by BRAD ROLLINS
Thorpe Lane, a once-bustling commercial corridor connecting Hopkins Street to Aquarena Springs Drive, has been on the decline for years with a nearly abandoned major shopping center on one end and a shuttered nursing home on the other.
Now the area may be on the cusp of reinvestment if developers follow through with plans for two new apartment projects totaling about 500 units with a touch of street-level retail. In addition, a third apartment development near Thorpe Lane, the 39-year-old Shalamar Apartments, is scheduled for a major renovation coinciding with its recent renaming as the State Flats.
“I’m really excited about it. It looks to me like the first time in a while that there’s some hope for the area to get new money in it,” said council member Ryan Thomason, who sits on the city’s economic development board. “I don’t know if it’s going to bail out the whole area or not, but any new life in that sector can only help the Springtown situation.”
Springtown is the 200,000 square foot shopping center that has sat nearly vacant for more than two years on Interstate 35 at the highly traveled Hopkins Street gateway to interior San Marcos. The retail center has been mostly empty since 2009 when anchors Target, Best Buy and JC Penney relocated to the new Stone Creek Crossing retail center in south San Marcos near the outlet malls.
Officials say they have seen no sign that Springtown itself may be about to see a wholesale renaissance although new tenants have recently signed leases on some of the center’s smaller storefronts, including the former Blockbuster video. Thorpe Lane’s proximity to Texas State University and the HEB grocery store, however, make it attractive for redevelopment, said Matthew Lewis, the city’s Development Services director.
One of the recently approved projects, Thorpe Lane Lofts, would be built on 2.47 acres at the intersection of Thorpe and Warden streets where the former River Crest Nursing and Rehabilitation center has been deteriorating since closing in 2007.
A planned development district approved by the planning and zoning commission and the city council last month entitles the property’s owner to build a five-floor, 174-unit apartment building with 2,060 feet of ground floor retail space and a 2,907 square foot clubhouse for residents.
The Thorpe Lane Lofts agreement requires construction of a five-level parking garage with 403 parking spaces, 33 more than are required under city codes. The apartments would wrap the parking garage, concealing it from visibility on the street, as well as an interior courtyard.
With any zoning change or planned development district, it is not always immediately clear if the applicant actually plans to build what’s on paper. Sometimes the property owner just wants to lock in the land use rights to build something in order to make the property more marketable to potential buyers.
Even if that is the case with Thorpe Lane Lofts, Thomason said, any movement toward demolishing the overgrown and crumbling old nursing home is worth supporting.
“It’s an eyesore and it needs to go,” Thomason said.
Officials are more confident about the prospects for a 316-unit apartment complex across the street on the 10.7 acre site of the former county hospital. Hays County at one time planned to build its new Government Center on the tract before moving the project to an extension of Stagecoach Road off Wonder World Drive, where it was was recently completed.
Site plans and illustrations of the proposed project submitted by San Antonio-based Darren Casey Development show six three- and four-floor apartment buildings, built in a Mediterranean or Spanish style.
A little more than 8 acres of the property was rezoned from institutional use in 2009 after the county traded the tract with San Marcos-based Carson Development for the Government Center property on Wonder World Drive. About 2.5 acres fronting Interstate 35, however, was zoned for commercial use until the city council last month approved rezoning and adopted a planned development district for the property.
The development will require relocation of San Marcos/Hays County EMS which has always known that its lease there was temporary but now must move quickly to find a new home, said Mayor Daniel Guerrero, who chairs the emergency medical services board.
“It’s time for us to go ahead and pull the trigger on some of our plans to make sure we are where we need to be,” said Guerrero who said today EMS is making plans to vacate the property by the end of the year, if not before then.
At the same meeting in which both the Thorpe Lane Lofts and Casey’s Thorpe project were approved, the council granted rezoning of nearly two acres of the former Shalamar Apartments, which were built in 1972 when city codes allowed multi-family development on land zoned for commercial use.
The zoning was necessary to accommodate a planned renovation of the apartment complex, now called State Flats, which totals 162 units on 7.8 acres.
“There seems to be quite a bit of development in the area and that’s always a positive sign to see someone interested in investing,” Guerrero said. “We’re pleased to see that especially in an area that’s been in need of some rejuvenation.”
» Thorpe Lane Lofts council packet material [pdf]
» Casey Thorpe project council packet material [pdf]
» Shalamar rezoning council package material [pdf]Email | Print