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.Email | Print