Clockwise from top left, San Marcos resident Joe Schneider, San Marcos Councilmember Gaylord Bose, Director of Development Services Chuck Swallow and City Manager Rick Menchaca talk about the Buie Tract at Tuesday’s city council meeting. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
By ANDY SEVILLA
Emotions ran high Tuesday night as resident after resident spoke against zoning changes and land use amendments before the San Marcos City Council regarding a proposed controversial mixed-use development above the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone.
After about three hours of conversation on the Buie Tract, the council went 4-3 against the wishes of those in the standing-room only chamber who called for more time to review all the details or deny the changes on the Buie Tract, near a future Craddock Avenue extension.
San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz and Councilmembers Ryan Thomason, Kim Porterfield, and Fred Terry voted to approve the changes, while Councilmembers Gaylord Bose, John Thomaides and Chris Jones were in opposition.
The fly in the ointment for those who favor moving forward with the zoning and land use changes has yet to be resolved. During the council meeting, two petitions were submitted to the dais opposing the changes. A petition previously submitted to the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) with 14 signatures has yet to be verified to determine whether the council’s 4-3 vote is enough to move forward.
San Marcos city attorney Michael Cosentino said that the city charter requires a super-majority, consisting of six councilmembers, to approve zoning change should homeowners, amounting to 20 percent or more of the land within 200-feet of the tract requesting the change, sign a petition against the changes.
As of the end of the council meeting, the petition submitted at P&Z last month had not yet been reviewed. City staff said the council will learn if sufficient signatures have been gathered to require the super-majority before the second reading on May 18.
Setting the stage for what was to come, Narvaiz read the rules of decorum in the council chambers before opening up the citizen comment period Tuesday night. Towards the end of the night, Narvaiz almost exercised her power and threatened a resident in the audience with removal from the council chambers for not observing the rules.
“Most probably we’re not all going to agree,” Narvaiz said before moving the meeting to the citizen comment period. “But we don’t have to be disagreeable.”
Residents had two opportunities to comment on the matter — during the citizen comment period, and during the public hearing scheduled for 8 p.m., though it started at about 8:45 p.m. after council heard on three other public hearings scheduled ahead of the Buie Tract on the council agenda.
Residents in opposition to the zoning changes alleged council would be deviating from the Horizons Master Plan by approving the changes, a move some called “disrespectful” to the hard work put forth by the citizenry who helped formulate the plan nearly 10 years ago.
“This is gonna be a hard decision,” said resident Rob Roark. “But make it simple, stick to the plan.”
Narvaiz claimed that moving forward with the project is not disrespectful to the hard work of the citizens, but instead is an upholding of their hard work. She said the “new urbanist” style project is exactly what citizens have wanted and what Envision Central Texas Calls prefers. Narvaiz said developments where residents can live, work, and play are in line with what the citizens’ hard work warrants.
Disregarding policy direction for the past six years that calls for conservation, sustainability, walkability, and reducing the building foot-print, Narvaiz said, “would be disrespectful. That would be wrong.”
Said San Marcos resident Jessica Henry in an email, “I want those people to look my daughter in the eye and tell them they are doing the right thing. Our children will inherit all of the problems caused now.”
Said Porterfield, “It would be simple to just sit up her and vote no, but that would not be the right thing to do. Change is hard. Growth is not our enemy … Land owners have the right to develop their property, but cities have the responsibility to guide that development (with a development agreement).”
The city council entered into a development agreement with the Buie developers stipulating clusters of mixed-use high-rises along Craddock Avenue. The agreement also set triggers for annexation of the rest of the Buie Tract. As of now, only a portion of the tract has been annexed into the city.
“If we vote for this thing and it passes, there’s going to be a lot of people disappointed,” Bose said. “… They’re going to feel like they were deceived again.”
Bose alluded to the Wonder World Drive extension and said residents welcomed that project because mention of building apartments near or along the extension, like the Buie project, was not provided.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) approved an Exception Request by the Buie Track developers, Craddock Avenue Partners, LLC, which led, along with recommendation from city staff, to the approval of the zoning and land use amendments for the project by the P&Z.
“SMRF (San Marcos River Foundation) has been working diligently for the 23 days since TCEQ approved the geological assessment to line up the evidence needed to show what features are missing,” said SMRF director Dianne Wassenich. “We filed a motion with TCEQ (Monday), our deadline to file, asking them to reconsider (their approval of the exception request). Now that we have gathered all the information we could lay our hands on in such a short time, to appropriately protect the (Edwards Aquifer) recharge zone on the Buie Tract … we are doing our best to understand why the city is rushing to do this harm to this tract of land on the recharge zone, and why TCEQ has allowed, against all its regulations, policies, and protocol, the highly unusual approval of just the heolocial assessment, without the water pollution abatement plan and development plan being attached to it.”
Assistant city planning director Matthew Lewis said the developers still have to attain a water pollution abatement plan and a sewer water collections plan with TCEQ.
Narvaiz said the exception request was only an extra-step the developers were taking to ensure they were abiding by TCEQ rules.
A small minority of those who spoke on the project applauded the development, including former Councilmember Pam Couch and San Marcos Wells Fargo branch President Don Nash, who cautioned he was not commenting as a representative of the bank, but was speaking on the matter as a resident of San Marcos.
Highlighting the sensitivity of the Buie project, Couch told council she had been a victim of those dissenting the proposal. Couch said a flyer was circulating that questioned and attacked her “integrity” by asking what her stake in the matter was and by asking if she and her family had been bought out by the developers. Couch’s remarks caused Narvaiz eyes to tear up. Couch’s husband, Bucky Couch was appointed to the P&Z once Pam Couch’s term on council expired. Bucky Couch voted to approve the changes at the P&Z level.
Pam Couch said she, along with every San Marcos resident, has a stake in the development. She said residents want “good developments” that will upgrade the city’s image and improve quality of life, and that’s what the Buie Tract development does, Couch said.
Thomason’s only comments on the zoning change that he voted to approve were that he had never witnessed an adjoining neighborhood endorse a zoning change, a move he called “astounding.”
The Franklin Square Homeowners Association spoke in favor of the Buie Tract project after receiving a five-acre gift from the developers said to be used as a private park. However, the petition that is yet to determine whether a super-majority from council is needed to approve the zoning change consists of 14 signatures from homeowners on Franklin Street.
Residents in adjoining and nearby neighborhoods to the proposed project, such as Castle Forest, Oak Heights, and Westover, have been the biggest forces behind the comments to council against the zoning change.Email | Print