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March 1st, 2010
City to hold second land development workshop

030110dotsSan Marcos residents at a February planning workshop favored multi-story garages over parking lots. Photos by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATUTA
News Reporter

San Marcos city planners will are holding a second public meeting Monday night to discuss with residents possible land development code (LDC) revisions, hoping for the same kind of robust showing that took place at the first such meeting on Feb. 10.

At the 6:30 p.m. workshop, staff from the city’s development planning division will exhibit its interpretation of resident feedback from the first workshop, a highly tactile and bustling affair involving more than 100 residents placing responses on various poster-boards and photographs encircling the San Marcos Activity Center ballroom, where the second event also will take place.

Following Monday night’s meeting, city planners will begin the meticulous process of recoding the LDC. Planners will present the draft revisions, when complete, to the planning and zoning commission (P&Z) and the city council for approval.

The sections of the LDC being revised include water quality standards, design standards for residential development, street lighting requirements, the noise ordinance, minor amendments to the land use matrix, the adoption of an Interstate-35 overlay district, planned development districts, mixed use zoning districts, tree preservation standards, and parking standards.

At the Feb. 10 public workshop, residents indicated their high regard for parking garages rather than parking lots, and chose picturesque, multi-story parking garages over featureless, rectangular parking structures. Most residents favored rows of parking spaces divided from one another by aesthetic/barrier features, and most liked street side angled parking more than parallel parking. However, more than half the dots on the parallel parking were green. The green dots placed on some representation of a feature signaled approval, while red dots showed disagreement.

“If you go and look around at the pictures, the pictures that people are putting green dots are ones of rain gardens, mixed use development, trees,” crowed San Marcos resident and Texas State Student Jared Yeager. “People are putting red dots on like strip malls, on seas of parking, stuff like that. So it’s just really good to know that the people that are showing up and making the decisions are the people who really want to push San Marcos in that direction — like Portland and Austin. Everybody’s talking about bikes — it’s great to finally have the feeling that San Marcos is moving that way. That’s what I really enjoy about it.”

Participants awarded photos of xeriscaped yards green dots almost exclusively. The photo showing the most lawn received 27 red dots and one green dot. Generally, residents were in broad agreement about which features they liked or disliked

“Looking at the boards, it’s not as diverse as I expected — It’s pretty red (or) green,” said San Marcos Assistant Planning Director Matthew Lewis, who added that the workshop was not ordered by the city council, but initiated by city staff.

“We’ve been putting a lot of extra time into this,” Lewis said at the February workshop. “This is my third night meeting of the week, actually. It’s part of the job. But we’re passionate about this. Our city staff we have right now, all the city planners, are so passionate about this. They care 100 percent about this community. They’re dedicated to their jobs. We have been working so hard to get all these printed out, form the program, get the media out, get all the notifications done — it’s been a time-consuming process. But it’s worth it. And this illustrates that it’s worth it.”

Workshop participants overwhelmingly favored multi-story, multi-family residential structures with lively facades over single-family residential developments.

One comment written on the Mixed Use/PDD (Planned Development District) poster stated, “I would like to see mixed use (development) similar to Hill Country Galleria. Lots of green space, mix (residential) and (commercial) with courtyards … pedestrian friendly.” Another comment on the same poster stated, “(Mixed Use) zoning is hard to market. Landowner almost has to be developer. PDD adds another phase to entitlement process adding $$ and time.”

During an audience question and answer session, residents spoke up about issues such as tree preservation, impervious cover standards, watershed protection and open space preservation, among other issues. Austin resident John Carson suggested offering more incentives rather than adding restriction to developers, who, he said, are “taking huge risks on development.” Carson, who works in San Marcos, said the city should find ways to reward developers who build multi-story rather than surface parking.

“I think it says a lot that the city granted itself a 50 percent parking variance on the new convention center,” Carson said. “It speaks to how over-parked we kind of are across the board. For a one-bedroom, apartment we’re requiring two spaces, and that’s probably the single biggest driver of sprawl in San Marcos. If you want to build apartment complexes or something at this point, after you go through all the land loss — the parkland dedication, the parking — you got to have a 20-acre tract to deliver the kind of housing that most people want in San Marcos, and it’s just pushing us further and further out. And it’s not really achieving the kinds of goals that we want for a walkable city, because our code is (written) that way.”

030110dots1San Marcos residents look at proposed features at a February workshop.

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