“I think the university, Hays County, San Marcos CISD — all entities who carry property off the tax (rolls) — contribute significantly to economic development in San Marcos through employment, through their payroll, (and) through the services they require to do business,” said Kim Porterfield, who occupies a full-blooded position in the matter. Porterfield not only is a San Marcos City Councilmember, but she’s also the university’s director of community relations.

Quoting Porterfield, “So, I think you have to look at the whole picture, you know?”
Porterfield said San Marcos needs “to be aware of and monitor” the university’s land acquisition habits, as the city’s infrastructure cannot support “a whole lot of (university) growth.” However, Porterfield said, she sees no sign that school administrators are looking to aggressively expand the university’s territory. Porterfield said she remembers when River House, where she has her university office, used to be a VFW building.

Last year, Texas State’s property tax-exempt status resulted in about $119,543 and $105,608 in lost revenues to San Marcos and Hays County, respectively. San Marcos took in $4,342,478 last year in property taxes, which amounted to 12.57 percent of its total revenue. Hays County brought in $26,896,361 in property taxes last year — 57 percent of its general fund revenue.

The Introduction to Texas State University’s Campus Master Plan 2006-2015 states that the university will endeavor to maintain its primary boundaries of University Drive, Ranch Road 12 and Sessom Drive.

“The Campus Master Plan and facilities shall accommodate a future student body of no greater than 30,000 students on the San Marcos campus unless there is a fundamental infrastructure change in San Marcos,” the Introduction states.
Texas State announced a record spring enrollment this year of 27,509, up 3.9 percent from a year earlier.A stated goal of the Campus Master Plan is to “reverse the trend of creating impervious surfaces and actively work towards the reduction of existing impervious surfaces on the campus.”

According to the document, 40 percent of the campus is impervious surface, which creates “a host of problems for the City of San Marcos.” The Master Plan calls for a “gray to green” initiative, which entails large amounts of surface parking spaces giving way to trees and other natural vegetation. However, the number of parking spaces will remain constant, with new parking garages at the east and west edges of campus taking up the slack. A “pay and park” garage will be built near University Drive and North Edward Gary Street for students and city residents.

“Right now our goal is to buy any property that’s within our university boundaries,” said Associate Vice President for Finance and Support Services Nancy Nusbaum, who is also chair of the Campus Master Plan Steering Committee.

Nusbaum said the university is trying to buy two private homes that lie within the boundaries of Texas State University. She said the owner of one of the homes is currently unwilling to sell. Both homes are being rented to students. Windgate Condominiums also lies within the borders of Texas State University, though Nusbaum said the university is not trying to buy the property at this time, “but could eventually, maybe someday.”

Nusbaum said in the interests of keeping university land contiguous, the school is negotiating an easement with the City of San Marcos near Hidden Village and trying to work out a deal with the San Marcos Public Housing Authority “for a small piece (of land) to connect (Hidden Village). Because we’re not exactly adjacent (to it).”

The university also claims 4,922 off-site acres of ranch land and a recreational camp, and several off-campus sites including a print shop, mail services location, anthropology center and a warehouse. Of the 227 instances in which Texas State acquired land, 36 deals involved more than an acre of property. Though the university has bought property outside of its boundaries before, Nusbaum said there are no plans to buy more.

“If something comes up — we’ve been approached for different things, but we really don’t want to buy outside of our boundary if we can help it,” Nusbaum said. “It’s kind of a commitment to the city not to take any more off of the tax rolls than what’s necessary.”

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0 thoughts on “University says growth has limit

  1. “…plans to replace Hidden Village with parking spaces…”

    Exactly what our community needs! More barren, toxic, impervious parking spaces! The last thing Texas State (or San Marcos for that matter) needs is to encourage people to ride bicycles, walk, or take the bus.

    One car for every resident! One car for every student! And one parking space for everybody! (its a constitutional right, ya know)

  2. San Marcos for sale!? You know it and I know it! It seems that this city bows to the whim of the university. Heck the master plan of the city seems to be to move south. The university boundary is where again? And ” we really don’t want to buy outside of our boundary if we can help it,” Nusbaum said. That goes without saying ‘that the university will buy if the city keeps out of the way, which it seems that it usually does. Sad.

  3. edQ, Tx. State owns this city! More parking lots, great! One thing that really bothers me about Tx. State has to do with our water supply. Does anyone know that Tx. State has the right to pump water from our river even when the flow is so slow that it threatens endangered species?

  4. Ray, did you know that the University pumps not only from the river and spring lake but also from a well on campus that from my understanding is not metered. If this is so then how does SMEU know how much to charge for waste water?

  5. The city has absolutely no authority over the university. You can thank your state legislature for that. Bow to the whim of the university? They were barely on speaking terms until recently. People act like the university is some great evil, when in reality they are well-meaning and serve as the largest economic engine outside of Austin and San Antonio. Nobody ever asks the question of how much stuff WOULD NOT be here were it not for the university. Outlet malls? probably not. major anchor stores? yeah, a lot of them wouldn’t be here either. And don’t forget the stupid amounts of money students spend at retailers and restaurants throughout the city. Plus, because of the university, this little city of 50K has access to Division I collegiate sports and high quality cultural activities like live theater, dance and music. And let’s not forget Texas State’s new program to make tuition affordable to San Marcos’ low-moderate income families.

    The parking lot expansion is because they are expanding the capacity of the stadiums. THIS IS A GOOD THING! Larger capacity = more cheeks in the seats = more people visiting San Marcos, patronizing businesses (sales tax) and paying hotel taxes. It helps raise the profile of both the city and university.

    I know its not all flowers and rainbows; that the university has negative affects as well that are often more tangible to the average San Marcos non-student. Sometimes they catch the blame for things that really aren’t their fault. For example, legendary Sagewood is mostly young NON-students. Traffic is screwed up (more of a railroad crossing issue than anything; with so much traffic, one train takes the road system over an hour to recover from).

    Only 75% of students have a vehicle on campus, according to a survey Texas State parking services conducted last year. Considering how auto-dependent Texas culture is, and the pathetic public transit available in San Marcos, that is quite an achievement. That said, San Marcos hasn’t done jack-crap for alternative transportation. There’s only a handful of disconnected bike lanes. Bike routes are not signed and identified, even though there is sufficient pavement width that all it needs is a stripe and a few signs. Even their roadside trails are a failure, using a material incompatible with road bikes, washes out easily, and is impossible to clean glass out of (flat tires are common). In case you haven’t been up to the campus recently, the university has already begun removing a massive amount of impervious cover and converting it to green space. The university has jacked up its parking permit cost, so it’s not really a “right”.

  6. Quiet Guy, the city does have authority when it come to assessing the university’s waste water bill!

  7. Quiet Guy: Your claim that Sagewood residents are “mostly Non-students” is totally inaccurate. The only people who believe that are university admin.

  8. Most cities here in South/Central Texas would love to have the so called “problems” that come along with having a major universtiy located in their town.

  9. Every time the University acquires more land it leads to less property tax for the city, where is the trade off? Have any numbers besides opinions?

  10. Quiet Guy: I understand the financial impact that the students have on the city. But does the city understand the water impact, the trash impact, the leave the matress and couch on the street impact, the ‘ I’ll just park my car here or there’ impact, the party till we have to quit impact? I’m sure there are plenty of other negative items I can right about. But yes you are right about students spending cash here. As far as the city being what it is today without the students, well you see what it is now so I guess I can only imagine what it ‘could’ be without them. My child will probably end up at Tx St. so I’m not anti- student. There are many enforcements on the books to maintain the quality of life here in San Marcos unfortunately as the university expands the amount of PD stays the same and depending who is elected to city council…….well you know as well as I. I think Thomides had it right, when the issue of landlords paying a fee to rent their property and maintaining it or lose the right for a specified period of time. I do think that there does need to be some king of growth control. And I still do not see the need to leave the Southland Conference. Yes I know about the $ that the university stands to gain. And that is all it is…$$$$. I don’t think that Tx St. can attract the quality of athletes when UT is just right up the road. Maybe just to have a team built around you and up and leave when noticed by scouts or the lure of $. I really love my city even more so during the ‘leave periods’.

  11. The University drives about 20% of our economy and half of that appears to come from the students. So, the city would be here, either way.

    And we’re not a particularly affluent town, so wherever the money comes from, there isn’t enough to be bragging about.

    The students who live here constitute about 20% of the population and probably account for about 20% of the services. So, by and large, it is a wash.

    I say that as a former and current student, married to a former student, with many friends who were and/or are students.

    What we have, because of the university, is a young, vibrant town, with all the good and bad that comes with it. The city and the university could both do more to bring out the good and keep the bad to a minimum, but why should they, when we are all content to let each side point fingers at the other?

  12. Ted I really hate finger pointing or profiling but it is what it is. The only thing young in this vibrant city are the new students. We age but the influx of new students stay the same age. And unfortunately these are often the students that have a negative impact here. That is only my view.

  13. You’re certainly entitled to your view, but I’ve lived in “normal” cities/towns the size of San Marcos and they don’t have unicycle football, or upstart musicians and artists, or coffee shops that are actually cool, and they don’t have the energy that comes from a huge segment of the population just starting to find themselves.

    Indeed, it is what it is, but it is not what it has to be.

  14. I have lived in serveral places through the years, I would not describe any of them as normal. Is Houston normal? or the Lower Rio Grand Valley? Austin prides it self on how abnormal it is, and new Orleans is so far from normal its scary. I guess Plano is normal, if you like bland sububia. I’d much rather have San Marcos than any of those other places, college students and all.

  15. Yes Larry, hence the quotation marks around “normal.” Thanks for doing your part to keep San Marcos weird.

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