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.
By ANDY SEVILLA
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.Email | Print