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

September 16th, 2009
City Council works for Purgatory reprieve

The San Marcos City Council remains split – and still voting – on the Purgatory Creek Apartments project. File photo.

By ED MIHALKANIN
News Reporter

The San Marcos City Council began its meeting with an empty chair in the middle of the dais Tuesday evening. Mayor Susan Narvaiz is ailing from shoulder surgery and couldn’t participate in most of the meeting’s business.

But there was one vote Narvaiz wasn’t going to miss.

As a result, the controversial Purgatory Creek Apartments project that would have died on Sept. 30 appears well on its way to a reprieve until next June 30. Narvaiz voted with a 4-3 majority to provide an extension until then to Larry Peel & Company and ETR Consulting so they may keep trying to build the apartments on 22.5 acres on Wonder World Drive and Hunter Road.

The measure went on the agenda as an emergency, meaning the council could approve it in one reading with five votes in its favor. Because the measure only received four votes, the city will count Tuesday’s reading as a first reading. Narvaiz asked the city staff to schedule a meeting before Sept. 30 so the measure can pass on a second reading.

As the meeting began, Mayor Pro Tem Pam Couch presided in Narvaiz’s absence and swiftly moved the Purgatory Creek Apartments item ahead of the consent agenda, whereupon Narvaiz walked into the chambers from the side entrance to run the meeting for just a moment.

City Clerk Sherri Mashburn read the item and Narvaiz asked for any discussion. Hearing none, Narvaiz called the vote. Narvaiz, Couch, Kim Porterfield and Fred Terry voted for the extension, with John Thomaides, Gaylord Bose and Chris Jones voting in opposition.

After asking City Attorney Michael Cosentino about the steps for calling the additional meeting, Narvaiz said, “I guess I’m going home, where I need to be,” then rose and left the chambers. The council went on with the remainder of its business.

Tuesday’s events added one more twist to a saga that has split the council all year.

In February, the council voted, 4-2, against approving Peel’s request to change the land’s zoning from general commercial (GC) to multi-family (MF-18). Narvaiz promptly called a recess, which had parliamentary significance because no one was able to motion that the request be denied.

As the council voted merely to not approve the request, which isn’t the same as voting specifically to deny it, the request gained new life at the March 4 meeting. Couch, who missed the February meeting, was present on March 4 to vote in its favor. Councilmember Fred Terry, who voted against the zoning change in February, switched positions on March 4.

Thus, the council voted, 4-3, for the zoning change, enabling the developers to build an apartment complex. But there was a catch.

The ordinance passed in March said the re-zoning would be revoked if, by Sept. 30, the developers were unable to secure approval from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for the location of a curb cut onto Hunter Road and the construction plans for a center turn lane and a deceleration lane on Hunter Road.

Now, the developers say they won’t make the deadline. So, the project’s supporters on the council endeavored to give the developers another nine months.

“I’m confident that we have the votes necessary to move the project forward by giving a well-deserved extension to a well-deserved project,” Couch said.

Narvaiz said she supports the extension “because I voted for the project to begin with. It’s a good project and the extension request was a legitimate request.”

Porterfield said she still believes in the zoning change and thinks additional time for the developer is warranted.

“I certainly want it to be expedited,” Porterfield said, “but I don’t think the project should die because of a timing issue.”

Said Terry, “I voted for the project because I voted for the project to begin with. It’s a good project.”

Bose emphasized that he always has believed that the land should remain in its original commercial zoning.

“I don’t mind changing zoning, but we need to be careful when we re-zone because of its effect on the surrounding area,” Bose said. “The people near the land were against the project … For me, the procedures followed on the change were wrong.”

Jones said he remains worried about the traffic to be generated in that area by an apartment complex. Thomaides said he was remaining consistent with his votes against the project.

“There is nothing new in this project for me to be supportive of it,” Thomaides said, adding that “there is continuing opposition to the project.”

The city staff is working to confirm a date with councilmembers for a special meeting in order to have a second and final reading of the proposed Purgatory Creek Apartments time extension.

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21 thoughts on “City Council works for Purgatory reprieve

  1. Is this an editorial piece or a news article? I am confused since it does not say editorial but it sure is way too biased to be a news article. Reading this piece of drivel it is REAL easy to see what Ed’s opinion is. Come on Newstreamz, leave the opinions out of “news” reports.

  2. Taking into account the adjacent traffic improvements approved and being executed, would the new, high-traffic (by definition, it’s easy to say) and associated internal linkages and parking help, hurt, or have no effect on nearby businesses, schools and residential uses? What about other currently proposed high-density residential, commercial, and light industrial uses along Wonder World, along Hunter, and affecting Stagecoach, the school “jumping-off point” which seems to be crowding its ingress/egress capacity during peak traffic hours? Are there utility concerns, esp. water/sewer in the Cottonwood/Willow/Purgatory watersheds, which are known to have periodic high water problems and closures.

    Will the approval cost the City extra money to allow or build such possible concessions in the interest of future development in the area? Sounds as if there may be issues that could still use recommendations from Planning, P&Z, TxDot or others charged with “the Orderly subdivision and development of land.

    Has there been demonstrated a valid “emergency” in the several cases lately where it seems to function mainly to speed projects along post haste, without much discussion.

    There are, after all, a limited number of circumstances in which the Attorney needs to validate “emergency” status. NEVER a purely economic one.
    Convenience for the developer OR the City won’t qualify.

  3. Not a word in the article about the PDD that accompanies the zoning change. That would push it toward the opinion/editorial in my book. The PDD and the zoning change are linked and on this property you can’t have one without the other. A link back to the previous articles would be helpful.

  4. Labeling it as only a zoning change would cause readers to perceive this project as exactly like any other MF18 project in town and it’s not. It’s much more restrictive in ways that will discourage college rental. If the PDD doesn’t pass then the zoning change doesn’t take effect.

  5. Thank you very much for your comments. I regret that some readers thought I was editorializing. I was trying to put the city council vote in context. Mr. Hutchinson makes a good point that it would have been better for the PDD to have been mentioned in my article. But from my reading of the ordinance passed by the San Marcos City Council on March 3 and September 15 of this year, once the conditions are met (I will get to the conditions in a moment), then both the rezoning and the PDD will be effective and be approved. Neither would be approved without the conditions being met. So, both are conditional on the conditions and not on each other. The PDD and the zoning change are linked but not to each other, they are dependent on the conditions. Mr. Hutchinson’s comments would not lead one to understand the process as it actually exists.
    Now, the conditions required were attached AS AN AMENDMENT to the ordinance. Which means, it is possible for the Council to decide that all three (3) conditions are not necessary during a future deliberation of this matter. Remember, the action of the Council on Tuesday AMENDED the ordinance that the Council passed on March 3, by changing the date by which the conditions had to be met from September 30, 2009 to June 30, 2010. It is possible for the Council to change the “due date” again or alter the conditions if a majority of the Council so chooses.
    The 3 conditions are: TXDOT approval of the location and curb cuts on Hunter Road and construction plans for a center turn lane and a deceleration lane, the approval and recording of the final plat for the property and the approval of a Site Preparation Permit.
    In fairness to the Council, the city staff assured the Council at its March 3, 2009 meeting that they had been in contact with TXDOT officials and that September 30, 2009, (the original date to meet all of the conditions including TXDOT approval) could be met by the developer.
    Also, my editor took out a sentence that I wrote for the article. In that sentence, I wrote that a city official said that the developer made the request for the extension in August and that the official didn’t know why it had taken so long for the request to make it on the council agenda.
    Finally, my editor added many sentences to my story and removed a few others but I will only mention three (3) new sentences that were added. My editor added “But there was one vote Narvaiz wasn’t going to miss.” I do see why some people might think that sentence is editorializing. The second sentence added says that because of Narvaiz’s vote the “project that would have died on September 30 appears well on its way to a reprieve…” As we know from the actions of the Council in February, a 3-3 vote doesn’t kill anything. For a council action to be determinative, four (4) votes are necessary. As long as the developer asked for the Council to take it up, a special meeting of the Council could have been called for the second half of September when there would have been seven (7) members of the Council present. It is completely understandable that Narvaiz or any Council member who was in favor of the project or any other project would have made a point of being present for the vote under similar circumstances. Narvaiz was in a great deal of pain as a result of physical therapy after her shoulder surgery. i don’t begrudge Narvaiz being present just to vote on the one issue.
    Lastly, a sentence was added “Narvaiz voted with a 4-3 majority…” I would have phrased it differently as “with Narvaiz’s vote, the Council had a majority to approve the extension.”
    Finally, the comment from COS was unhelpful since in his sarcasm, s/he did not say what in my story was biased. It would be helpful to provide evidence for statements like that. But maybe COS’s intent was just to attack me personally. My story as originally written included what all the council members told me were their reasons for their vote. No, COS, you don’t know what my “opinion” is.

  6. Ed, in light of the information you provide above, I humbly apologize to you personally. It is your editor that needs to tone down the anti Susan rhetoric. It is specifically the sentences that you mention were added by your editor that led me to feel this was an editorial rather than a news report. Come to find out, your reporting was honest, accurate, and not biased but rather it was the opinions and bias of your editor that tainted the article. Please accept my sincere apology.

  7. “But there was one vote Narvaiz wasn’t going to miss.”

    I would bet my last campaign contribution dollar on that!

  8. I think the context given by that sentence was important for the reader. It would be important in any controversial issue like this one that received so much public response. It educates the public to know which agenda item any council member would stay to vote for if they were ailing from surgery and could only make one vote in a meeting.

  9. One believes that if COS were to reveal his/her identity, we would ascertain the true source of bias in this discussion. Here are the sentences from the article that COS has acknowledged as his/her reasons for claiming bias:

    1. “But there was one vote Narvaiz wasn’t going to miss.” Just a plain statement of fact, implying neither praise nor blame. To those favoring the project, it makes her a hero. To those opposed, it makes her the bad guy. Take your pick. The fact, stripped of any value judgement, which is how it was presented, is that there was one vote she wasn’t going to miss.

    2. “Narvaiz voted with a 4-3 majority.” There was a 4-3 vote. Narvaiz voted in the majority, meaning she was one of four. Just a plain statement of fact.

    3. Because of Narvaiz’s vote, the “project that would have died on September 30 appears well on its way to a reprieve…” Maybe it wouldn’t have died, but let’s look at what happens if Narvaiz doesn’t cast this vote. The council deadlocks at 3-3, meaning the first reading isn’t in the book. The council is operating with a Sept. 30 deadline. That means the council would have to hold two special meetings before Sept. 30 to pass the extension. There is a reason they put this on the agenda as an emergency. The sentence would have been better edited if it said “might” instead of “would,” but the difference under the circumstances doesn’t amount to much, and it certainly doesn’t rise to the level of “anti-Susan rhetoric.”

    As I read this story, it points out that the issue has divided the council for several months and has brought about some unusual episodes, including the circumstances of Susan’s one vote in this meeting. But there is nothing in here, except for the quotes from councilmembers, saying or implying that Susan is right or wrong, or that the project is right or wrong. Nothing. So where’s the bias?

    Perhaps COS has some interest in the project, along with some preconceived notions that Mihalkanin opposes it or Susan, so COS read into the story what s/he was going to read into it. Then, either lacking confidence in him/herself or his/her opinion, COS posts, hiding under that name so s/he doesn’t have to identify his/herself, so s/he can take these truly dopey and cowardly pot shots at Mihalkanin (by Mihalkanin’s real name), accusing Mihalkanin of bias. So, Mihalkanin calls COS on it, and COS backtracks onto shaky ground, acknowledging that the three sentences noted above are what made him/her think there was bias. But two of those statements were just plain statements of factual truth. The other sentence could have been done better, but it erred in its characterization about the extension’s chance for passage without Susan’s vote, and it did not err by suggesting that she was right or wrong or that the project is right or wrong. All told, then, COS’s claim of bias adds up to a pretty lame performance.

    Knowing this, is it any wonder COS declined to post under his/her real name? How embarrassing for this person if the public were to know who this person is?

    If COS wants to read opinion pieces on this site, s/he can do better than looking for opinions where they don’t exist. This site has an opinions section that includes strongly-worded opinion pieces. There’s no doubt that those pieces are opinion pieces. This is not one of them.

  10. “So, both are conditional on the conditions and not on each other. The PDD and the zoning change are linked but not to each other, they are dependent on the conditions.”

    I think this means that Ed is having a little trouble with the transition from Political Science Ph.D. to a reporter.
    Or maybe this is what happens when Ed starts channeling Max Weber

  11. An anonymous person beating on an anonymous person doesn’t attain the same level of cowardice as an anonymous person beating on a named person.

  12. Well Guy, if you wanted to discern who COS was, you would immediately eliminate ALL of the people who know how to use a spell checker.

  13. While “COS” is an anonymous handle, it is an easy one to figure out if you have some familiarity with San Marcos politics (though it is NEVER OK to out an anonymous poster on the Internet). While I don’t agree with COS that the initial article had a bias, I can see how he was able to develop that perception; those missing sentences do make a difference in setting the context for the other statements. COS owned his rush to judgement and apologized to Ed, while others that post on here would have simply changed to a different screen name to save face.

    To the article: a key mistake was made when this project was initially considered back in March/April: placing a deadline condition on the ordinance rather than integrating the access specifications into the body of the PDD as part of the project requirements. Had they done so, the zoning change would have been conditioned upon the PDD, and a building permit could not be issued until the access issue with TxDOT was satisfied (along with satisfying any other particulars of the PDD).

    Suggestion to Newstreamz: get a new file photo of the Council Chambers–that one is out of date.

  14. Thanks Ed, for your detailed response. I guess news stories are a little bit like sausage and legislation – it’s not pleasant to see how they’re made. Those added sentences did give the article some slant.

  15. “Suggestion to Newstreamz: get a new file photo of the Council Chambers–that one is out of date.”

    Yes, the dais has been modified, in addition to someone’s hair color.

  16. I’ve re-read my article a few times since my September 17th post and I’ve just asked myself: why didn’t I think to add the sentences that my editor added? He hit the bull’s eye. Susan Narvaiz had just had surgery on her shoulder, and was in a great deal of pain, and yet thought enough of the importance of this meeting to attend it. And I missed it. Bravo to the editor and bravo to the mayor for her diligence and sense of duty in spite of physical adversity. Here’s one more thought: we need this type of responsibility in our city.

    PS From now on, I am not going to respond to anonymous comments.

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