Blanco Vista residents packed the cafeteria at Blanco Vista Elementary School earlier this month, upset that Carma Texas wants to change the concept plan for the project. Photos by Erica Chapa.
By SEAN BATURA
In the face of overwhelming opposition to concept plan revision, Carma Texas has slowed its attempt to obtain city approval for hundreds more townhomes and allowable multi-family units in the Blanco Vista subdivision.
Canada-based Carma has asked the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) to postpone approving or denying the aforementioned items until at least Oct. 26. A city staffmember said the P&Z probably will probably approve Carma’s request. Carma’s request for postponement is not on the P&Z’s Tuesday agenda, though commissioners can legally approve or disapprove the request at that meeting.
Carma’s request for a Blanco Vista concept plan amendment, originally addressed by the P&Z earlier this month, is on Tuesday’s agenda. However, the amendment was agendized before Carma requested the postponement.
The concept plan amendment is the vehicle by which Carma requested the increase in allowable multi-family units and townhomes. The amendment does not require city council approval — the P&Z has the final say on the matter. The P&Z approved two concept plan amendments for Blanco Vista, at Carma’s request in 2005 and 2007.
Blanco Vista lies on about 575 acres just north of the Blanco River near Five Mile Dam Park in San Marcos. Some amenities, an elementary school, and about 102 homes have been built at the subdivision so far.
Carma’s latest concept plan amendment calls for no more than 450 multi-family units and 450 townhomes, totaling 242 acres of possible multi-family/townhome development on four possible tracts at Blanco Vista.
At a Sept. 21 meeting with Blanco Vista residents, Walt Elias of Carma said he hopes any future multi-family units would be isolated by restricting them to the north side of Yarrington Road/future FM 110, on the northeastern tip of the development. All single-family homes would be south of Yarrington Road/FM 110.
Before most — or perhaps any — residents were aware that Carma intended to amend Blanco Vista’s concept plan, the P&Z considered an earlier concept plan amendment on Sept. 14. That amendment would have increased the maximum allowable multi-family uses from 180-900 units, and would have removed the current limit of 70 townhomes. If the P&Z had approved the amendment, multi-family units could be dispersed throughout the development along arterial or neighborhood collectors, rather than restricted to their current tracts.
“I think what scares me the most is that we bought here and paid more money than we would have elsewhere because of the master plan,” said an attendee of the Sept. 21 meeting. “And now, last week, had the (P&Z) commission not stalled a couple weeks, it would have pushed forward without any of our knowledge. What stops you from going in in another month and re-changing — and none of would know?”
In reply, Elias promised Carma would not request another concept plan amendment without first communicating with residents.
“Certainly we are working with the planning and zoning commission and the city staff to develop and enhance this project — that’s our intent,” Elias said at the Sept. 21 meeting. “I do want to apologize that we didn’t come to the homeowners at first, and I sincerely mean that. I think it would have been beneficial. It was not part of the process as part of the concept plan requirement. It certainly wasn’t something that we wanted to do underhanded, or in any way keep information from the homeowners. We’ve amended the plan a number of times as part of that process. It’s not a requirement, but we did (tell) the P&Z commission last week that we would address the community … Because they were concerned about community input, and we are to, and I’m here to address anything I can tonight.”
Blanco Vista’s current concept plan restricts all multi-family units to a heavily-wooded, 50.5-acre hill in the northwest corner of the development. At the Sept. 14 P&Z meeting, Carma representatives said the location is not an appropriate place for the current specified uses, as it is furthest away from roads and utility infrastructure, and in the most difficult place in the development to build.
At the Sept. 21 meeting, Elias said relocating the multi-family units from the hill and increasing them would benefit the Blanco Vista community because such a change would “allow a mixed use of residential types.”
There was some commotion in the audience after Elias said that, and some attendees responded incredulously — a pattern of interaction that occurred a few times during the course of the meeting, because attendees asked him several times what the nature of the benefit would be. No residents expressed satisfaction with Elias’ answers, a sentiment some stated in letters to P&Z after the meeting.
Approximately 90-100 people attended the Sept. 21 meeting, where every attendee who spoke opposed the proposed increase and relocation of multi-family units. Several people said that before they bought their homes, nothing they read and no one they spoke to said apartments could be allowed in the subdivision. At least 13 people who wrote to the P&Z made the same claim. Included in Tuesday’s P&Z agenda packet are dozens of letters from Blanco Vista residents opposed to relocating and increasing allowable multi-family units.
Blanco Vista resident and community liaison Sandy Dodson said she gathered more than 100 signatures on a petition opposing the latest concept plan amendments requests.
“We are sorry this fight has taken place,” Dodson said. “We know it has damaged the perception of Blanco Vista in the community. It is sad when you have to fight to enforce the promises that were made to you. Carma had a good reputation with all the work they put into Blanco Vista when it first started. It is such a shame to see them making these missteps, and creating a public relations disaster for themselves. We hope an acceptable compromise can be reached soon, and the anger they have created can die down. We want Carma to succeed in Blanco Vista, and their new community here in San Marcos — just not at our expense.”
Most Blanco Vista residents who wrote letters to the P&Z and who spoke at the Sept. 21 meeting with Carma said an increase in the allowable apartment units would decrease homeowner property values, cause too much vehicular traffic, and pose safety risks, especially for children. Some residents said apartment tenants would illegally use amenities paid for with homeowners association fees.
Blanco Vista resident Toni Terling Watt said her home is situated in an area that is “breathtaking, one of the most beautiful I have seen.” Watt, a Texas State associate professor, said the subdivision was marketed to her as one with no apartments.
“I was thrilled that I had found a way to remain in San Marcos and to provide a stable, safe, family-oriented community for my family,” Watt said. “My son just started kindergarten at Blanco Vista Elementary and is participating in their progressive dual language program. I was so pleased that I could build the sort of life I have dreamed of for my family. However, I now feel that all of that is in jeopardy. This dramatic revision to the number of multi-family units allowed, the request for increased density, and the proximity of high density units to the elementary school, will reduce my son’s safety, our sense of a stable community, my property values, and the beauty and tranquility of the area. This is a significant blow to the residents of Blanco Vista.”
Walt Elias of Carma Texas speaks with Blanco Vista residents at Blanco Vista Elementary School.Email | Print