Former San Marcos City Councilmember Pam Couch, left, and former city engineer Ed Theriot, right, who now is a consultant for Craddock Avenue Partners, speak in favor of the Buie Tract development to the city council. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
By ANDY SEVILLA
The San Marcos City Council approved a scaled back zoning change for the controversial proposed Buie Tract development Tuesday night, clearing the way for a mixed-use project on the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone and near several established single-family neighborhoods in the Western reaches of the city.
The 5-2 vote, with councilmembers Gaylord Bose and John Thomaides dissenting, came after a motion to deny the request was voted down.
Thomaides motioned to deny the amended 10.65-acre zoning request on Franklin Drive, which was scaled back from the original 12.88 acres initially requested for the mixed-use (MU) zoning designation. The acreage was designated as single-family (SF-6).
The developers of the Buie Tract requested early on the morning of May 28 that the zoning request be downsized from 12.88 acres to 10.65, San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz said.
Craddock Avenue Partner Gordon Muir, part owner of the property, told councilmembers the downsizing of the zoning request came after the developers wanted to include Grant Court homeowners in the discussion after first excluding them, though they, too, would have been affected by the zoning change.
The tract approved for re-zoning had been forced to go through the process for a second time after city officials discovered they hadn’t notified all the property owners within 200 feet of the change, as required by law. The council initially approved the change, and the zoning changes for three other Buie Tract pieces, at its May 4 meeting. The city’s planning and zoning commission (P&Z) gave the 12.88-acre piece its approval for a second time on May 25.
Thomaides pressed Muir after city staff confirmed that if the zoning request would have been considered as originally requested, a super majority of council would have been needed to approve the change. Assistant Planning Director Matthew Lewis said that if council considered the the original request of 12.88 acres, then a super majority of the council would be required, because the owners of 20 percent of the land within a 200-foot radius of the tract signed a petition opposing the development.
With the ammended request of 10.65 acres to be zoned MU, Lewis said, the petition only produced opposing owners of 18.04 percent of the land area affected within a 200-foot radius.
Thomaides verbally pummeled the developers during open session, asserting that they had found a loophole that ultimately disenfranchised some area homeowners, specifically those on Grant Court.
“I’m not going to sit up here and pretend that the developer is evil,” Narvaiz said. “… The petition, when (the developers) asked for this change, was not at 20 percent or over.”
Narvaiz maintained that the developers were unaware that the 20 percent threshold necessary to cause a super majority of council approval had been reached. She said the developers scaled back the zoning request when the petition opposing the zoning change only had signatures from people owning 19 percent of the affected land area within a 200-foot radius.
“You have to admit it does look a little suspicious,” Councilmember Kim Porterfield said before ultimately voting in favor of the zoning request. “The area we were going to consider required a super majority, and now it’s a lesser area (needing only four votes in favor to approve the change).”
The project’s consultant and former city employee Ed Theriot said the scale back of the request keeps the changes “consistent” since the change requested in the Land Use Map also was only for 10.65 acres.
The Land Use Map change from Very Low Density Residential (VLDR) to MU also was for 10.65 acres, since the other 2.23 acres were already MU district.
Theriot said the land use move from VLDR to MU is consistent with the Horizons Master Plan and Sector 2, adding that zoning change request meets the criteria outlined in the plans.
Residents in opposition to the project demand councilmembers act within the parameters set fourth in the Horizons Master Plan, which is a citizen produced document. Opponents say the zoning changes will harm the environment and goes against the hard work and wishes of the citizenry.
The whole Buie Tract is situated above the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, which houses several caves and sensitive karsts. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has approved an exception request that calls for buffer zones to the sensitive features on the property.
Former councilmember Pam Couch who since leaving the council in December has been a strong proponent for the proposed development, took issue with dissenters who cite the Horizons Master Plan in an effort to stall the development.
“A plan is a good thing to have, but it’s not The Bible,” Couch said during the public hearing on the zoning change, adding that a plan is a blue print to follow and research, but fluid enough for changes.
“I appreciate the plan and all the work that was done,” Couch said.
City Attorney Michael Cosentino confirmed that the developers scaled back the request and added that the council can accept zoning change requests that are smaller than their original requests, but council cannot accept an amendment that would increase from the original request.