The above map shows the relationship between the land owned by Vince Wood and Rob Haug for the Windemere Ranch project, and the land owned by Paul Geiger, who opposes the development. The gray area is Windemere Ranch land. The white strip bisecting it is Geiger’s land, which pinches the proposed residential collector to 47 feet wide. Image from the developers’ concept plat.
By SEAN BATURA
Austinites Vince Wood and Rob Haug have modified plans for their proposed residential development on environmentally-sensitive aquifer recharge land near Spring Lake, asking San Marcos officials to approve a smaller project.
The proposed Windemere Ranch development has been controversial due to its proposed location and because Haug and Wood had planned for the city to either buy or seize an adjoining property owner’s land for a road.
Before last week’s meeting of the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), Haug and Wood withdrew a request for a variance that would have exempted them from having to construct at least two access points for their proposed development.
The city’s land development code requires developments of 75 or more units to have two points of access. Rather than pursue their variance request, Haug and Wood came back last week with a proposal for only 75 dwelling units. City of San Marcos Planner John Foreman said the developers previously proposed about 230 units for Windemere Ranch.
Haug and Wood withdrew an identical variance request for only one point of access in August 2008.
The 235 acres of Windemere Ranch are less than a mile from Spring Lake, source of the San Marcos River, and entirely within the recharge zone for the Edwards Aquifer, which supplies water to 1.7 million Texans. Windemere Ranch is adjacent to Spring Lake Preserve.
Fulfillment of the developers’ most recent variance request would allow them to build and dedicate to the city less than the minimum required right of way (ROW) for a portion of a street connecting the development with Lime Kiln Road at Sink Creek. Haug and Wood proposed 47 feet of ROW at the narrowest section of their property, instead of the 60 feet required by the land development code. The land owned by Haug and Wood is narrow at the aforementioned section because their property is almost bisected by San Marcos resident Paul Geiger’s land. In previous versions of the concept plan for Windemere Ranch, Haug and Wood proposed the ROW to pass through Geiger’s property.
Assistant City Manager Laurie Moyer said in December that the city was seeking Geiger’s property mostly for a wastewater line, part of the Sink Creek interceptor project planned since 1995 to service the expansion of Texas State and accommodate future city growth. The wastewater line also is intended to alleviate existing sewage overflows on LBJ Drive that sometimes occur after heavy rains. Moyer said the city wanted additional ROW for the road because it is better to “work with” property owners once rather than multiple times.
The road proposed by Haug and Wood — “a collector” — would be in accord with the city’s thoroughfare plan, which includes a future street that begins at Lime Kiln Road and Sink Creek, and extends westward along the creek to the future extension of Craddock Street and beyond.
In their variance application, the developers argue that allowing the 47 feet of ROW through the choke point between Geiger’s property and Spring Lake Preserve “would promote orderly subdivision of other land in the area by providing the collector road prescribed by the city’s thoroughfare plan.” Haug and Wood, in their latest variance application, said the 47-foot ROW for the collector would provide minimum pavement widths, ruling out adverse consequences for public safety and welfare.
“All other attempts to provide this required collector with full ROW through condemnation of adjacent property have failed,” state Haug and Wood in their variance application.
In July, Foreman informed the P&Z that the city is not pursuing condemnation of Geiger’s property. The city sent Geiger two letters requesting that he sell the land for ROW. Geiger said he refused to sell so that the land “does not go into high-density development, to preserve the pristine nature of the springs and the headwaters there.”
City staffers said they prefer not to talk about the latest variance request and concept plan for Windemere Ranch until they have reviewed the requests. Haug did not respond to requests for comment and Wood said, “I can’t comment about that right now.”
Said Foreman to the P&Z in July about the variance the developers ended up pulling last week, “There’s been significant concern from the public. You have a stack of emails that came in from the time that this staff report was prepared, and there are several in the packet, but there are quite a few more that came in the last several days that are included, and also from the emergency services staff. So staff finds that because the property could be developed up to 75 lots currently without the variance, and because of the safety issues, that the request does not meet the criteria for a variance, and staff is recommending denial.”
Foreman informed the P&Z that the San Marcos Fire Department (SMFD) opposes allowing only one point of access to Windemere Ranch because wild fires and flooding on Lime Kiln Road may dangerously restrict ingress and egress to the development for emergency service vehicles, and for residents in the event of an evacuation.
Of the five individuals who addressed the P&Z on July 27 during the public hearing on the variance request, all opposed Windemere Ranch as proposed. Some opposed any future development of the area. The P&Z postponed action on the matter until Aug. 24, when city staff informed commissioners that Haug and Wood had withdrawn the variance request. On July 27, Foreman told commissioners that Haug and Wood intend to put 75 lots on the property but had requested postponement of the variance request to keep their options open.
“I am speaking as a citizen of San Marcos and a board member of the San Marcos River Foundation,” said San Marcos resident Michelle Bussemey to the P&Z on July 27. “This area that you see here above Spring Lake and right by Sink Creek is critical habitat for our springs and for our river … And if we put a huge subdivision right above the headwaters of these beautiful waters, nobody’s going to live here. So please, please, take it into consideration to not approve any type of development, follow what we have put down in our codes for not developing any type of heavy use out here, and just not allow any type of access at all through here so we can stop this development, please.”
Haug and Wood had not proposed to include any more impervious cover in Windemere Ranch than allowed by state law and city ordinance.
Hays County commissioners recently voted 4-1 to acquire a 50.199-acre tract near Jacob’s Well from Haug and Wood with $850,000 in county parks bond funds and with $850,000 loaned from The Nature Conservancy. In return for agreeing to buy the property, Haug and Wood agreed to drop three-year-old lawsuits against the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association (WVWA) and the City of Woodcreek. Haug and Wood sued WVWA to build a road across from Jacob’s Well for a future residential resort, and they sued Woodcreek to avoid being subject to the city’s impervious cover ordinance.
One of the city’s criteria for granting a variance to its land development code is that strict application of the code “would create an unnecessary hardship or inequity upon the applicant or would deprive the application of the reasonable and beneficial use of the property,” in the words of the variance request application. In their application, Haug and Wood contend that due to the narrowness of the section of property available for the proposed street, strict adherence to the land development code would make the property “inaccessible and therefore undevelopable.”
The city poses the following question in the variance application: “To what extent is the request for a variance based upon a desire of the owner, occupant, or applicant for increased financial gain from the property, or to reduce an existing financial hardship?”
Wood and Haug responded that their request for a variance is solely to provide access to the property in conformity to the greatest degree possible with the city’s thoroughfare plan.
San Marcos resident Paul Geiger said he would not sell his land to allow the Windermere Ranch development to take place. Photo by Sean Batura.