The location of the annexed property, part of Windemere Ranch.
By SEAN BATURA
San Marcos City Council members voted 6-1 last week in favor of annexing 22.5 acres of aquifer recharge land on which out-of-town developers intend to place 40 units of townhomes and two lots of neighborhood commercial buildings. City land use plans call for low density on the annexed tract, located about a mile northwest of Post Road near Spring Lake Preserve.
Of the eight individuals who spoke during public comment, only ETR Development Consulting co-founder Thomas Rhodes asked the council to vote for annexation. Rhodes’ clients are developers Thomas Haug and Vince Wood, who own the 22.5-acre tract. The rest of those who spoke, five of whom said they live near the proposed development, opposed the annexation and any future development of a density higher than specified by the New Horizons Master Plan.
“In order to even begin the development process on this site, we have to begin the annexation,” said ETR Development Consulting co-founder Thomas Rhodes. “We can’t do anything else until we’re annexed into the city.”
Among other benefits, annexation enables Haug and Wood to build water and wastewater lines that connect to city infrastructure.
Haug and Wood also own a 212-acre tract near the annexed 22.5 acres. The city annexed the 212-acre tract on a voluntary basis in 2007. Both tracts comprise what is now known as Windemere Ranch, most of which the Storts family used for horse boarding and riding in the 1980s and milk production in the 1950s.
Because Windemere Ranch is located in a recharge zone for the Edwards Aquifer, which supplies water to about 1.7 million people, the city prohibits any development in the region from having nonporous surfaces averaging more than 20 percent of the development’s area.
Recharge land is typified by thin soils covering extremely porous limestone. Water runoff over impervious cover can erode soil, pool and force water into the ground quickly, thereby bypassing microbial and plant filtration of possible pollutants. Additional water runoff at Windemere Ranch may flow overland into Spring Lake, the source of the San Marcos River and home to several endangered species.
According to the developers’ conceptual plan, there is at least one cave on the property, two sinkholes, two solution enlarged fractures and two solution cavities. Haug and Wood hired professional geologist and cave biologist Andy Grubbs to examine the aquifer recharge features on Windemere Ranch.
“I am very familiar with the area because I lived in a rent house on (Windemere Ranch) when it was a horse ranch back in the ’80s,” said Grubbs. ” … I found some sensitive recharge features. The TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) came out and examined them and we concurred on how sensitive they were, and the proposed development came up with setbacks and exclusion zones in their conceptual plan that satisfies the TCEQ’s requirements.”
Said biologist and Science Director for the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance Tom Hayes last week as he asked council to vote against the annexation, “That recharge dam is on (Sink Creek). The creek is the major recharge to Spring Lake. If you sediment it, if you put the pollutants in that flood control dam, they’re going to be going directly into the springs. You cannot do that … The city needs to protect this area. The TCEQ rules are not adequate to protect the second-largest fresh water spring in the State of Texas.”
During the meeting, Mayor Susan Narvaiz, councilmembers John Thomaides, Pam Couch and Kim Porterfield said their votes for annexation should not be taken as a sign of total agreement with the developers’ plans for Windemere Ranch, but as an effort to protect the area and give residents greater control over future development. Councilmember Gaylord Bose was alone in voting against the annexation.
Said Porterfield, “I really like the ring of ‘Windemere Canyon Park,’ but the truth of matter is … the city cannot afford to purchase this land, and so, absent another group coming in to work with us, the owner has a right to develop the land, just as everyone who lives out there now had a right to dig a well and build a home. The land, I also believe … is better off in the city limits rather than in the unincorporated area because we have more control, and there are fewer land use controls in unincorporated areas.”
The city’s Future Land Use Map, formulated using surveys of city residents, specifies “very low density residential development” for Windemere Ranch. The developers’ conceptual plan specifies a higher density development for the area than that stipulated by the land use map. Wood and Haug intend the 212-acre portion of their property to accommodate 67 1/4-acre lots, 96 1/2-acre lots and 47 3/4-acre lots.
“(The) future land use plan may or may not be amended, depending on what the needs are to help the development and to meet the development needs of the developer,” Rhodes said during last week’s city council meeting.
Assistant City Manager Laurie Moyer said requests for land use amendments have increased because the master plan hasn’t been updated since 1996. Moyer said work on a new master plan will begin this year.
“If it makes sense, (developers are) granted a change in land use,” said Moyer. “But the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council look at each one individually … It’s really a case-by-case basis.”
In March, the city council voted, 4-3, to approved a change to the land use plan that allows denser housing development near Hunter Road and Wonder World Drive. ETR Consulting represented developer Larry Peel & Company in that instance.
Last summer, Haug and Wood withdrew their request for a variance specifying only one access point for the 212-acre portion of Windemere Ranch after local residents protested.
“It is inconsistent to expect taxpayers to pay for surface water they’re drinking while also obligating citizens to pay for wastewater lines and roads that enable this development, which endangers the springs,” said Tyler Carlson, a resident who lives near Windemere Ranch. “It is incompatible to restrict development along the San Marcos River while promoting development along water routes that directly feed it.”
Except for the new sewer line now being built through a portion of Windemere Ranch, the developers will have to pay 100 percent of water and wastewater infrastructure installed on the property. Moyer said the sewer line now being built has been planned since 2002 and is being laid to accommodate the growth of Texas State University and apartments near North LBJ Drive and Craddock Avenue.
Half the cost of installing the sewer line will be charged to utility customers and half will be charged via impact fees to all new development in the city. Off-site construction of water and wastewater infrastructure to accommodate the development will be borne by the developer. The city will pay for maintenance of on-site water, wastewater and road infrastructure. State law prohibits cities from charging developers more than 50 percent of the cost to accommodate growth caused by new development.
Daniel Hosage, a resident living near Windemere Ranch, asked the city council last week to wait 30 days before deciding on annexing the 22.5-acre tract.
“It’s going to impact our lives, from everything from the depth of our wells to how long we wait at stop signs, to how many children are in our school classes,” Hosage said.
Because city staff placed the annexation ordinance on the council’s agenda as an emergency item, councilmembers were not required to hold more than one vote or meeting on the issue. Moyer said city staff crafted the agenda item as an emergency ordinance for efficiency’s sake.
Said Moyer, “I think from a staff perspective, the assumption was, ‘Well, this is not a problem to place it on emergency because it was (a) voluntary (annexation) and the main discussion, the deeper discussion, was held with the 200-acre parcel. They followed that logic. Whether or not the people, the citizens felt that way, you know, they obviously didn’t, and they felt like they wanted to have a deeper discussion.”
To proceed with their development, Haug and Wood will need to get their property zoned, which entails gaining the approval of the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council. If they get their zoning approved, Haug and Wood will have to get their concept plan approved, then get their property platted. Their submissions for a sewer collection system must be approved by the city and TCEQ. A TCEQ-approved water pollution abatement plan and a traffic study must be completed before the developers can move forward with their plans.
“The thing I want everyone to know is that this is only a baby step,” said Narvaiz “That long list (of development requirements) does not exist now in the county. And that is what is important. That is what we look at, especially in areas that we believe are sensitive. This gives us an opportunity to hold many more public hearings, hold a higher standard.”
This sign on Lime Kiln Road is near the annexed property.Email | Print