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

October 4th, 2010
Mayoral candidates differ on development proposals


San Marcos mayoral candidates Daniel Guerrero, left, and John Thomaides, right, at last week’s Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA) debate. Photo by Andy Sevilla.

Associate Editor

San Marcos mayoral candidates Daniel Guerrero and John Thomaides took opposing incentives about controversial housing developments at last week’s candidate forum held by the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA).

In recent months, the San Marcos city council has green lighted developments drawing strong opposition from residents because of environmental concerns, including the proposed Buie Tract development, and, more recently, the Paso Robles development, both of which sit above the Edwards Aquifer.

Guerrero and Thomaides’ had only presented their opening statements when they came under fire from San Marcos resident Steve Harvey, who posed the first question.

“Will you vote yes or no for the $20 million TIRZ (Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone) for Paso Robles, and do you consider it a subsidy that adds to our debt level?” Harvey asked.

The city council will take up a second vote on the Paso Robles annexation Tuesday night after unanimously passing it on first reading. Councilmembers also will consider approving a development agreement, zoning change requests and a Planned Development District (PDD) for Paso Robles.

“I would vote in favor of Paso Robles,” Guerrero said in response to Harvey’s question. “I believe that it’s a project that is going to bring quite a bit of opportunity for our community. It’s going to change the structure, the format of our community, as well.”

Said Thomaides, “Paso Robles, the development itself, is not a bad idea, it’s new homes and can be a great addition to San Marcos. But when an out-of-town developer comes to San Marcos and they ask the current citizens to help pay for infrastructure, that’s where I have the problem … and I’m opposed to that. I welcome the development. I say to that developer and that property owner, ‘Please move forward with your plan, but do it with your own money.’”

The city takes in $7,578.46 in property taxes from the Paso Robles property on the south end of the city. At full build out, the total projected annual tax revenue is $6,062,299 in property and sales taxes.

A TIRZ works by allocating new tax revenue generated due to property improvements in the zone towards the debt service to pay for those improvements.

Carma Texas, the developer of Paso Robles, has identified about $175 million in infrastructure improvements for the project and is asking the city to pitch in $20 million through a TIRZ.

The proposed Buie Tract development drew fire from residents as the developers sought to change zoning for their property above the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone from single family (SF-6) to mixed use (MU). Residents of established neighborhoods surrounding the tract have objected.

“I would have voted in favor of the Buie Tract,” Guerrero responded to a question by San Marcos resident Chad Williams. “I feel as though it is a development that is going to be conducive to the needs of our community. I also feel as though it is something that is going to be able to provide a new aesthetic to what we are looking for, for our community. I think we do need a diversity of housing.”

Guerrero said he has studied trends along the Interstate-35 corridor and supports the Buie Tract because people are trying to provide for their families and maneuver for their employment needs. Guerrero said there are “a multitude of apartments” in San Marcos, but cautioned that there needs to be sensitivity in addressing relocation needs as individuals tend to have less longevity with employers and, therefore, need housing options for their next moves.

Thomaides disagreed, saying San Marcos has enough apartments. Thomaides cautioned against enabling apartment developments burgeoning into established neighborhoods. “When does it stop?” Thomaides asked before identifying a second reason for his opposition to the Buie Tract development.

“Here is one of my main issues with the Buie Tract,” Thomaides said. “There was a petition circulated, a legal petition, that required a super majority (of council), a six-vote (decision) to approve (the zoning change), and it was presented to council, it was authenticated, it was a legal valid petition. At the last minute, the developer removed two acres of his property, and therefore removed a certain number of signatures from that petition, and, all of a sudden, it didn’t require that super majority vote.”

The Buie Tract developers originally sought a zoning change from SF-6 to MU for 12.88 acres of their property along Franklin Drive, but on the Friday before council’s Tuesday vote, the developers scaled back their request to only 10.65 acres of the original 12.88 acre request.

After the scaling back, the petition only produced signatures from owners of 18.04 percent of the land area affected within a 200-foot radius, rather than the 20 percent who signed in opposition to the original request. The zoning change was approved with a 5-2 council vote, with Thomaides and Councilmember Gaylord Bose in opposition.

“That was unscrupulous, in my opinion,” Thomaides said. “And that was another reason for me to vote, ‘No.’ And I just can’t imagine that we would support developments and developers like that.”

The San Marcos Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission last Tuesday voted to approve the zoning change from SF-6 to MU for the remaining 2.23 acres of the original 12.88-acre request of the Buie Tract along Franklin Drive.

P&Z Commissioner Jude Prather, who is running against Toby Hooper for the council seat being vacated by Bose, voted in favor of the zoning request. The matter now will go before the city council.

Prather said to CONA that his vote in favor of the rezoning was one of the “toughest votes” he’s had while on P&Z, and it wasn’t made “light-heartedly” and “without deep thought.”

Said Prather, “It’s a drastic change, but it’s a change for San Marcos that I think will benefit the entire community and neighborhoods, having a mixed-use center right in that node between Craddock (Drive) and Wonder World (Drive). I think it’s a great area in San Marcos and I think it will be a benefit to San Marcos to have that there.”

Hooper said the Buie Tract rezoning concerns him for two reasons — the possibility of high density construction in that area, and building on the aquifer. Hooper said there also are concerns of neighborhood integrity and quality of life.

“There are neighborhoods around there that are very concerned that all of a sudden a large building full of university students is being placed there, and especially on Franklin (Drive), which is one of the special streets in our city,” Hopper said. “University students, of course, are going to be late to class, cutting across that street on their way to the university … If you’re going to put something like that there, you’re going to have to think about infrastructure all over the place.”

Another matter before the city concerns the vacant city manager position, for which the council has picked Round Rock City Manager Jim Nuse. The council will vote to approve his employment contract Tuesday night.

Residents have pummeled council with criticism for what they call a rushed decision before an election that could potentially sit four new councilmembers. The council set a 60-day timeline to name the next city manager, and outgoing Mayor Susan Narvaiz has said there was consensus to have a substantial part of the selection process completed before the November election. However, Narvaiz has not provided specific details about the reasons.

David Newman, who is challenging incumbent Kim Porterfield for another council seat, has joined those criticizing council and called the city manager selection process “rushed” and “flawed.”

Said Newman at the CONA debate, “Well, I believe that there is a definite agenda to get the city manager hired before November 2. The new council will have to work with that city manager, although they may or may not have had an opportunity to have a role in the hiring. I just think the whole thing is rushed through and I question the motives behind it. The whole process was flawed from the very beginning. And I hope the best for San Marcos with what we end up with here, but I would have done it completely different and I don’t agree with the method.”

Porterfield, who voted in favor of the 60-day timeline despite much public outcry, said the end result of the city manager selection netted a great leader.

“I was elected to make decisions,” Porterfield said. “The city manager is going to be here long after I’m on the council, if my opponent is elected on the council, no matter who is on the council. Council sets the policy, the city manager implements. We cannot stop city business just because of the time of the year. This process was no different from the previous process as far as timing, except for the time of the year. We need a leader at City Hall. Our city staff needs direction. Things are falling through the cracks at City Hall. It was time to have a leader. And I believe that we got a great one in Jim Nuse.”

Days before being selected as the lone finalist for the city manager position, Nuse sent councilmembers a letter withdrawing himself from the running in order to explore other employment options. Nuse said he later became interested in the city manager position again after having some discussions and clarifications, and is “100 percent ready to move forward.”

The city council fired Rick Menchaca as city manager by a 4-3 vote on June 24. Bose, Porterfield and Thomaides voted in opposition. Assistant City Manager Laurie Moyer has served as interim city manager.

The council’s newly approved neighborhood commission also hit close to home at the CONA debate. Candidates Rodney Van Oudekerke and Shane Scott, who are vying for the two-year remainder in Thomaides’ Place 6 seat, have opposing views on the matter.

Scott said he supports of the council’s decision to form a neighborhood commission.

“I believe this commission will encourage neighborhood representation across the community,” Scott said. “It will also provide excellent policy advice to the city council on issues that will assist in the preservation of the integrity of all neighborhoods – single family, as well as multi-family dwellings.”

Van Oudekerke said he’s not opposed to commission aimed at addressing neighborhood issues, but is opposed to it being politically appointed.

“The last time I looked, we were still a representative form of government,” Van Oudekerke said. “If the commission is appointed, they will be responsible to the official who appointed them and not the neighborhoods they are supposed to represent. If we have to have this commission, I would much rather it be made up of elected representatives from each identified neighborhood.”

All council candidates will face each other again at the League of Women Voters’ debate on Monday at the San Marcos Activity Center (7 p.m.). The debate will also feature candidates for the District 25 Texas Senate seat, the Edwards Aquifer Authority District 11 seat and State Board of Education District 5 seat.

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20 thoughts on “Mayoral candidates differ on development proposals

  1. i will be voting for Daniel with many others. Thomaides i knew u were not in with Paso Robles. Not the Mayor we need. Daniel good luck with Mayor Position.

  2. I’m with JG. I don’t see how Stone Creek has brought any measurable economic improvement to the citizens of San Marcos. I’m happy to have it here, but have never seen any evidence that it would not have happened, without the first round of “incentives,” much less the second. I’d love to know what diversity of housing the Buie Tract development will bring, by nesting a bunch of apartments into a single-family neighborhood.

    I like that Daniel favors efforts to bring good jobs to San Marcos. I just can’t get onboard with the notion that retail stores, apartment management, and the like are “good jobs.” Grifols, Grande, McCoys headquarters, Philips – these are the kinds of jobs we should be bringing to town.

    I have no problem with Paso Robles, the pre-modification Blanco Vista, or the proposed Windmere development, but none of those homeowners are going to want to live on top of Sagewood, or the Sanctuary Lofts. New neighborhoods need to be built in a way that will attract homeowners and existing neighborhoods need to be protected. Otherwise, there will be no growth, just bloat.

  3. Ted’s right. The notion that apartments and retail bring good jobs is a fallacy. Apartments bring construction jobs for 18-24 months, after which they employ only one or two full-time people to manage them. That’s it. As for retail, we know that story well….you have one or two management-level jobs per store, and the remaining employees are hourly folks who frequently are prevented from racking up enough hours to achieve full-time status.

    One of the most vexing issues in San Marcos is that the city has a lower-than-average percentage of owner-occupied homes, which means people who do own homes here are surrounded by rentals that often are poorly maintained, if they are maintained at all. And the local ordinance restricting the number of unrelated residents in a rental property is a pathetic joke. City leaders should consider this reality when they ponder why more companies don’t relocate here.

    Between the two mayoral candidates, only Thomaides appears to have made any attempt to solve this issue, specifically by trying to put some real teeth into the rental ordinance. Of course, that was shot down — thanks in large part by Mr. Prather’s hyperventilated warnings of “jack booted thugs breaking down our doors.” (He used language very similar to this, if not verbatim.)

    Mr. Guerrero certainly appears to have the old San Marcos political machine at his back. And based on his positions, it’s obvious he is a Susan Narvaiz avatar. Those few who stand to make the biggest payday from development are certainly behind him. But they represent a tiny percentage of San Martians. The question is whether more of the same is the best way forward for the rest of us.

  4. It’s possible that the folks who want to live in the apartments off 12 and Craddock are families with children who want to go to Crockett. I don’t know how much expansion the school can accomodate. I suppose Hernandez and the other new school have the greatest room for expansion.

  5. to dream team:
    @ the debate (LWV) last night Thomaides stated that he did like the Paso Robles concept. He too stated that he just did not think that parts of it should be subsidized by our tax dollars. That is something that a lot of people probably agree with or to put it in your language are “in with”.
    People could argue that all important “JOBS” will be brought to San Marcos by this development, but the truth to that matter should be that there is, most likely, not one contractor in San Marcos that could afford the bonding and protections to work on that project .
    I and many others will be voting Thomaides, Hooper, Van Oudekerke, Newman. It is time to change the guard on the dias. I see no reason to give the same old tattered flag another chance. Especially when it was never flown to represent us -the people of this town.

  6. he voted no, then got on soapbox and made no sense. Like i said he voted no Thomaides showed me tonight

  7. to dream team:

    you obviously don’t know how development agreements work. The TIRZ was included in the Development agreement. Therefore, if you support the project without the TIRZ then you probably would not be able to vote for a development agreement that includes a TIRZ. Or if that is too complicated let us look at it like this: It would be like wanting a hamburger but the restaurant will only serve one to you if they are allowed to melt cheese onto the patty. If you do not like cheese then you would probably not accept the hamburger with cheese on it.

  8. New retail vs good jobs = chicken vs egg. Which comes first? Employers want a community with vibrancy (see Rise of the Creative Class) and retailers want rooftops with paychecks. One or the other has to get the ball rolling and in our case the retailers have taken the gamble and gotten out there first. After some incentive. None of this will happen overnight. “Quality of life” is a deciding factor for employers considering us over Kyle, Seguin, New Braunfels etc. Sadly, a barometer of quality of life is places to shop, eat & watch movies. So, you fuss over cheapo retail jobs but they are the bait to lure employers.

  9. We’ve had that chicken for decades, Bob. Still waiting to see some ROI, in the form of better jobs for our citizens.

  10. Good schools and safe, quiet neighborhoods are also a barometer of quality of life. Just for sh**s and grins, let’s place some importance on those for awhile and see what it gets us. I know *I* moved here for Abercrombie and Fitch, but I’m a bit of a fashionista. Let’s see if we can’t diversify a bit.

  11. Ted, I would argue that the attractiveness of our retail has been (and still is) lacking and is only now starting to turn around since Red Oak (Sam’s) and Stone Creek. I doubt if the outlet malls would be considered attractive in the same way mainstream retail is. Springtown always looked as if someone tried to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

    There’s a lot of talk about job creation and attracting good employers here at election time. What I’m not seeing specific suggestions for what EDC and/or City of SM should or could have done differently to attract employers.

    Good schools will come when you have more middle and upper income families sending kids into the system and that will happen when we have more employers here and that will happen eventually with or without a goofy slogan. Our evolution is a function of geography more than anything else.

  12. I’m not sure what you are saying re: mainstream retail. People definitely come here for the Outlet Malls. They are one of the top 5 shopping destinations in the world, by many accounts.

    If you are talking about physical attractiveness of our retail (other than the outlet mall), then you are correct about Springtown, but not about Red Oak and Stone Creek. Those are just fresher cookie-cutter strip malls. There *are* attractive ones out there, but those two ain’t them. Sadly, our focus has not been on the appearance of these stores, but simply paying them off to grace us with their presence.

    I can’t say that I have ever seen anything that said Target and Academy attract major employers to an area, nor that they attract the workforce, which then attracts the employers. I have seen plenty that say better schools (we have *plenty* of money for that, we just can’t get past electing people who say it is only a perception problem) and nice neighborhoods (costs us nothing to stop destroying the ones we have) do attract the workforce.

    In fact, it would seem logical to conclude that potential homeowners, who might care about the appearance of Springtown, would care even more about the appearance of the neighborhood they might live in, and of those immediately surrounding it. It would also seem likely that they would care at least as much about where their kids will go to school, as where they will shop.

    The current majority leadership has managed to push through pretty much everything they have wanted (see the other news site’s “Monument to Getting Things Done” commentary), so it seems reasonable to evaluate the results. After all, it has been 5-10 years.

  13. Also, I have got to great lengths in the past, to offer up ideas re: economic development. If I were running for office, or had the day off, I would go through it again. I do agree that there hasn’t been much offered in the way of details from our candidates.

    (sorry for the duplicate post in the other thread – too much running around today)

  14. No denying people come here for the outlet malls but I doubt anyone ever moved here for them. If I put myself inside the head of a person considering moving his/her company to SM or opening a branch in San Marcos. One quesion I would certainly be asking myself is how will my employees react when they see their new potential home for the first time. Being able to get the basics without a 30 minute commute to the big city would be a factor. Red Oak and Stone Creek may not be The Dominion but they’re better than anything else we had before. I think they’re completely servicable.

    I have a specific suggestion and that would be to invest in on/off ramp reconfiguration to add value to I-35 real estate and improve traffic flow. There are too many examples of this to go into all of them but if the north-bound ramps between McCarty and WW were switched the value of the land in between would go up dramatically. TxDot has allowed this and participated in the cost with cities in the past. One of our stigmas is the unattractive development along I-35. There was a corridor overlay plan floated a few months ago but it was very aggresive and I haven’t heard of it since.

  15. I agree that the city looks bad from the highway. It is disappointing that the millions of dollars we offered didn’t buy us anything more than a “serviceable” strip mall. I said then and say now, in agreement with your comments, that we ought to get some say in the appearance of the center, for that price tag. Other communities manage to get attractive centers, with *no* incentives.

    However, I don’t believe that Stone Creek brought us any basics that we were previously driving 30 minutes to get. Nor has there ever been a compelling argument that those basics were going to be lost, had we withheld the incentive money.

    Over the 20 years that I have been here, we have proven that we know retail and rentals, backward and forward. We’ve got them nailed (aesthetics aside). Let’s work on the other pieces of the puzzle for awhile and while we’re at it, let’s work on expanding our expertise in these areas, by perhaps attracting some retail headquarters, or by making our existing “work, live, play” examples work, or by addressing some of the problems that make homeowners so terrified of being on close proximity to rentals.

  16. to Dream Team:

    you are close to being considered an abomination to Guerrero’s Campaign. Engage your brain before you type please.

  17. If San Marcos were a 4B city collecting a penny of sales tax for economic development there would be even more incentives going to retailers and it wouldn’t even be a discussion. We’re hobbled by having dedicated that sales tax revenue to property tax reduction, something that is insignificant to most homeowners. The fact that we have to hash it out in public every time we want to do something puts us at a further disadvantage. I’m one of those that doesn’t automatically call a property tax abatement a grant and I hate to see that economic development tool jeopardized.

    As to the appearance of Stone Creek, Betsy Robertson on P&Z dug her heals in and extracted improvements to the detention/green space. The land development code is quite demanding on landscaping, masonry, etc. It will look much better as it matures and builds out. I think it’s a fair bet that Academy is where they are because of the deal they were made on the site and the deal was possible because of the developer’s lower overhead. Most of the bad design on I-35 pre-dates the current LDC. I’ll say again, I-35 is our cash register in terms of aesthetics and property & sales tax. We need to recognize it as such and plan accordingly without hamstringing the property owners thereon.

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