Steve Ramsey of Ramsey Engineering speaks last week on behalf of the Buie Tract development to the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission. To Ramsey’s left are San Marcos River Foundation Executive Director Dianne Wassenich (in blue) and former City Councilmember Jane Hughson. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
Accusations of underhanded dealings and fears of too many apartment units accompanied yet another recent decision of the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), which voted last week to approve a zoning change in the controversial Buie Tact.
At issue was a 2.23-acre piece of the 174.24-acre Buie Tract. Craddock Avenue Partners LLC (CAP) wants to build on 46.15 acres of the tract, ending up with two- and three-story buildings featuring offices and retail units on the first floors and the same uses plus residential units on the upper floors, for up to 459 units. The Buie Tract is located within the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, near the future Craddock Avenue extension, North Bishop Street and Franklin Drive.
The P&Z voted 4-2 to approve CAP’s request to rezone the 2.23 acres from SF-6 to mixed use. The parcel is on the southwest corner of Craddock Avenue and Bishop Street.
One P&Z commissioner who voted against the rezoning suggested that CAP intentionally nullified the effect of a petition to circumvent a legal requirement for a super majority vote. Another commissioner said he opposed the rezoning because the development calls for too many apartments in an area historically composed of single family residences.
The city planner assigned to the case said CAP’s rezoning request was consistent with the city’s master plan. The planner who recommended approval of the request said the rezoning would allow residents to meet most of their daily needs by allowing nearby commercial amenities to exist.
Three out the six individuals who addressed the P&Z last week expressed opposition to the rezoning. Those opposed were San Marcos River Foundation (SMRF) Executive Director Dianne Wassenich, nearby property owner Camille Phillips and San Marcos resident Rob Roark. Those who expressed support for the rezoning included nearby resident Anita Fuller, CAP Manager Rick Coleman, and Steve Ramsey of Ramsey Engineering. Ramsey spoke on behalf of CAP during the public hearing and Coleman offered testimony when asked by the P&Z.
On May, 28, CAP withdrew the 2.23 acres from its original 12.88-acre zoning request. Had CAP maintained its original request, then a super majority of six votes on the city council would have been required because the owners of 20 percent of the land within a 200-foot radius of the 12.88 acres signed a petition opposing the rezoning. With the amended request of 10.65 acres to be zoned mixed use, the petition only produced opposing owners of 18.04 percent of the land area affected within a 200-foot radius.
“I’m sorry, but it stinks to me,” said P&Z Commissioner Curtis Seebeck. “Man, the timing really was — I mean, the coincidences are just … to me, it looks like an end run around the rules.”
CAP representatives maintained they did not know 20 percent of landowners had signed the petition at the time they pulled the 2.23 acres from their original rezoning application. CAP representatives said they scaled down their request as a courtesy to residents of the nearby Grant Court neighborhood. CAP pulled the 2.23 acres on May 28 before the council considered the rezoning on June 1.
“I’m having a hard time buying that they didn’t have any clue that it wasn’t at the 20 percent level yet … I’m just not seeing it, I’m not buying it,” Seebeck said. “I won’t be able to vote for this.”
On June 1, Councilmembers Gaylord Bose and John Thomaides cast the only votes against CAP’s scaled down rezoning request.
Rick Coleman, who co-owns the Buie Tract, told the P&Z that city staff told him on May 28 that the percentage of signatures for the 12.88-acre piece was only 17 or 18 percent at the time when he pulled 2.33 acres out of the proposal. Coleman added that CAP attempted to speak with neighboring property owners with individual letters and an invitation to meet at Palmer’s Restaurant, Bar & Courtyard, but only two people showed up.
“We did not know until like 6:30 at night (on June 1) — when some other petitions were brought in here, it was told to us that they had over 20 percent,” Coleman said. “But that was not known until the petitions were sent here at 6:30 Tuesday night. So, I don’t know about underhanded stuff. I’m telling you how it came down to us. That’s exactly how it was. On Friday, when we did this, it was either 17 or 18 percent, it was not 20 percent. We thought all the petitions were in. So, I don’t know what else to say.”
On May 25, Nelson informed P&Z commissioners that the petition against re-zoning the 12.88 acre parcel had signatures amounting to “19-point zero some percent” of nearby property owners.
“There may have been maneuvering, there may not have been maneuvering — on both sides,” said P&Z Commissioner Bill Taylor. “The fact is, this is a busy intersection. Nobody’s going to want to have a single family residence there. It needs to be some type of commercial and I would like us to look past … bickering on this.”
At its May 25 meeting, the P&Z voted 8-1 to approve the rezoning change for the 12.88-acre parcel. CAP had to resubmit the 2.23-acre parcel to P&Z for rezoning after amending the original request, of which city staff had recommended approval. P&Z Commissioner Sherwood Bishop cast the lone vote against rezoning the 12.88 acres on May 25.
Bishop said the P&Z already had approved “a huge number of apartments” for the tract, jeopardizing the integrity of a neighborhood that has long been based on single-family residences.
“There seems to be far too much density,” Bishop said. “It’s an area where people have been buying their homes for years and bought them because they wanted to be living in single family residential areas. And now putting in this one huge apartment complex in there … tremendously changes the whole nature of the neighborhood and adds a huge amount to the density to the neighborhood.”
City of San Marcos Senior Planner Sofia Nelson told the P&Z that the 2.33 acres’ future land use designation is already mixed use. Nelson said the sector plan and master plan specify a neighborhood commercial service area for that part of the city.
“As a property owner in the Franklin Square neighborhood, I welcome this type of development that will potentially provide businesses within walking distance,” Fuller said during last Tuesday’s public hearing on the issue. “It is time for all of us citizens to embrace what the industry calls ‘lifestyle centers’ and allow our neighborhoods the opportunity to express the concept of ‘live, work, play.’”
P&Z Commissioners Chris Wood, Jim Stark, Jude Prather, and Bill Taylor voted for the rezoning last week. P&Z Commissioners Travis Kelsey, Randy Bryan and Bucky Couch were absent.