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

October 5th, 2010
P&Z approves Windemere variance for narrow road


Left frame: San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commissioners Bill Taylor, Curtis Seebeck and Sherwood Bishop. Right frame: Windemere Ranch owner Vince Wood. Photos by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

San Marcos Planning and Zoning commissioners (P&Z) voted last week to allow Windemere landowners a narrow collector road for a 235-acre residential development adjacent to Spring Lake Tuesday night, juicing a project that has stalled for more than a year.

The 5-1 vote will enable the Windemere developers to utilize a 47-feet-wide collector road, rather than the 60 feet of width required in the city’s Land Development Code (LDC).

City of San Marcos Planner John Foreman said the smaller portion of right of way would not result in a narrower curb-to-curb paved section of roadway. The proposed road would connect Lime Kiln Road with the Windemere development.

Four people who addressed the P&Z last week opposed the current plans for the Windemere Ranch tract and two people voiced support for them. The two who voiced support for the development included Windemere owner Vince Wood and real estate developer Robert McDonald, the latter of whom was hired to develop the property. Wood and Foreman agreed that unless the P&Z granted the variance, Windemere could not be developed because there is no other point of access to the proposed subdivision.

Those who voiced opposition included nearby residents Paul Geiger and Jane Hughson, San Marcos River Foundation (SMRF) Executive Director Dianne Wassenich, and San Marcos resident Steve Harvey. Geiger, Hughson and Wassenich cited water quality reasons for their opposition to any development of the Windemere tract.

“By attempting to halt the variance, their hope is they halt the development, and I simply don’t think that’s an equitable solution,” McDonald said. “The owners of this property are entitled to be able to develop (Windemere) in a responsible manner. And as I mentioned earlier, this is simply the first of many, many steps in the development process. There will be ample opportunity to raise additional concerns and deal with them as they come up from an environmental and engineering perspective.”

The proposed Windemere development has been controversial due to its proximity to Sink Creek and the San Marcos Springs, its location entirely within the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, and because Wood and Windemere co-owner Rob Haug had planned for the city to either buy or seize Geiger’s adjoining property for a road to the subdivision.

“We don’t feel that this is a lovely place for a subdivision,” Wassenich said. “Sink Creek pours straight into Spring Lake. This subdivision, the building of it, the building of that road, will damage Spring Lake seriously. So, we are not in favor of doing anything to make it possible to build this. It’s in a very bad location to be built if we want to continue to have good water quality.”

The P&Z’s action last week had the support of Foreman, who recommended approval of the variance with certain conditions. Foreman told P&Z commissioners that the Haug and Wood’s request for an exception to the LDC met the legal requirements for the granting of such a variance. City of San Marcos Interim Director of Development Services Matthew Lewis told P&Z commissioners they could legally deny the variance, though he did not make that recommendation.

The P&Z approved last week’s variance on the condition that no more than 74 lots use the road as their sole point of access to Windemere. Another condition of approval is that the property cannot not be developed more densely than specified in the concept plan. The concept plan specifies 75 dwelling units for the development. Another condition tagged to approval of the variance is that a portion of the proposed road within the 100-year floodplain must be improved with a bridge-type structure.

The P&Z’s action last week came after the city refused to condemn Geiger’s land for a road wide enough for a 108-foot divided boulevard. The LDC requires developments of 75 or more units to have two points of access. The divided boulevard would have satisfied that requirement.

After Geiger refused to sell land for the road and the city refused to condemn his property, Haug and Wood submitted a variance request to allow the development of 75 or more lots with only one point of access. After nearby residents and the San Marcos Fire Department objected to only one point of access to Windemere, and Foreman recommended disapproval of the variance, Haug and Wood withdrew the variance request and scaled down their plans.

Foreman said the developers’ current plans for Windemere would require a zoning change, though he said such a rezoning would be consistent with the city’s master plan.

P&Z Commissioner Jim Stark more than once voiced disappointment that Geiger had not sold some of his property to Haug and Wood to accommodate the proposed road to Windemere.

“I just hate that we’re in the position to have to make this decision,” Stark said.

P&Z Commissioner Jude Prather made the motion to approve the variance request. P&Z Commissioner Sherwood Bishop cast the sole vote against the variance. Bishop said the portion of the road in the 100-year floodplain along Sink Creek would susceptible to flooding, which would impair access to and from the development. P&Z Commissioner Chris Wood voiced disagreement with Bishop’s reasoning.

“It is our vision for this tract to create an estate lot subdivision containing approximately 74 lots … In essence, a one-to-two-acre spacing,” McDonald said. “In other words, about as low a density as we could possibly hope for. As Vince mentioned, we anticipate working completely within the existing environmental and engineering ordinances. We don’t anticipate requiring any variance from those. The objections that were largely expressed relate to off-site issues. Certainly some will have to be addressed during the development of this tract, but many don’t pertain to this property.”

P&Z Commissioners Wood, Stark, Prather, Curtis Seebeck, and Bill Taylor voted for the variance. P&Z Commissioners Travis Kelsey, Randy Bryan and Bucky Couch were absent.

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43 thoughts on “P&Z approves Windemere variance for narrow road

  1. Build it. Build it responsibly and connect it to Craddock. This part of town could use a few more homeowners.

  2. Frankly, it is disturbing how easily one can predict P&Z and Council votes, on many issues, well before any of the details which should be driving those decisions are even discussed.

    If only I could bet on it in Vegas…

  3. Mr. McDonald, you are correct, your client has a right to develop their property, within the guidelines they knew were in place when they purchased it. What is not equitable is your clients attempt to use condemnation to get their project approved. Ever heard of clean hands? Your client doesn’t have them.

  4. Cause I gotta feeling…..Yeah Tonights gonna be a good night. Tonights gonna be a good night…….oooooh yeah
    cmon council Is it in open seession or light session behind doors tonight

  5. Commissioner Stark, ever heard of property rights? You know, the property right to not sell your land to someone else. There are lots of reasons to NOT sell your land. The price isn’t right. The proposed use doesn’t appeal to you. The purchase is a jerk. You don’t need/want to. And Commissioner Stark, if you don’t like the position a taxpaying citizen puts you in when they elect to enforce their right to not sell their property, resign.

  6. “P&Z Commissioner Jim Stark more than once voiced disappointment that Geiger had not sold some of his property to Haug and Wood to accommodate the proposed road to Windemere”

    …because he’s not a push-over? We should be proud to have such people owning such property. I know I am. And condemnation? They should be ashamed.

  7. Dream Team (or whatever variation you are using today) –

    Just wanted to let you know that computers these days have spelling and grammar check. You might want to do a little research on these in case you wanted to look somewhat credible when posting an opinion.

    Oh sorry, fed the troll again…

  8. I’m in agreeance with others here about property rights, and the right to keep property you own because you don’t want it to be developed. I’m disappointed Mr. Stark hasn’t sold them any of his private property to develop.

    I agree with Ted that this side of town needs some developing, and I agree that Craddock and Lime Kiln/Hilliard need another access point, but we have to be careful here in San Marcos, and especially this close to the springs because of the impact a development like this can have on our ecosystem. I’m no tree-hugging hippie, but this river is by far our most important natural resource here, and has been for tens of thousands of years and we should strive to maintain or better it. When people raise their eyebrows and voice concern is a good thing, it shows we all care and actually put thought into this.

  9. This side of town does NOT need to be developed. San Marcos needs to grow east, not west. It’s in the Master Plan that way for a reason.

  10. Which master plan are you looking at Chris, because the maps I am looking at show very low density residential and a connector road. You’re right though, *it is in there that way for a reason*. Blanket objections to all development are where the “no growth” label comes from and I can’t say that it is entirely unfounded.

  11. .
    I always wondered why builders, developers, and realtors make up P & Z boards. Kinda like the wolf watching the chicken coop…

  12. There is more to come in this saga. The TIRZ details, for one. And, treated wastewater for massive irrigation, that book is not closed, either. Let them build it right, and on their own dime, that’s how I feel about it.

  13. Clarification, my point on “more to come” was directed to the Paso Robles rabbit trail. All of the sudden, I just remembered this article is on Windemere. Ah, one of those senior moments, and I’m only 53 years young!

  14. “I always wondered why builders, developers, and realtors make up P & Z boards. Kinda like the wolf watching the chicken coop…”

    It would help if you had your facts straight…

    Sherwood Bishop–Economics Professor
    Curtis Seebeck–Home Builder
    Bill Taylor–Insurance Agent
    Randy Bryant–Preacher
    Jude Prather–Not sure but certainly not a builder, Realtor, or developer
    Chris Wood–Partner in a home building company
    Jim Stark–Insurance Agent
    Bucky Couch–Not sure but certainly not a builder, Realtor, or developer
    Travis Kelsey–Downtown bar owner

    I see 2 Builders out of a total of 9 members. Quite the opposite of what you imply in your post, Hugh. Get your facts straight before looking stupid!

  15. I would sure like to know when all their terms end. Don’t they have term limits? I tried to get this info out of the city clerks office, but know one would tell me. We have a handful of people in this community that actually have the experience to be on this board, but for some reason they can never get approval from the council. It seems to me that the council puts their friends or business partners on this board.

    Can we PLEASE put some experience on this board?

  16. I would suggest two things. First, having two insurance agents on a nine person board is a highly unusual percentage for one profession in a community the size of SM. Second, insurance agents have a vested interest in more development, more clients, hence at least a perception of conflict of interest.

  17. Any person who is in business for himself has a vested interest in more devlopment, more clients. We seem to be losing sight of the fact that after all is said and done Windemire is being limited to a very low density development. Unless you are actually suggesting we use tax payer dollars to buy this land, this is the best outcome we could have hoped for.

  18. Larry, please read some of my other posts, condemnation in order to develop this property is obscene, not just a waste of taxpayer dollars for the benifit of a few. As for growth being good for business, sure is; how about just sticking with the laws that were in place when the property was purchased? I realize that’s a hard concept for developers to grasp, but I can assure you, there was a feasablilty study period in their contract. Either they didn’t do their homework, shame on them. They thought the city would condemn the land required for access, shame on theme and the city if that had happened. Or they knew P&Z would caze in, shame on P&Z.

  19. The whole point of this article was that they gave the variance to the roadway width so they would not have to condem the land for right a way. And after trying to get the city to allow them to put a dense development on this tract, the developer was forced to concede that it is only good for large lot develpment. I am all for limiting development over the recharge zone, but we can not stop devlopment over the recharge zone.

  20. I don’t have a clue what folks are bitching about. The road itself is the same width as it is supposed to be. The city just has a section where the right of way is a little narrower so they have less to maintain. The P&Z did a fantastic job, as far as I am concerned. The did not give in to higher density and forced the developer to stick with what is on the master plan. If the P&Z had said no, then the property would sit dormant until Craddock was extended through the property and then they would have all the access they needed for a MUCH HIGHER density subdivision. The criteria for the variance was met according to the LDC, one of which has something to do with the shape or layout of the land provides a hardship for the reasonable use of the land. This property certainly meets that criteria.

  21. I agree with Eric. Single-family homes on 1-2 acre lots would be a blessing. Hopefully there will be buyers for the homes. If not, an empty Blanco Vista, Paso Robles and Windmere might bring the force of the developers to bear on City Council re: *real* job growth and we know Council listens to the developers.

  22. Personal responsability anyone? The developers knew before they purchased the land it did not qualify for subdivison. They made a poor, but well informed choice to buy this land. Tough. Live with it. If they are that stupid, it;’s going to crash and burn in not time. It’s like they want to run a bus service and buy a Yugo.

  23. Winchester, the guy who owned it before them could have just as easily applied for the variance himself and got it. Or the guy before him. Or the guys before him. The point is, whomever owned it was having their property rights greatly reduced due to poor planning and dividing from previous years. THE ONLY VARIANCE requested and granted was to reduce the ROW by 15′ I believe and the variance met all the criteria for a variance under the LDC. Why even have variances if you are only going to bitch and moan when someone wants to use them?

  24. But the simple fact of the matter is, they did not. Too bad there was poor planning in the past. The fact remains the current owners either failed during the feasibility study or expected P&Z to cave.

  25. Winchester, a city can not put so many restictions on a peice of land that it renders it undevlopable. This is called a regulatory taking, and it has benn ruled unconstitutional. If this variance had not been granted the city would have been telling this devloper he can not develop his land, period. This would have opened this city up to litigation.

  26. Mr. Rasco,
    Do you think that a court would really hear that case. What if I bought a parcel of land that could only fit “X” number of houses do to set backs and other restrictions, but since I want to get the most bang for my buck I go to P&Z and ask for a variance in order for me to build more densely. They (P&Z) would most likely say no and then I could scream regulatory take? The courts would probably say to build within the guidelines of the ordinances that I was aware of during the time of purchase. Do you think the county receives notice for litigation when they say you can only put so many houses on a tract of land do to sanitation/septic issues? No. I do not think this is regulatory take. The developer new this when they signed the purchaser’s/seller’s agreement. If any of this was hidden from them then they really should take the seller to court and not the city. The city does not have to grant a variance and the city just can’t condemn land for developers. That is unconstitutional…

  27. Probably wouldn’t be a regulatory taking as codes like this have been ruled reasonable time and time again. If you wish to discuss the regulatory taking issue, how about SM’s SOB code? Bottom line the property is not undevelopable, just not the way they wish to do it. Tough. This developer didn’t do their homework, shame on them. As for the seller, he doesn’t warrant the intended use or development of the property

  28. Let’s take it a little farther. The 60′ ROW is pretty much standard, hence reasonable. It was in place prior to the developer’s purchase. Being developers, they will be charged with a higher degree of knowledge than if it was just Joe Citizen. They will not win a takings lawsuit. But they can threaten. And the City could cave in. Makes them really nice guys, and the City should be proud of caving in.

    BTW everyone should check out this particluar deveolpers action regarding the land they used to own next to Jacob’s Well, super nice guys, about one rung up the ladder from KB.

  29. Asking for a narrower ROW for the same curb-to-curb width of roadway is a far cry from the usual “We bought single-family land, but we just can’t develop it unless it is rezoned for commercial and/or multi-family.”

    If we were in the habit of approving variances like this, and denying things like the Buie Tract debacle and the coming Blanco Vista mess, I’d be a fairly happy citizen.

  30. 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.

  31. Rr. Marchut, comparing those is like comparing apples to armadillos.

    The proposed Windemere isn’t bad, not great but not bad. Problem is that the developer knew full well it didn’t qualify for their intended use, shame on them. They failed to acquire more property, shame on them again. The idea of condemnation is floated, shame on them and the City. Now comes a variance request, shame on them and the City again.

    Blanco Vista is a case of the developer failing to see the economic downturn and trying to salvage a failing development. I have a tad of sympathy. Until they started trying to hose everyone who purchased property under the existing development plan. Lawsuits on the horizon. And of course it cast a giant shadow over Paso Robles.

  32. So given the Blanco Vista situation, what makes you think Windemere won’t come back and ask for a change? Better to stop it before it starrts.

  33. I have nothing to make me think it, other than a 75 home community in this part of town seems much less ambitious than those other projects. Blanco Vista is already built out beyond the size of this proposed development.

    That being said, I would strongly object to any Blanco Vista style changes down the road. Sadly, the current trend indicates that the objections would be ignored. That doesn’t change things in my mind. The right thing to do, is still the right thing to do, and I believe the right thing to do, in this case, is to allow the variance, so that the development can move forward.

    You are certainly welcome to disagree.

  34. ” Sadly, the current trend indicates that the objections would be ignored.”

    Therein is the problem. I agree the right thing to do is the right thing to do; but it’s now the fool me once shame on you, and this is at least the second fool me, and I opt to not have the shame fall on me.

    Again, Windemere isn’t bad, not great, but not bad. Given the history, at least of P&Z and the Council, I don’t have a lot of faith that what is being promised will be done.

    If our disagreements are limited to this issue Sir, I can live with that.

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