by BRAD ROLLINS and SEAN BATURA
Facing droves of opposition, a split Planning & Zoning Commission late Tuesday night declined 4-4 to recommend approval of a zoning change a developer needs to build a $63 million luxury apartment complex across the street from Texas State University.
Within minutes, the same panel voted 3-5 not to deny the request outright, either, leaving the Darren Casey proposal alive headed into tonight’s San Marcos City Council meeting.
“Gentlemen, we are unable to make any decisions tonight,” P&Z chair Bill Taylor said, nicely summing up the outcome of a nearly six hour long meeting. At peak attendance, more than 100 people packed council chambers and the City Hall lobby in a preview of what is certain to be a raucous city council meeting this evening.
Backers of the 420-unit, 1,008-bed development say it would be an distinctive landmark on the edge of a booming university. Current plans call for 15,000 square feet of retail spaces arranged around an outdoor commons area and top-shelf amenities such a rooftop gardens and a courtyard swimming pool.
Opposition is arrayed across several fronts including concerns over encroachment on nearby neighborhoods zoned for single family use, the general proliferation of apartments in town and the addition of more traffic to curvy, hilly Sessom Drive. But the project’s detractors have gotten the most traction with environmental concerns about major construction on a steep hillside descending to Sessom Creek. Less than a mile downhill, the creek feeds into the San Marcos River headwaters at Spring Lake.
The San Marcos River Foundation, which until this week has been notably noncommittal on the proposal, added to the chorus of opposition shortly before Tuesday’s P&Z meeting with release of an engineer’s statement that said proposed stormwater retention would not be enough to stop downstream erosion and the introduction of pollutants into the creek.
Taylor was joined by commissioner Bucky Couch, Chris Wood and Kenneth Ehlers in voting for the planned development district with amendments that included additional pedestrian crossing safety signals and requiring Casey to post a performance bond against environmental damage to Sessom Creek and the river. Commissioners Sherwood Bishop, Randy Bryan, Travis Kelsey and Curtis Seebeck voted against. Carter Morris recused himself from the vote and discussion because he is the real estate broker representing Casey and the five homeowners whose properties would make up the 14.3 acre site.
At least two of the commissioners who voted against the project, Seebeck and Bryan, suggested they could be persuaded to change their mind given more time and information. It may not matter, however, since the city council could decide the issue today. Because the council’s regular twice monthly meeting would have fallen on Dec. 20, the week of Christmas, the panel voted months ago to move the meeting to Dec. 14. Consequently, the Casey proposal is up for council consideration the day after being voted on by the P&Z, city staff said in explanation of the back-to-back votes.
Casey’s zoning change and planned development district, as currently composed, will need six of 7 council votes for passage today. Opponents of the project gathered signatures from owners of slightly more than 20 percent of property that falls within 200 feet of the Casey project perimeter. This invokes an element of city law that requires a supermajority on council for approval although developers have circumvented the roadblock in the past.
If council for some reason does not vote, Casey may find it even harder to win passage early next year. John Thomaides, who has been critical of a quick decision on the Casey project, will take office as soon as votes are canvassed for Tuesday’s council runoff election.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a developing story. It is likely to be updated throughout the day and tomorrow.
» Proposed conceptual site plan [pdf]