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

June 2nd, 2010
Council again approves Buie tract rezoning amid petition intrigue

by BRAD ROLLINS

Good to the last drop, debate over development of the Buie tract roiled through another dramatic chapter on Tuesday night as the San Marcos City Council voted again to rezone a portion of the property. This followed the developers’ late-hour move to undercut a petition drive that otherwise would have defeated the action.

The city council on May 6 approved a package of rezoning requests and land use map amendments to accommodate Craddock Avenue Partner’s plans to build as many as 456 apartment or townhomes and a complementary mixed-use streetscape on part of the 174-acre property. But one portion of the package — the 12.88 acres mixed-use part — had to restart the zoning process last month after a handful of residents living within 200 feet of the property were not notified of the zoning and land use request.

Opponents took advantage of the reprieve to continue gathering signatures from property owners within that buffer zone. Under state and municipal law, if the owners of 20 percent of the surrounding properties sign a petition, the rezoning needs a supermajority for approval. In this case, that means six of seven council members (including the mayor). Activists had not reached that threshold when the planning and zoning commission voted on May 25 — the petition stood then at a little more than 19 percent of property owners — and the 7-1 tally by which it passed would have satisfied the supermajority requirement anyway.

As additional signatures were appended in the intervening week, however, opponents inched closer to the magic 20 percent number — and the proposal neared almost certain defeat in the city council which voted 4-3 in favor of this particular rezoning not yet a month ago. Even if council member Chris Jones switched his vote — as, indeed, he did last night — it remained highly unlikely either John Thomaides or Gaylord Bose would do so and thus a super majority would not be attained.

Then on Friday, Gordon Muir, one of the principals of the development company, submitted a request to shave 2.23 acres from the 12.88 acres he was seeking to rezone. Though he denies this was his motivation, the action had the effect of eliminating a number of petition signatories who live on Grant Court from the 200 foot perimeter around the Buie tract, the zone that determines whose opposition carries the weight of law.

Without the Grant Court residents, the petition bore the owners’ signatures of 18.04 percent of surrounding property, said assistant Development Services director Matthew Lewis. With the Grant Court residents included, that number would have stood at 20.64 percent.

“I have to admit it does look a little suspicious — they were about to reach the supermajority level and now the area has shrunk,” said council member Kim Porterfield, who has consistently voted in support of the Buie tract development.

Under questioning from Porterfield and Thomaides, Muir said he did not know opponents had reached the 20-percent bar when he asked to amend his company’s rezoning request. He did so, he said, out of deference to Grant Court residents whose homes would back up to the 2.23 acres he asked be removed from consideration.

Thomaides was having none of it. He recalled the developers’ and their supporters’ indignation during a succession of public hearings at having their integrity questioned.

“You found a loophole to eliminate the voice of people who signed the petition. When you reduce the area, you reduce the the number of people who can oppose you. I think that says volumes about the kind of development you want to do,” Thomaides said.

For a moment, it looked as if Porterfield was about to bail on the whole thing, suggesting that the rezoning be tabled and the developers re-engage neighborhoods in search of compromise.

Mayor Susan Narvaiz jumped in at that point, saying Craddock Avenue Partners has gone above and beyond in seeking reluctant acceptance of their multimillion dollar investment in the community. She clicked through a list of benefits that recommend the project including its embrace of New Urbanism that encourages a “live, work and play,” environment that harkens back to traditional city planning where things are built on a walkable scale.

“I don’t believe it’s a step forward to start over,” the mayor said.

With that, Porterfield’s efforts fizzled and she did not suggest a delay again. All that remained to be seen was whether Jones would switch his vote in support, as his comments earlier in the meeting suggested he might do. And he did, explaining that he remains opposed to the apartment complex but not the retail, office and limited residential use of the mixed-use portion of the project.

The rezoning passed 5-2 and for now the issue is relegated, one hopes, to the cooling saucer.

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12 thoughts on “Council again approves Buie tract rezoning amid petition intrigue

  1. I am shocked. Truly. I never would have expected such a turn of events. This sort of thing is simply unheard of in San Marcos.

    *Yawn*

    Please tell me that nobody is actually surprised by this.

  2. So, let’s see, all I have to do is:

    1. Buy some pristine, recharge zone property along RR12 (within SM City limits).
    2. Put a few cows on it and begin tearing down all the natural features (warblers schmarblers) that might impede me developing it at some later point. (wink)
    3. Get a bunch of money together and plan a development that will be mixed use and submit the “New Urbanism” plans to SM City.

    The city’s P&Z and Council will take care of the rest for me, including how to work around those nosey, uncooperative, progress-preventing neighbors.

    Thanks guys! I love the SOUNDS and LOOKS of progress in our city as I hear and see it every day from my back and front yard. Wildlife takes on a whole new meaning in this town.

  3. I want to make it clear that my decision to vote in favor of this request was consistent with the position I took with the first request. The first request of the petitioner was not considered last night, but rather a different request. I voted against the first request because of the environmental impacts and noted environmentally sensitive features and lack of buffer on the track. These features and impacts are not present on this tract with the new request and provide subsequent buffer between the neighborhood and the proposed change. So I did not change my vote. The vote I cast on the first request from the petitioner I will not change. As I mentioned last night I am considering each petition as presented.

  4. But, you had no problem with the last minute changes to move some of the complainers out of the 200 foot range.

  5. wow Brad, finally a good report. nice to see you finally illustrate the mayors affect on the dais, and kim porterfields inability to think on her own, and chris jones ridiculous decisions. He said he votes on the merit of each request, um how about looking at the fact that they disenfranchised grant court in order to get the zoning change.

  6. In Chris’ defense, the apartments and the resulting traffic seemed to be most people’s consistent complaint. The neighborhood retail on Franklin seems designed to keep some of the traffic out there. Denying the retail while allowing the apartments would compound the traffic issues by pushing them into town. I see how he could vote differently on the two proposals, and his vote proved inconsequential since no super majority was required. Ted, if he supported the larger rezone, there is no reason he would not support the smaller rezone.

  7. Andrea, this is a very confusing issue, which most of us don’t understand. The zoning request was redefined to exclude Grant Court residents from consideration, “so that the developer would be able to work with them.”

    Makes perfect sense.

    At first, I thought that the best way to work with residents was to get as many involved as possible and win them over with a development they would love.

    Then I remembered that I am an idiot.

  8. John, if the larger rezone had >20% opposition, his support would be moot. The redefining of the property, to get some of the opposition taken out of the equation, was underhanded. Kim Porterfield had it right, until the mayor repossessed her spine.

  9. Chris, You are suggesting that the first time this came to council, all the rezonings were tied together and you voted against it because of environmental issues. Not true — each parcel was voted on separately and you voted against the mixed-use portion and all of the others too. Nothing changed about this parcel except your vote. You voted against it the first time and for it this week.

  10. Chris voted for it before he voted against it – or maybe he voted against it before he voted for it. Or something like that.

    Signed,
    Confused in San Marcos

  11. I understood, not well, that we are creating infrastructure on the east side of the freeway to encourage development around the high school. This Buie Tract thing would be a lovely development near the high school and the proposed ACC campus. It is not clear to me why the development is being built on the way to Wimberley. I was not aware that Wimberley held job opportunities that apartment dwellers and retailers would desire. I know that in the Southwest, people with money more often choose to live north and west of downtown, which seems to be the Buie Tract rather than east or south, which would be the boulevard proposed for McCarty to Old Bastrop highway. I don’t think anyone here is saying don’t develop. Let’s develop where we have infrastructure. How do we as residents educate developers about where we want to live? Is it through the landowners? Is it all a big sham? Do we have government graft on the level of landowner to council member? How do cities make rational planned growth? Why can’t we be a model for that? We have a large MPA program here. Why don’t we develop a really great mediation program and pump out model mediators all over the country to do like San Marcos has done. Retain the beautiful natural features that enhance the city, the region, and the qualilty of life by developing in ways that respect those features. We are so lucky to live in an area that has undergound limestone acquifers as well as clay that can contain rotting dinosaur carcasses for ions. Both have or will provide Texans with liquid gold, Texas T.

  12. I am always amazed at how passionate people get when other people decide to use their property differently than they would. It reminds me of a wise old man who defined for me what an environmentalist was. It is someone who has already built their house. Why is this development wrong and most of the houses already built near it ok? It is because they were first? Hipocrites !

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