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

October 13th, 2010
Carma pulls concept plan change for Blanco Vista

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Carma Texas Development Manager Walt Elias, far right, discusses the Blanco Vista development with Blanco Vista residents at Blanco Vista Elementary School in September. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

Carma Texas withdrew its request for a concept plan amendment allowing more townhomes and more centrally located mixed uses last week.

The developer is likely to replace that request with proposal to operate a Planned Development District (PDD) at the request of city officials, who have argued that a PDD would afford more flexibility.

Blanco Vista residents have mostly hailed the latest move, the third shift by Carma Texas regarding the project.

At a Sept. 14 meeting of the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) Carma representatives requested a concept plan amendment involving an increase from 180 to 900 allowable multi-family units. Carma also asked that multi-family uses and commercial uses be allowed in more places, and asked that the current 70-unit cap on allowable townhomes be removed.

Commissioners deferred the issue to Sept. 28, by which time Carma scaled down its proposal, asking that that the city approve an increase of allowable townhomes from 70 to 450 and an increase of allowable multi-family units from 180 to 450 units.

“We are looking at some alternatives and will be back in front of the community and the city — city staff and the city government — to evaluate the master-planned community at Blanco Vista,” Carma Development Manager Walt Elias said last week. “We’re committed to the community and we’re committed to San Marcos, and we will better the community with involvement from all parties.”

In letters to the city and two additional public meetings in the last month, Blanco Vista residents overwhelmingly opposed allowing more multi-family units in more portions of the development. Residents opposed to more multi-family units said more tenants would lead to increases in traffic, crime, and safety hazards, especially for children.

“We are hoping we can come to a compromise with Carma to help get to their goals and preserve the single family neighborhood that we were promised when we built here,” said Blanco Vista resident Scott Dodson.

Dodson said attendees of Blanco Vista’s recent National Night Out took an informal vote on their neighborhood’s future.

“Seventy-five percent of the people there wanted no apartments in the development,” Dodson said.

Blanco Vista lies on about 575 acres just north of the Blanco River near Five Mile Dam Park. The nixed concept plan amendment would have made 242 acres of Blanco Vista eligible for future multi-family units or townhomes. Blanco Vista is zoned mixed use, but multi-family units are currently restricted to a wooded, 50.5-acre hill in the northwestern corner of Blanco Vista.

Several Blanco Vista residents said nothing they read and no one they spoke to told them apartments would be allowed in the subdivision before they bought their homes. At least 13 people who wrote to the P&Z made the same claim.

An elementary school and about 102 homes have been built at Blanco Vista, which opened just as the housing market crashed in 2008. The density of Blanco Vista is currently limited to a maximum of 4.9 units per acre, or 2,060 units.

Elias told P&Z commissioners weeks ago that the 50.5-acre tract is not an appropriate location for multi-family uses because it is furthest away from roads and utility infrastructure and the most difficult place to build.

“We don’t know if (Carma is) just going to utilize the entitlements that they are allowed to under the current master plan or if they are going to submit a PDD (application for a Planned Development District) or what, quite yet,” said San Marcos Senior Planner Sofia Nelson. “It sounds like they were leaning towards a PDD, but they haven’t submitted anything official yet.”

On Sept. 28, the P&Z indicated its preference for Carma to submit a PDD for Blanco Vista rather than pursue the concept plan amendment. PDDs are intended to allow closer collaboration between the city and developers. Elias declined to indicate whether his company intends to submit a PDD.

Said Dodson to Blanco Vista residents and others in an Oct. 5 email: “We will appoint a team of home owners to meet with Carma, its developers, and perhaps City staff to come up with a preliminary plan. The preliminary plan will be presented to the home owners for comments. The plan will be adjusted to best accommodate the needs of Carma, and the desires of the home owners. Revised plans will be presented to the home owners at a follow up meeting – Carma hopes to have 90% of home owners agree with the plans. The final PPD plans will be presented to the City.”

Dodson said those statements resulted from a combination of discussions between himself and Blanco Vista resident Chance Sparks, letters to him from Carma, conversations between Sparks and Carma, and e-mails Dodson exchanged with City of San Marcos Interim Director of Development Services Matthew Lewis. Sparks is a former planning employee of the City of San Marcos.

At the Sept. 28 P&Z meeting, P&Z Commissioner Jim Stark told Blanco Vista residents they would do well to make good use Sparks’ knowledge of the development process.

On Sept. 21, Elias told nearly 100 Blanco Vista residents gathered at the neighborhood’s elementary school that he hopes any future multi-family units will be isolated by restricting such uses to the north side of Yarrington Road/future FM 110, on the northeastern tip of the development. In that scenario, all single-family homes would be south of Yarrington Road/FM 110.

Virtually every homeowner at Blanco Vista attended the Sept. 28 P&Z meeting, where they overwhelmingly opposed the requested concept plan amendment. The city council chambers and lobby, crowded with people during the meeting, virtually emptied after commissioners decided to postpone action on the request until December.

Nelson said the 50.5-acre tract where multi-family uses are currently allowed — Tract F — could include traditional-style apartments to a maximum of 180 units. Nelson said she does not know how apartments in that tract would affect surrounding single family residents.

“(Carma) would have to do a traffic impact analysis to show if additional roads would be necessary than what has already been planned,” Nelson said. “That is one thing the city would look at. The developer has already said publicly that that was sort of a bad place for a multi-family, and that maybe that was a bad choice that they had made in the past about allowing only multi-family in that location. So, it would be highly unlikely that they would develop that property as multi-family. But, that being said, it is permitted under tract F.”

At the Sept. 21 meeting with Blanco Vista residents, Elias apologized for not notifying them before requesting a concept plan amendment.

At the P&Z meeting on Sept. 14, Lewis said Blanco Vista’s current concept plan has resulted in administrative problems for the city and Carma. Nelson said the current concept plan does not provide enough predictability for the city or Blanco Vista residents. On Sept. 28, Nelson told P&Z commissioners that city staff prefers a PDD in Blanco Vista’s case.

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11 thoughts on “Carma pulls concept plan change for Blanco Vista

  1. That damn Planning and Zoning Commission NEVER does anything good for the neighborhoods and only cares about developers! 🙂

  2. the current concept plan does not provide enough predictability for the city or Blanco Vista residents.

    And Carma’s now we want to change , now we don’t, now we don’t have a clue, oops we forgot what we’re doing offers the homeowner/citizen/taxpayers who bought homes there predictability?

  3. P&Z had nothing to do with this. This was “we the people” (or if you prefer ” they the homeowners”) banding together and making their voices heard. THEY made Carma back off, not P&Z. It amazes me that Carma ever thought that they would get anything but that kind of reaction….maybe they really did think they could sneak this through?

  4. The fat lady may not have sung, but it certainly looks like the homeowners are on-course to write the opera she’ll be singing. P&Z provided the opportunity for organization by stopping the action initially (a crisis of conscience?), and deserves some credit for that. The homeowners deserve credit for organizing in such a short period and staying keenly focused in their commentary & concerns. Carma grossly underestimated the abilities and resouces of the homeowners.

  5. Sorry Dano, but there were a couple of commissioners who questioned Carma’s plan at the very first meeting. If they had not questioned it, it would have just sailed right on through and P&Z was the final say on that one.

  6. Come on Eric. 90 angry people packing city hall at an overflowing P&Z meeting had nothing to do with influencing this decision? Go ahead, keep ticking off the citizens with trying to ram through stuff without communication ahead of time. We The People are watching, and reacting….finally.

    (BTW Winchester, the same “we don’t have a clue” developer is now on track to break ground at the south end of our city, with that wonderful new golf course you wanted. maybe you should go ahead and put down your deposit on a home site there…)

  7. There weren’t 90 angry people at that first meeting when it went to P&Z. See “Carma seeks concept plan change for Blanco Vista” on 9/16/2010 on this very website. http://www.newstreamz.com/2010/09/16/carma-seeks-concept-plan-change-for-blanco-vista/

    From that article: “You’ve got 102 people that bought into a community and now plans are changing on them,” Seebeck said. “No offense to Carma, but they claim it as a master-planned community. How can you have a master-planned community if the plan changes? … If I was living in that neighborhood, and I was thinking there would be a maximum of … 70 townhomes and 180 units of what’s there, and now we’re seeing a maximum of 900 multi-family units and an unlimited number of townhomes … I would be pretty ticked-off at this commission that approved that.” P&Z Commissioner Travis Kelsey concurred with Seebeck’s statement. [Randy] Bryan then suggested that Blanco Vista residents be notified of the possible impending changes to the development’s concept plan. Bryan said he knows people living at Blanco Vista who are concerned that only 102 homes have been sold, and said they would like to see the development be successful.

    There wasn’t a single Blanco Vista homeowner at that 9/14/2010 P&Z meeting, because none of them knew this was even going on. The P&Z’s action to postpone allowed that article to be published on Newstreamz, where it was subsequently picked-up by the Blanco Vista homeowners. They organized in a matter of only a few days and effectively “checked” the developer. If I were other neighborhoods (or developers) in San Marcos, I’d be watching closely to see how the homeowners were able to effectively take control of the situation and how they work out a resolution. How this pans out is going to reveal a lot about this city and its various stakeholder groups.

  8. Find just one post of mine Rob where I favored Paso Robles in particlular, and any golf course in general.

    Apolgy accepted.

  9. Yep, CWS is right, at least the way I remember it on TV. I don’t recall any residents even speaking out against it at the very first meeting. Maybe there was a couple but I don’t completely recall. Of course on TV you can not see who all is in the crowd so maybe there were “90 angry people” there being real quite!

  10. cws,

    I’ll grant the point the P&Z at least deserves the credit for tabling the decision long enough to let homeowners organize. BUT, the entire P&Z wasn’t on board with that decision. The vote tally (to my knowledge) wasn’t disclosed, but Curtis alluded to such in one of his comments on the thread.

    We have people on the P&Z board whose overriding response to citizen concerns seems to be “sit down and shut up because we know what’s best for you” and “let the developers do what they want”. I’m just glad that – at least occasionally – Seebeck, Kelsey, and Bryan can bring the others along.

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