San Marcos Assistant Planning Director Matthew Lewis discusses the Buie tract with the city council. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
By ANDY SEVILLA
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.”