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]
» San Marcos River Foundation’s engineer report [pdf] Email | Print
I find it very interesting that at the same meeting, just a little before many of the city officials claimed their support for this huge project they denied approval of a change to TWO houses on Craddick from single family to mixed-use, utilizing the logic that this could cause harm to the neighborhood. The points made here seemed reasonable and well thought out. Indeed, there was a pretty good discussion about how the code needed to be systemically altered to allow for exceptions such as this.
Tell me please then, how can one possibly hold that stance in the case of two small houses and then turn around and approve a stinking mall against what is clearly some pretty outraged, sizable, and heterogeneous citizen opposition? I guess there is more danger of harm to the neighborhood from these two houses than said giant project? That makes perfect sense. Either they are incredibly inconsistent or incredibly illogical. I can see no other way to explain this. Maybe follow the money trail?
As a P&Z Commissioner, I would like to sincerely thank the public for coming out to last night’s meeting. I would like to ESPECIALLY thank everyone for their courteous demeanor and decorum. This was a contentious subject at the meeting and we were expecting some potential outbreaks and disruptions but they simply did not occur. Everyone acted VERY professional and respectful of everyone in the room and I know that myself and my fellow commissioners sincerely appreciate that. THANK YOU!
The developers keep describing this upscale destination development. Let’s remember that at one time, The Shalamar (now State Flats) was a top-of-the-line modern apartment complex that looked great inside and out and Bracewood Circle had safe, family duplexes that many would be proud to call home. What legacy will we be leaving our children (who the City Council professes to want to keep in the city) if they have a huge eye-sore that is falling down with crumbling parking lots and failing underground retention ponds ruining our precious River? This type of development in this neighborhood on the edge of the river is just not worth it.
I think Brad and Sean did a great job of summarizing this important debate. You hit all of the high points!
The Statesman posted an article about the City Council meeting last night. Note that Ryan Thomason was the only member who voted against delaying the vote.
So where’s the Mercury story?
I have a question, does anyone know where all the run off from apartments on N. LBJ goes? Directly to the river through the lower section of Sessoms Creek. I can understand how all of the opponents feel about this issue,I grew up in San Marcos in one of the houses on the property where development is planned, my parents still live there. With TSU campus closing in on their property, the actual marketability of their property has decreased due to that ever increasing incrouchment of university property. My grandfather built that house back in the 40’s when the unversity was much smaller. Across Sessoms used to be several homes as well as homes around Live Oak, they are now gone swallowed up by the university, My parents do not want that to happen to them, nor do I. If this development is not apporoved the university will eventually take over. People have noted recently that the property is not in TSU’s 5year plan. Maybe not 5 years, but it is in there plan. My father is very happy that this current development retains the majority of his property as “green space”, as a park when it is completed. If the university takes the land there will be no opposition from community that will stop them, and that “green space” will be a 6 story wall of a dorm in the backyard of some residents. I urge residents to look at this from all sides with the facts, not propaganda. Listen to the current property owners that currently reside there as well and look at there side as well. Take your time and look at the proposal yourself, look at the reality around the area, see what is across Sessoms from Loquat now, and what could be there this development or 6 story dorm like the one across Sessoms. Make YOUR own conclusions by YOUR own research of the facts.
Hellllllllo ? JLB
Thanks Shane for bringing a voice of reason amongst all of the rhetoric.
The thing with the river is being way overblown here – as it usually is when development in San Marcos is the topic. People will *always* be able to find a report from some river-centric special interest group that will show that a particular development will have a “negative impact on the river.” These folks will then proceed to hang their hats on that report as their justification for opposing growth.
But you hit the nail on the head. The properties in this area weren’t always on the edge of campus, but they are now. That means that they will soon be on the hot list for campus expansion. If we don’t come up with a plan for private development on this land now, we’ll soon see the decision taken out of our hands and the University will take yet another prime piece of real estate off of the tax rolls forever. A project like this makes *perfect* sense for this area due to its proximity to campus.
And another park makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. We have tons of park space in this town already – and they sit, under-utilized and poorly maintained because our City already doesn’t have the resources to keep them up. What on Earth would we need more for?
It will be a private preserve, not a public park that will be a burden to the taxpayers! ANGELS OF SAN MARCOS, TX ; NATURE, WILDLIFE AND EDUCATIONAL PRESERVE LLC . http://www.protectsmtx.org Have a nice day, be nice to your pets and all the other critters of Gods creation, even the mean spirited 2-legged ones! Sincerly, Jaimy L. Breihan
You’re going to come up with $7 million (Mr. Seebeck commented that he thought this was mentioned as the proposed sale price) to buy this property just so you can leave it empty forever?
Sorry, but I would rather not see that. A wildlife preserve can’t really be effective in an area that has already had so much developed around it, can it?
Let’s not forget that Mr. Casey still has this land under contract. No one else is going to do anything with it unless Mr. Casey decides to bail on the contract. From what I hear, he is still planning to take down the land and complete the contract. I sure hope he does not decide to donate it to TSU!
Dano you are correct, A wildlife reserve surrounded by home and a 35k student population is in no way an effective solution. Might as well trap all the animals you can and put them in your 1/4 acre fenced backyard, cause that is effect what you would be doing at that point. Current deer population in said development site is approx 100 to 150. way too many for the space. My father and mother have trapped and relocated close to 40 racoons this year alone. The animals already have no where to go and populations of them are currently at risk of health issues to lack of food, water and inbreeding. Not to mention the risk of them getting run over by vehicles on the roads.
@ Shane and Dano…. Yes, exactly why a professionally managed wildlife preserve is exactly what needs to be done with this canyon! They wer here first, and many of the problems are now becoming undeniably clear, as a result of OVER DEVELOPEMENT of our natural habitat! Yes, sometimes dreams start out with just a cry of the heart, and end up becoming a reality that makes our world a better place for all of creation! I think God was a pretty good designer, no doubt! 😉 Jaimy L. Breihan
SO , Shane, how is completely destroying over 2/3 of the land going to help the wildlife situation, might I ask? Will it help to destroy the wildlife quicker, so humanity will forget that they ever existed? Just currious, how clear cutting 10 acres of land will better the situation in the canyon? I think preserving it is the logical solution, just as your wonderful family has done for decades, admirably to be certain! I think many of your views are simply a result of $$$$ in the hopes of your heart, and yes, no one will deny those dollars from you, just a different source and plan. Sincerly, Jiamy L. Breihan
Just remember, each and every one of us who live in a structure, have contributed to destroying wildlife habitat! Where did all the animals have to go when YOUR neighborhood was developed? 🙂
so that means we can’t take care of a small green space that exists right now ?
There are a multitude of kindred souls that are diligently preparing to be the best stewards of the canyon possible, if we are simply given the oppurtunity. There have been false accusations in the papers, a feeble attempt to discredit those that have only love and hope in their hearts, and are trying to do the right thing, against what at first appeared to be an insurmountable challenge. Each beautiful spirit has spoken , when allowed, and together, hopefully, a just outcome will prevail. I love this beautiful city on the hill, and yes, my past is littered with mistakes, but that does not mean that redemption can not be mine, by making wiser choices today and in the future. My heart only longs to protect the very things that have shaped its purpose. Sincerly, Jaimy L. Breihan
@ Mesquite man ? The wildlife is still able to survive in my neighborhood, 1/4 – 2 acre lots, etc. No way to compare the developements, whatsoever, by a rational mind anyway. Jaimy L. Breihan
Parks Board meeting on Caseys new plan to destroy Sesson Canyon on 3-26-2013. Be there and express your opinion on this ongoing nightmare. We need to get a negative recommendation from this board, based on the outright evassive/ cowardly attempt of Darren Casey to disenfranchise the surrounding property owners rights to protest, among other valid reasons. 🙂 jlb