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

August 3rd, 2010
SmartCode still in the air as P&Z holds out for time

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San Marcos Assistant Planning Director Matthew Lewis discusses the proposed SmartCode at a public meeting in June. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

San Marcos Planning and Zoning (P&Z) commissioners again delayed a proposed form-based zoning code last week, hoping to take it up when the commission’s docket isn’t so crowded.

Commissioners first delayed action on SmartCode at their June 22 meeting after an unusual number of residents attended to express confusion and skepticism. At about 11:30 p.m. on July 27, after six hours of discussion and public hearings devoted to the form-based code and other controversial matters at an equally well attended meeting, city staff asked commissioners when they should put the SmartCode on the agenda.

“I want to leave it flexible so you can pick a date where we don’t have a bunch of stuff on the agenda,” replied P&Z Commissioner Curtis Seebeck.

Commissioners Jim Stark and Jude Prather cast the lone votes against postponing adoption or rejection of the SmartCode.

Most of the residents who showed up to speak about the SmartCode were skeptical or opposed to it. The current level of public opposition was not evident until a June 22 P&Z meeting, where residents who had recently received mailed zoning change notifications packed the city council chambers to express confusions and criticisms concerning the SmartCode.

P&Z Commission Chair Sherwood Bishop said the city council may have stirred a hornet’s nest by considering mandatory conformity to the SmartCode in the historic neighborhoods in addition to downtown. The council in July changed course and opted to only consider implementing the SmartCode downtown.

The SmartCode, developed by city planning staff and consultant firm Placemakers, focuses on the forms of buildings and streets. The code is intended to revitalize downtown and make the area more conducive to walking and bicycling by stimulating a denser mixture of various building uses while preserving the San Marcos’ unique character.

The SmartCode also is intended to allow the development of unique zoning laws in discrete sections of the city, which is not allowed by current provisions of the land development code (LDC). The SmartCode, if adopted, would not replace the LDC, which would continue to govern actions not covered by the SmartCode.

The proposed implementation of the SmartCode, as it now stands, would be mandatory for downtown construction only. The SmartCode would be optional for developments of 80 or more acres, though notification of nearby residents, two public hearings, and two votes of the city council would be required for approval.

Lindsey Lofts developer and Austin resident Robert Hageman, arguing that the Smart Code would make residential development of his half-acre on 116 South Edward Gary Street, said he would consider building a bar on his half-acre on if the SmartCode were implemented. H. C. Kyle, former P&Z commissioner, said the SmartCode would create a bigger parking problem downtown because students mostly use vehicles for transport.

Kyle said he speaks from experience because he has leased multi-family units to university students for seven years. Kyle said students have caused a lack of parking all over the city.

City staff said Lindsey Lofts provides more parking spaces than the SmartCode would allow for new construction projects. Hageman said he has long advertised commercially zoned Edward Gary lot for lease. Hageman said he would rather build a multi-family development there, but the SmartCode would bind him to using the ground floor for retail and would limit the number of living units he could build.

“I’ve been developing and building for 35 years,” Hageman said. “I don’t have to build. I enjoy building. What I heard was 24 units per acre (maximum) for apartments, what I’ve heard is I have to put retail on the ground floor. I’ve heard that I have to hide my parking in the rear of the building … The numbers won’t work for me. I cannot build on my lot under those terms, period, end of story. And it’s a vacant piece of ground. I can do whatever I want on it. Financially, it won’t work.

“… I put in more parking spaces in my place (Lindsey Lofts) than I was required to, and I was glad I did, because it’s full all the time. And I only built 14 units there. On that half an acre, I wanted to build double that, because it’s twice the size. But under this SmartCode, I won’t be able to build but maybe 14 or 15 units, because that’s all the space I’ll have after I try to put ground floor retail, which won’t lease. I’ve already experienced the fact that it won’t lease … So for me to go out there and build ground floor retail as a condition of building the units above, it would be suicide.”

Said San Marcos Assistant Planning Director Matthew Lewis, “The parking issue is a big issue, and it needs to be handled through a parking plan. This (SmartCode) doesn’t address all of the parking issues. This is one tool to create a community that we’ve established … Distributing the parking with a diversity of (building) uses will help fix the parking situation. Right now there is a lack of housing diversity, so people do have to drive. There’s a lack of retail opportunities, so people have to drive. So people are having to drive to their destinations rather than providing options to walk. Not everyone is going to walk. Some people want to drive. However, the people who do want to walk will remove those parking spaces providing options for the people who want to drive. It’s a cyclical effect that we’re stuck in here.”

John David Carson, speaking on behalf of the San Marcos Area Board of Realtors (SMABR), said SMABR supports implementation of the SmartCode in the manner proposed by staff — mandatory for downtown, and optional for 80-plus-acre developments. Carson said SMABR only has one problem with the SmartCode: the proposed 24 dwelling units per acre (DUA) maximum, which, he said, the market will not support.

SMABR government affair’s committee representative Monica McNabb said the 24 DUA maximum for three-to-five story buildings would result in living units of 4,200 to 5,000 square feet each. McNabb said her committee would support a DUA of 80-90 or may support letting the market determine unit density and prohibiting buildings from being taller than certain landmark structures, like the Hays County Courthouse. Bishop said the SmartCode permits five-story buildings in T-5 zones, except around the courthouse square.

“Adopting the SmartCode by itself will not fix all of our problems, but it’s a huge step towards preserving the things that make San Marcos great and improving it for this and future generations,” Carson said. “Everyone should be behind the SmartCode. Environmental advocates should support the SmartCode because it focuses development to appropriate areas and stops the sprawl that continues to push us out into natural habitats and waterways. It creates walkable environments that reduce our dependence on the automobile and results in the pollution of our air. Neighborhood advocates should support the SmartCode because it fosters the development of community by creating places where citizens can live, work, interact and coexist with their fellow citizens. Its thoroughfares slow down traffic on the streets and give people, from young professionals to families, options as to what kind of environment in which to live without pushing them away from the services they need.”

The SmartCode does not require multi-story buildings to have apartments in them, but does require multi-story apartment structures to contain office/retail on the ground floor level.

At least two citizens expressed mistrust of city staff during the public comment period. One citizen said P&Z commissioners have more of a stake in the San Marcos community than city staff, and another said the city’s planning and development services employees were using their personal opinions in place of fact-based arguments.

“Staff is here — we work numerous hours,” said Lewis, a San Marcos resident. “I appreciate my staff, whether we’re appreciated by the community or not, based on the statements. We are dedicated to the city, we’re dedicated to the citizens of San Marcos, and everything that we’re putting into this (SmartCode) creates it. If the (SmartCode) document were read and understood, I believe it would be much more supported than in the current state.”

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14 thoughts on “SmartCode still in the air as P&Z holds out for time

  1. Where does Mr. Lewis live? I’ve been told that he lives in Austin, which would make me question his “dedication” to the city. I would love to be corrected if I’m wrong. If I’m right, then it’s safe to say that he’s dedicated to a pay check.

  2. Experts brought in during the recent Main Street program review said the Smart Codes will need quite a bit of fine tuning to preserve the character of our downtown and community. Smart Codes for downtown sets a precedent that can have subsequent impact on other parts of town, so it really needs to be thought out before implementation. The community and our leaders need more time to digest the paradigm shift presented by the Smart Codes initiative.

  3. Matthew now lives in San Marcos. He moved here form Austin about 6 weeks ago, I believe. I gave him a hard time for a while since he did not live here and was very please to hear that I moved here. Matthew is very dedicated to San Marcos and lives for city planning and is very passionate about it. I think he is a big asset to San Marcos.

    Speaking of Smart Code…I have mixed feelings and think it should not be rushed through. I personally think it should wait until the new council is seated and then let them vote on it.

    Oh, and to partially answer you question, Ted…I live on the south side of town off Hunter Ridge (near Posey). I DO NOT live in the city limits of San Marcos. I hold the one spot on P&Z that is reserved by the city charter for a resident and landowner in the ETJ. I have lived on this side of town for 42 years, moving to San Marcos with my parents when I was 1 year old. Actually, our first home was a mobile home that is now under the purgatory bridge of the Wonder World extension! When they were clearing for the ROW, I got permission to go in there and found a piece of concrete that had 2 hand prints with “Curt” 1971 in the concrete. That was from when my dad poured the concrete when I was 4 years old! Anyway, more than you wanted or cared to know, I am sure!

  4. Oops, should have been “very pleased to hear that HE moved here”, not that I moved here!

  5. Curtis. Thanks for the info. I’ve been wondering since someone on City Council commented that one of our P&Z commissioners didn’t live in San Marcos.

  6. I have always had a problem with the fact that only property owners or business owners can serve on the commission. There are many people in San Marcos that for what ever reason are renters, not just college students. The decisions affect those citizens as much as the others.

  7. Thank you, Mr. Seebeck. Well spoken. I hope I am wrong in my understanding that the Fabulously-named (in more than one sense) “Smart Code” is not, as presented, actually true to the “form-based model.” I hope I am wrong in that the reason for the big rush and the throwing out of past master planning and zoning is not actually motivated by that now-universally salable mantra of “economic opportunity for all”–which a skeptic might take to mean “hurrying up to prepare the field for pure economic opportunists (and real estate folks, bless SOME of ’em)” in order to pounce “when the County moves away and the lawyers all follow it.” Raw meat, as it were, if the rules were just a TAD friendlier than now.

    Whatever, there is apparently a lot of disingenuousness being spread around as noble motive for the citizens as this freight train comes into view. When H.C. Kyle III, one of our cleanest and smartest citizens, stands up to ask for clarification and caution, even as a vested interest, it tells THIS citizen bill-payer there is a probllem. I found it entertaining and troubling how many citizens rose to ask the same, identical questions about nearly EVERY item on the 3 August Council meeting (I took copious notes–check out the tapes.): “1) Why the hurry? 2) How has this come so far so fast without the “little people” fully knowing the details? 3) One more time, yet again, WHY was this massive change “necessary”? and the jackpot question, “Is this actually about money, rather than the quality of life for all SM citizens?” The non-nutritious answers consistently given, with injured innocence: “Why, whatEVER do you MEAN? (here see Kilmer, Val, “Tombstone, 1993?”) WE have been planning this for a long while. Just EVERY body has agreed. We’ve even sold it to the SMCofC, Corridor Council, CAPCOG, CAMPO, UPACC and the State of Texas.”
    [If the County didn’t know, it’s their fault. (Special Thanks to HaysCo Comm#3 Will Conley, who came, spoke, and seemed to make some sense about FM110–even asked to be told about future meetings, so the County can keep up with the Lightning Agenda.)]

    Over and over, down the Agenda. Almost every agenda item but the Prayer and the Pledge. Over and over, a very detailed and defensive “explanation” and disclaimer from Up Front. Over and over, exclamations of “You had to know.!” Sorry everybody didn’t get to see that posting, attend those oddly-scheduled meetings, see all the material, some of which we must have “overlooked to circulate widely” or not posted in the normal, legal way. Over and over, apologies to the curious and the irate. Over and over, things being moved back a step, usually to our crack P&Z, which had already obediently pushed the stuff to the top. Over and over, half-dismissive “Let me explain. Big sigh.” (implying “for those who are mentally deficient and too busy to puzzle it out on their own”).

    People who HAVE tracked all those Workshops and coffees and barn dances say, almost uniformly that the Staff seems oddly off-balance in them, merely repeating talking points such as Sean repeats in the first part of the article above and scrambling to make up answers that will quiet the inquisitive, if not inform them a whit better.

    Well, I had a minor functionary at City Hall, whom I respect professionally and otherwise, call me and blow his/her whistle. Take it or leave it, I was told that the staff is being “ground up in a meat-grinder down here. “Deep Throat” (for so the individual shall ever be known) CLAIMS that City Staff is being directed substantially what they WILL recommend and support, whether or not it makes them choke, as professionals; dumbfounded, as responsible citizens; or revolted, as honorable people. “We are being ground to bits between the citizens and our bosses at SOME level above, and we have nowhere to run.”

    I have no dog in the hunt except honest, responsive democratic government–thus no reason to lie or deceive, or certainly to “go after” anybody politically, as fitting the current fashion in the whole damned country. (I gave two decades of my life at the Office.) Neither does “Deep Throat” have a reason to lie, especially to me. For what it is worth, I have also heard in the wind that the Director of Planning, seemingly quite competent, apparently a good friend and colleague of our now-abruptly-departed ex-City Manager, has cross hairs on his back. If that is any or all true, I can see why Staff seems often at a loss or ill at ease. I claim to have no clue and no proof that would cause me to seek criminal charges–which I would do if I did. But like Mr. Kyle and virtually every ordinary citizen at Monday’s meeting, I still have questions about City Hall’s own little “rocket docket” to which no substantive answers have been given to date.

    Hats off once more to SMLN and the IT-geek watchdogs who discuss things here in this “alternative (?to WHAT, exactly? forum.” Still-Living members of the Council, one must say, were extremely solicitous of the public, and acquitted themselves with some dignity and style, for you who did not witness that dance of the cobras last night. For me, the highlight was when Ms. Porterfield, during part of the “Blah-blah Report on the proposed outright DISMISSAL of 20 years’ planning and struggle for FM110, held up a copy of the rare document to ask a question. She explained she had got it last Thursday, and really had to hustle to be ready to discuss it at the Mon. meeting.

    The rest of the “lesser Council Members, involuntarily and reflexively, asked in unison, “Where did you get THAT?” To which the audience howled–either in laughter or tears. Don’t rely on me. Ask somebody who was in the room– but not Steve Harvey, whom I now call “Transparency Boy.” He might be biased or crazy. This “open government” thing he pushes may be some agenda or subversive plot. We’ll have to attend his Aug. 16 self-generated Town Hall at the Activity Center to judge.

    Poor Steve is crazy enough to have done a full day of chemotherapy and still stayed in that 6-HOUR meetng, rising at least three times to the podium to ask Mr. Kyle’s questions and getting mostly BS in answer (Nobody could have had time to write out talking points ahead of time for that.) . I can’t imagine what his subversive agenda must be, to be such a diligent and courageous bloodhound at ALL the related meetngs, work- shops, “charettes,” dog-and-pony shows, etc. I don’t think he is running for anything. I can’t determine that he is anybody’s stalking horse. Maybe he was born in Kenya–I can’t guess. I’ve never even shaken hands with the man. Met him here on Newstreamz.

    It seems several lawyers have developed a deep interest in our little local drama, and are following it closely. Yay!

    DISCLAIMER (Is that proper “techno-geek etiquette?)– Steve and his wife once lived somewhere near me, and my wife had mentioned them favorably, as great neighbors, but I never got the pleasure. Still haven’t. Can’t wait.
    Maybe 16 Aug. at the Activity Center. To discuss a topic that HAD to be brought forward by a citizen, on his own.

    Did I hear that at least one of our Honorables has an eye on much bigger fish, and is using US for that end? Naaaa.

  8. Thank you, Mr. Seebeck. Well spoken. I hope I am wrong in my understanding that the Fabulously-named (in more than one sense) “Smart Code” is not, as presented, actually true to the “form-based model.” I hope I am wrong in that the reason for the big rush and the throwing out of past master planning and zoning is not actually motivated by that now-universally salable mantra of “economic opportunity for all”–which a skeptic might take to mean “hurrying up to prepare the field for pure economic opportunists (and real estate folks, bless SOME of ’em)” in order to pounce “when the County moves away and the lawyers all follow it.” Raw meat, as it were, if the rules were just a TAD friendlier than now.

    Whatever, there is apparently a lot of disingenuousness being spread around as noble motive for the citizens as this freight train comes into view. When H.C. Kyle III, one of our cleanest and smartest citizens, stands up to ask for clarification and caution, even as a vested interest, it tells THIS citizen bill-payer there IS a problem. I found it entertaining and troubling how many citizens rose to ask the same, identical questions about nearly EVERY item on the 3 August Council meeting (I took copious notes–check out the tapes.): “1) Why the hurry? 2) How has this come so far so fast without the “little people” fully knowing the details? 3) One more time, yet again, WHY was this massive change “necessary”? and the jackpot question, “Is this actually about money, rather than the quality of life for all SM citizens?” The non-nutritious answers consistently given, with injured innocence: “Why, whatEVER do you MEAN (here see Kilmer, Val, “Tombstone, 1993?”)? WE have been planning this for a long while. Just EVERY body has agreed. We’ve even sold it to the SMCofC, Corridor Council, CAPCOG, CAMPO, UPACC and the State of Texas.”
    [If the County didn’t know, it’s their fault. (Special Thanks to HaysCo Comm #3 Will Conley, who came, spoke, and seemed to make some sense about FM110–even asked to be told about future meetings, so the County can keep up with the Lightning Agenda.)]

    Over and over, down the Agenda. Almost every agenda item but the Prayer and the Pledge. Over and over, a very detailed and defensive “explanation” and disclaimer from Up Front. Over and over, exclamations of “You had to know.!” Sorry everybody didn’t get to see that posting, attend those oddly-scheduled meetings, see all the material, some of which we must have “overlooked to circulate widely” or not posted in the normal, legal way. Over and over, apologies to the curious and the irate. Over and over, things being moved back a step, usually to our crack P&Z, which had already obediently pushed the stuff to the top. Over and over, half-dismissive “Let me explain. Big sigh.” (implying “for those who are mentally deficient and/or too busy to puzzle it out on their own”).

    People who HAVE tracked all those Workshops and coffees and barn dances say, almost uniformly that the Staff seems oddly off-balance in them, merely repeating talking points such as Sean repeats in the first part of the article above and scrambling to make up answers that will quiet the inquisitive, if not inform them a whit better.

    Well, I had a minor functionary at City Hall, whom I respect professionally and otherwise, call me and blow his/her whistle. Take it or leave it, I was told that the staff is being “ground up in a meat-grinder down here.” “Deep Throat” (for so the individual shall ever be known) CLAIMS that City Staff is being directed substantially what they WILL recommend and support, whether or not it makes them choke, as professionals; dumbfounded, as responsible citizens; or revolted, as honorable people. “We are being ground to bits between the citizens and our bosses at SOME level above, and we have nowhere to run.”

    I have no dog in the hunt except honest, responsive democratic government–thus no reason to lie or deceive, or certainly to “go after” anybody politically, as fitting the current fashion in the whole damned country. (I gave two decades of my life At the Office.) Neither does “Deep Throat” have a reason to lie, especially to me. For what it is worth, I have also heard in the wind that the Director of Planning, seemingly quite competent, apparently a good friend and colleague of our now-abruptly-departed ex-City Manager, has cross hairs on his back. If that is any or all true, I can see why Staff seems often at a loss or ill at ease. I claim to have no clue and no proof that would cause me to seek criminal charges–which I would do if I did. But like Mr. Kyle and virtually every ordinary citizen at Monday’s meeting, I still have questions about City Hall’s own little “rocket docket” to which no substantive answers have been given to date.

    Hats off once more to SMLN and the I/T-geek watchdogs who discuss things here in this “alternative (to WHAT, exactly?) forum.” Still-Living members of the Council, one must say, were extremely solicitous of the public, and acquitted themselves with some dignity and style, for you who did not witness that dance of the cobras last night. The Undead either just sat there, or rushed to defend hurrying right along. For me, the highlight was when Ms. Porterfield, during part of the “Blah-blah Report” on the proposed outright DISMISSAL of 20 years’ planning and struggle for FM110, held up a copy of the rare TMP document to ask a question. She explained she had got it last Thursday, and really had to hustle to be ready to discuss it at the Tue. meeting. Just about he same thing happened several more times during the evening, about matters large and small. But this one was the elephant in the room.

    The rest of the “lesser” Council Members, involuntarily and reflexively, asked in unison, “Where did you get THAT?” To which the audience howled–either in laughter or tears. Don’t rely on me. Ask somebody who was in the room– but not Steve Harvey, whom I now call “Transparency Boy.” He might be biased or crazy. This “open government” thing he pushes may be some agenda or subversive plot. We’ll have to attend his Aug. 16 self-generated Town Hall at the Activity Center to judge.

    Poor Steve is crazy enough to have done a full day of chemotherapy and still stayed in that 6-HOUR meetng, rising at least three times to the podium to reiterate Mr. Kyle’s questions and getting mostly BS in answer (Nobody could have had time to write out talking points ahead of time for that.) . I can’t imagine what his subversive agenda must be, to be such a diligent and courageous bloodhound at ALL the related meetngs, work- shops, “charettes,” dog-and-pony shows, etc. I don’t think he is running for anything. I can’t determine that he is anybody’s stalking horse. Maybe he was born in Kenya–I can’t guess. I’ve never even shaken hands with the man. Met him here on Newstreamz.

    It seems several lawyers, independently, have developed a deep interest in our little local drama, and are following it closely. Yay! Sings: “Lee-et the sun shine, Leee-et the Sushine in” (1968, “Hair.”)

    DISCLAIMER (Is that proper “techno-geek etiquette?)– Steve and his wife once lived somewhere near me, and my wife had mentioned them favorably, as great neighbors I should meet, but I never got the pleasure. Still haven’t. Can’t wait. Maybe 16 Aug. at the Activity Center. To discuss a topic that HAD to be brought forward by a citizen, on his own.

    Did I hear that at least one of our Honorables has an eye on much bigger fish, and is using US for that end? Naaaah.

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  10. Just think what that $6 million we gave to Stone Creekers could have done for all the local downtown businesses. So we need SmartCode to bring in more chain stores to rejuvenate downtown. So the city shafts the existing local small businesspeople and wants the Chamber of Commerce to support SmartCode to bring in the big guys. Downtown small businesspeople should hound the Chamber for representation and support, but they don’t see what’s going on.

  11. Mr Harvey, there are a lot of times that I read your postings and I agree with you 100%. But now it just seems like you are posting to instigate issues between residents and the city council. As far as the millions of dollars for Springtown and Stonecreek…after the dust settled with Springtown, we never heard a single thing from downtown. The BARS were happy so no one cared any more. I would have loved to see the downtown come together and create a plan to make the area more family friendly and than I would have spoken out in support to give them a loan, a TIRZ, a bribe, a gift, or whatever you would like to call it. But at the end of the day this is how it played out;

    Springtown Proposal = Family Friendly Entertainment Center that included all the city council mandated stipulations

    Or

    Downtown San Marcos Square = 8 or 9 bars, a handful of restaurants, and a place our city spends excess amounts of money for a police presence every weekend for TXSTATE STUDENTS (THE REASON WHY WE HAVE SO MANT APARTMENTS) Just an FYI, this is the deal we took.

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