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

December 18th, 2009
Buie tract plan conjures criticism

lewisSan Marcos Assistant Planning Director Matthew Lewis discusses the Buie tract with the city council. Photo by Andy Sevilla.

Associate Editor

Strong criticism has exploded at both the San Marcos City Council and the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) over a proposed development on the Buie tract adjacent to the Franklin Square, Oak Heights, and Westover neighborhoods in western reaches of the city.

The Buie Tract is within the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone and serves as ranchland, but the owners, Edward R. Coleman and Gordon Muir of Craddock Avenue Partners, LLC, represented by Stephen A. Ramsey of Baker-Aicklen & Associates, want to change the land use map and zoning designations to allow more density.

City council has moved forward with a development plan with the Craddock Avenue Partners and annexed the remaining nine acres of Phase 1 of the Buie Tract not previously in the city limits. However, the P&Z tabled all items concerned with rezoning and amending the land use map regarding Buie Tract. P&Z acted on a plea from Muir, who spoke out in support of tabling the items after the first item up for a vote failed.

Citizens speaking before city council and P&Z have mainly expressed disapproval of the project, citing the sensitivity of its location. The Franklin Square Homeowners Association and its members, however, have given their blessing to the proposed development after brokering the acquisition of five-acres to be used as private parkland. The developers will provide the property use solely for Franklin Square’s use, a move that has outraged members of the adjacent neighborhoods.

The land use map and zoning changes would allow for construction of a proposed mixed used development, for which the city approved a development agreement on Dec. 1. The agreement addresses density and site design, and sets triggers for annexation of property involved with the next two phases of the project, which aren’t proposed to be developed. Craddock Avenue Partners are proposing to develop about 45 acres of the 174.24-acre Buie Tract. The development is scheduled to go in the tract’s first phase.

For the purposes of zoning, Phase One has been divided into four tracts, with two for mixed-use development and two for multi-family development. The land use map amendments, if approved by P&Z and later by the city council, would change from Very Low Density Residential (VLDR) to Mixed Use (MU) and Medium Density Residential (MDR), while the zoning changes would move from Single-Family (SF-6) and unzoned to Multi-Family (MF-12) and Mixed Use (MU) on four tracts.

According to city staff, “The proposed multi-family zoning is not as clearly consistent with the Sector 2 Plan or with the Horizons Master Plan … Due to the sensitivity of the property it is not appropriate for the entire property to be developed to a density of 12 units per acre.” However, staff did say that “the request to designate Tract 1 and 3 Mixed Use and Tracts 2 and 4 Medium Density Residential is a request that is consistent with both the goals/policy statements of the Horizon’s Master Plan and the Sector 2 Plan. Furthermore the change in land use designation supports the following goals of Traditional Neighborhood Design and city council’s goal of supporting environmental protection and smart growth.”

According to the city’s development agreement with Craddock Avenue Partners on the Buie Tract:

–       The tract in its entirety is permitted to a project density of 459 units – 453 units for Phase 1, Phase 2 would receive any remaining units not utilized in Phase 1, and Phase 3 has a total of four units,

–       Buildings in Phase 1 MF-12 must be a minimum of three stories,

–       Sensitive natural features discovered on the site are to be protected and preserved,

–       Existing creeks must be maintained in their natural undisturbed condition,

–       More than 50 percent of the property is to be preserved in its natural undisturbed condition,

–       The property owner is required to enter into an agreement with a private company or organization for the purpose of securing the identified significant natural recharge features of the site, and

–       The majority of the development on Phase 1 will be clustered along each side of Craddock Avenue.

The developer submitted an Exception Request with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) on Sept. 18, but later withdrew the application, after TCEQ sent Ramsey a letter requesting clarification on the omission of a water well, as well as the omission of “more features located on the property, including a mapped cave named Anyway Cave.” The developer pulled the request before the Dec. 1 city council meeting where councilmembers approved the development agreement. At that point, councilmembers were under the impression that the request was under TCEQ review and awaiting approval or denial.

At the Dec. 1 meeting, San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz made it a point to verbally applaud the developer for submitting an Exception Request to TCEQ without being asked by the city, though San Marcos Assistant Planning Director Matthew Lewis corrected Narvaiz by saying that the request is part of the process as a whole.

A 2003 biological assessment report for the Wonder World Drive extension identified approximately 31 karst features on the Buie Tract, as well as Anyway Cave and Technical Cave.

J. Jackson Harper, who conducted a geological assessment on the Buie Tract for the developer in 2009, said in a letter to TCEQ that aerial photos previously showed Anyway Cave in a small grove of trees. According to Harper, the cave is now one-half the size shown on the photo and it’s bordered by six mulch piles (MPs) and one rock pile (RP). Harper said that if the location of Anyway Cave is correct, its entrance is probably covered by mulch, after soil and rock debris has been spread to a depth of about two feet over the area.

Harper went on to say that he found a small earth and rock-filled depression approximately 60 feet southeast of the reported location for Anyway Cave, and though he cannot confirm if it indeed is Anyway Cave, he said “I feel it qualifies as a sensitive recharge feature.” Harper said he recommended a buffer for the feature in accordance with TCEQ and San Marcos standards.

Harper said he found no evidence of an opening or karst feature within 100–150 feet of the reported location of Technical Cave.

“With respect to the other features identified in the (2003 Wonder World Extension) biological assessment, I thoroughly walked the tract in June (2009) and identified all features that I felt were potentially sensitive,” Harper wrote in his Nov. 12, 2009 letter to TCEQ. “Also, I noted that the geologic assessment table included in the biological assessment report did find that many of these features had low or no recharge potential. Any attempts to relocate these additional features will require additional time and effort … I trust this response adequately addresses all of the features that I identified at the project site. If any additional features are discovered during site construction, I trust TCEQ will be contacted about them so that suitable actions can be taken.”

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14 thoughts on “Buie tract plan conjures criticism

  1. Susan couldn’t be happier that they’re about to pave over the wildlife and the cave. Gaffe #2 this week.

  2. My mother lives in the Franklin Square neighborhood, adjacent to the Buie tract. The first neighborhood meeting concerning the development was not until November, and at that meeting the board presented this as a done deal which thay had already negotiated on the neighborhood’s behalf. I knew something was being planed for the Buie tract, however I’m sure most in the neighborhood did not. The neighborhood as a whole was not given a chance to take part in the negotiation process.

    Now granted, the meeting was very sparcely attended, so part of the problem is the apathy we have just seen on display in the recent elections. Still, it is a mistake to say everyone in the neighborhood is in agreement with this deal, or is even aware it is happening.

  3. Another disgusting project that will get council’s approval because of the mayor and her minions. Water is San Marcos’ gold, yet we do nothing to protect it. Such a catastrophe.
    I heard Anita Fuller, also spoke in support of this project as a Franklin Square representative, and she mentioned the pleas from members of the other neighborhoods should be taken with a grain of salt because this development wasn’t in their backyard. But her neighborhood’s fence line touched the development property, therefore her plea in support of the project carried more weight.
    If Anita said that to council, then I’m glad she lost the city council seat with an embarrassing showing. This woman is a joke, and is clearly easily manipulated! disgusting.

  4. So this developer has confessed to covering one cave during the clearing of the tract. A cave well documented by the studies for the Wonder World drive. What sort of sensitive karst features were covered by the more than 50 other very large piles of rock that were made during the bullodzer clearing of this land ? are we to take this developers word that no other karst features are hidden beneath them ? If they told the TCEQ in 2007 that they were bulldozing this land for agriculture and had no intention of developing it, how long must they keep it in ag ? How long after the clearing did baker-aklin engineering start work on this tract ? Did they do a detailed topographic and tree survey of the site, and when ? The expense of those types of surveys means they are never done on ag land, only on land that is going to be developed.

    The buffers that Mr Harper proposed for the caves and recharge features are very far from complying with TCEQ standards. He drew his buffers around the cave entrances and not around the cave footprint. This can be seen on the map submitted to the city. In one case he has the edge of the buffer comming right to the edge of one of the known cave passages. It should be 150′ away. How well did Mr Harper verify that the cave maps he was given are accurate and that their locations are actually placed correctly on the map ? Did he use a cave radio to check the location, like was done for the cave on McCarty lane when the city of San Marcos put in their utility line out there ?

  5. Many in the community distrust the developers and have apparently spoken out in opposition to this plan, yet city council moves forward? What a gross representation of government for the people. It appears to me that this city government has a recent history of disregarding the pleas of its citizens and moving towards a developer friendly facilitator. Not only, is city council slapping the citizens in the face by not listening to them, but also potentially drastically affecting the Edwards Aquifer recharge area, that is completely irresponsible.

    I think our governmental officials need to receive phone calls, letters and emails from all of us concerned. And we all need to look into this situation at hand. We cannot allow a developer to come in and damage a precious resource like our water.

    We should also write letters to TCEQ voicing our disapproval of this project and expressing all our concerns. Lets help them help us.

  6. It’s just that handy magic cloak again. You can hide a great deal of malfeasance, skullduggery, and just plain half-assed or fraudulent science, IF you wish, And Lord, help the poor soul who asks too many questions, or raises quibbles, or, heaven forbid, outright opposes a piece of development that has the Official Seal of Personal Approval. One could face terrible humiliation and badgering for not being with the program–good planning, environmental, engineering, and structural work or not.

    “Economic development” and “jobs” are to be regarded as right up there with motherhood and the flag. And the terms themselves are adjustable, so that one size can fit all. (Caves and sinkholes and faultlines can be concreted over, if that’s a big deal to you water-drinkers.)

    Only a fool would question the work of big, certified engineering companies with all that homemade spelunking information. The CAD program never lies, in the right hands. And affected neighbors? Aaahhhh, they’ll live through it and go away.

    In most cases, cities release pending plans for zoning and subdivision for citizen review and comment. zNor all that often does the discussion drift toward benefits to the CITY, as well as the developer, real estate firm, builder, etc. Seldom is clear reference made to the existing and approved plans and regulations, exce[t to request exceptions and variances.

    And worst, it seems, is the reluctance to lose (or even improve, for that matter), a project by pursuing the two “sunlight” questions: is this really desirable economic DEVELOPMENT? And, in the end, after the dust has terminally settled, will it actually be ECONOMIC for the City in any real way? Or will the community have to pay later to “fix a few things”? Like roads, traffic signals, utility service, sidewalks, drainage–the areas where the bargains are usually struck by our earnest Statespersons. Fail these questions, and your project is on its way to become another example of unsustainability,
    the most costly mistake a community can make.

    Or, we might just use the people, processes and resources we do have, to make sure it is done acceptably in the first place. Most of the Council (hope not the Staff) has no more idea of how a site-specific plan and Environmental Impact Statement look, or what all they contain, than a (perhaps well-trained) goose.

    But feelings of helping someone out, cutting a “deal,” and getting in the limelight are warm, comfortable experiences. Add spring to one’s step, at the approval.

  7. Unfortunately, San Marcos has a history of elected officials in bed with developers. Literally, back in the days of the Morrises! Then officials with ties to the University of which I believe is a conflict of interest as the goal of SWT was to physically grow at the expense of city land being pulled off the tax rolls.

    Our City Council seems to embrace a patronizing, authoritarian model. Once elected, they believe that since we trusted them enough to elect them, then we need to trust them enough not to question their actions. Showing up at City Council meetings is futile – they have already made their decisions behind closed dooors and the citizens’ speak time is for show only.

    I e-mailed Mayor Narvaiz back when she embraced Hammond’s idea of moving the convention center over to Lime Kilm Rd. Her e-mail was short and condensending “You don’t understand all the facts.” I did, only too well.

  8. Just got back in town and starting to catch up on current events. Wow. The information conveyed in this article is disheartening. Certainly gives me more to think about during chemotherapy day on Tuesday.

  9. Steve I wouldn’t mortify myself over this during chemo. I wish you a speedy recovery, and will have you in my prayers. Now, San Marcos citizens need to really lobby our council members and let them know what we think. This is a disgusting project that has been marred with dishonesty since the beginning. I’m sure some of our city government official in bed with developers (we all know who they are) will gladly and quickly approve this, but we need to make any and all efforts to protect our environment and make sure we have sound and reasonable development in our community. We cannot just say “yes” to anyone wanting to come and build here, then we would be giving up our charm and sense of self in a metropolizing corridor.
    We’ve stopped bad development before, lets not let this go forward without a fight.

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