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


by BRAD ROLLINS

Backers of a controversial apartment and retail project between Sessom Drive and Sessom Creek say they will not take a page from other developers’ playbook to thwart the will of neighboring property owners who have signed a petition opposing the project.

The San Marcos City Charter requires a supermajority — six of seven council members — to vote to approve a rezoning request if owners of 20 percent of property within 200 feet of a project boundary sign a petition opposing the rezoning.

In the past, however, determined developers have found a work-around by shaving off a portion of the project boundaries and thereby eliminating some of the opponents from the 200 foot zone. But Carter Morris, the real estate broker who represents San Antonio developer Darren Casey and five homeowners whose property is under contract for sale to Casey, said his client will not try to win approval for a $63 million mixed use project by undermining the petition.

“We’re going in for a straight up or down vote and we’ll go from there,” Morris said. “My client has taken on this project from the start with the goal of being transparent and to work with those who have concerns about it. He has no interest in negating a petition that is a formal document submitted by citizens.”

In June 2010, principals of a proposed 174 acre mixed use development on the Buie tract on Craddock Avenue were facing a supermajority requirement for a portion of the rezoning they needed to make the project fly. A little more than 20 percent of surrounding property owners, however, had signed off on a petition opposing the rezoning and it appeared impossible that developers could muster six votes. By eliminating 2.23 acres from the rezoning request, the developer was able to knock just enough signatures off the petition to render it meaningless. The rezoning was subsequently approved 5-2.

Opponents who live near Casey’s proposed development across Sessom Drive from Texas State University have reached that magic 20 percent threshold and will require a supermajority when the San Marcos City Council votes on it Tuesday. Facing an uncertain fate in council, rumors have coursed through town for weeks that Casey and his advisers — former San Marcos planning staff organized as ETR Development Consulting — would attempt a similar end-run around the city charter.

The planning and zoning commission approved Casey’s rezoning and planned development district 5-2 on Tuesday and Morris told the Mercury later that week that there would be no shenanigans aimed at knocking the supermajority requirement back down to a simple majority.

“This project would be great for the city of San Marcos and will have a very small impact if any impact at all on the people who live in that area. We’re looking for approval based on the merits of the project. Anything that is less than transparent or above-board is not something Mr. Casey would like to do.”

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40 thoughts on “Morris: No games to undermine petition opposing development

  1. I would hope that this is the truth and the developers don’t try to find a way to wriggle out of this. I would like to share a story about my 8 year old child. I attended one of the P&Z meetings in December about this development. Afterwards, my child found my green ribbon and asked what it was for. I explained that they were trying to put a new development in near our neighborhood that would include new apartments and shops (I did not provide her with my opinion of why this was a negative thing at this point). My child’s response, “Thats annoying.” I asked why. My child responded, “Think of all the traffic.” Mind you, this is coming from an 8 year old who has no knowledge of politics or, well, any of this. I would think that if an 8 year old can ascertain this that the adults involved should be able to see it as well.

  2. From the article, by Carter John Morris. ” My client has taken on this project from the start with the goal of being transparent and to work with those who have concerns about it. ” On December 15,after the city council rejected hearing this issue the night before, and returned it to the P&Z board, I went to the Morris Reality office on Cheatham Street, where I had previously participated in the first developer meeting that I had attended, and was there for less than five minutes, when two police officers arrived and issued me a formal ” Criminal Trespass Warning” for the office, Randalls house, and Carter Johns house, I have to really love that ” working with those that have concerns about it” line. So much for that rhetoric! jlb 🙂

  3. Come on, Jaimy. Your dad and I are old friends. I’ve known you for a long time. You’ve not showed any inclination to work with anyone. That’s fine if that’s your position but don’t pretend like you want to sit down and reason. You just want to stick your head in the sand and make it all go away.

  4. The fact that there is no prohibition for this kind of maneuver in our Land Development Code (LDC) is of serious concern to many and I will ask the Council to consider changing that when we take up the LDC in the near future.

  5. Yes Mr. Thomaides, it does rather seem to kick sand in the face of the concept that the purpose of our government is to transparently serve the people, not some special interest who happens to have access to a well-placed ear and/or sneaky enough lawyer. I don’t see how we could allow such an end-around the obvious spirit of the law to exist. I also cannot see how anyone would oppose you in trying to rectify such an effort to bring our government more in line with how it should work (assuming, once again, you buy into all that stuff about popular sovereignty we like to pat ourselves on the back about on the 4th of July). I would seriously question either the intelligence or loyalties of anyone within the city government who does not get on board with your stated proposal. Thank you for going public with this.

    PS: While we are at it and you are obviously reading/commenting on these posts (and I applaud you for doing so, I wish more were so inclined, such public discourse is very healthy for the body politic, I believe; but then I’m guessing many would not like their intentions laid out in public for all to see — even, though, I might add THAT IS THEIR JOB since they work for the people; you know the whole public servant thing), if you could ferret out an answer to a question I have posed several times and yet to have anyone provide an answer, I would be most appreciative.

    Here goes: at the P&Z meeting in December when this nonsense really got started, the city declined to allow 1.5 acres (two houses) near Alamo and Holland to switch from single family to multi-use. Their stated rationale was that such a switch might prove harmful to the character of the surrounding neighborhood. Yet somehow, 10 minutes later the bulk of the same people who declined this small change approved this huge Sessoms switch that is pretty much in the very same neighborhood and would most certainly impact in a much greater manner the same people they were trying to protect a few minutes before. I would love to see the logic of this, but no one seems to be forthcoming with such. I’m guessing it is because there is no good answer that can be provided, at least not one that stays intellectually consistent. So, if you could find out for me I would surely appreciate it. In the name of transparency I think the people who made such decisions owe the people an explanation and it smacks of cowardice if no one is willing to provide one. Thanks again.

  6. I would argue that more than 20% of neighboring landowners should also be required to petition for a super-majority as well. That threshold seems really low considering that it could stonewall a project that would otherwise be of benefit to the City and its residents as a whole.

  7. @ Money Bags- I offered Carter John five points of interest, if they were to build this monster in our backyard, literally! (1)A 10 foot wall, similar to what you see where roads run next to residential areas, between the project and the upper canyon green area, with a “Knox Box” and steel gate for fire department access only, no access from the apartment complex side. (2) No balconies facing the neighborhood to the west of the project (3) Deed the green space to our neighborhood, not the city, so we can protect it, control it, etc. This will also side track the developers likely intent to move on down Sessom drive and level everything all the way to Holland St., as we would retain petition rights against further devastation of the Alamo street neighborhood, as is most likely planned.(4)A fully functional water treatment system for the run-off water from the 9 acres of impervious cover, which is really the only way to clean the toxins it will produce, and also make water available for wildlife, and the neighborhood for use in yards, gardens, etc.There was a fifth item I can’t recall now… OK, Mr Moneybags, that was my ideas to the developer before they started their attempts to slander myself and others. We tried, they never listened to any of our ideas! I am doing anything but sticking my head in the sand and whimsically wishing this would all go away! I have spent over $6,000.00 of my personal money to try and save what I see as a natural resource worth saving! Countless hours of constructive discussions searching for reasonable answers. Whomever you are, please keep your innane comments to yourself, please!

  8. @ Dano- Apparently you have misunderstood the whole comment, CHANGING THE LAW SO THAT THE 20% PETITION CAN NOT BE THROWN AN END AROUND TRICK, IS WHAT I UNDERSTAND WOULD BE SOUGHT HERE, NOT TO REQUIRE A LARGER PERCENTAGE TO ACHIEVE A SUPER-MAJORITY STATUS!!! Reading is relatively easy, understanding is where the problem seems to appear!

  9. to keith cunningham:
    I agree and several folks have been scratching their heads on that one.

    I have a long email from the chief planner on this project that explains her comments on the project application and why this project was recommended to the PZ commissioners. I would be glad to forward it to you.

    Look up the PZ meeting of jan 10 and that very question was answered by the planner, Mrs. Christine Holmes. It should be on the video.
    The biggest argument was that there is a 650 bed dorm across the street and already mixed use zoning “in the area”. pretty much ignoring all the single family zoning that this project is changing.

  10. I also remember Ms. Holmes explaining that the proposed rezoning on Holland would have too great an impact on the immediate adjoining neighbors, because the lots were so small. The Casey project though, had a “buffer”. Perhaps I imagined that though – it’s simply too ridiculous!

  11. I don’t understand how you cannot understand the difference between the Holland Street and the Sessom Drive proposals.

    On Holland Street the developer was proposing to combine two or three tiny lots and build a two or three floor commercial and residential building that would put windows and maybe balconies overlooking people’s fenced back yards.

    The Sessom property doesn’t adjoin a single square foot of single family property except the property owners who are selling to Casey. All the single family is across the creek and ravine and on the other side of the 4.5 acre park. Many of those residents btw are renters living in violation of the city’s single family occupany restrictions.

  12. Please attend this meeting, but if you can’t attend – please contact the city council members and let them know how important this issue is to you. From what I have heard – Developer’s wife Kim Porterfield and Shane Scott are once again going to vote in favor of development and against the citizens that voted them in to office. Both of these city council members voted for The Retreat on the corner of Ranch 12 and Craddock. If you haven’t driven by lately – please drive by before the meeting and see how many trees have been cut down and how much damage has been done to the surrounding neighborhoods. YES, there is a family neighborhood in back of that big dirt pile.

    Neither Porterfield or Scott live anywhere near these two developments – so what do they care about single-family zoning or quality of the San Marcos River? Hopefully other city council members will do the right thing and vote to keep the zoning the same and not change more single family zoning to apartments. Those of you that are just now getting involved, on election day – please remember how city council voted and vote out those that support development of environmentally sensitive areas near family housing. And some of you should also consider running for council yourself – we could use some neighborhood-minded single family city dwellers to encourage economic development in the growth corridor.

    I am for park land – but please note also on the agenda is more park land that will buffer the Willow Creek neighborhood from further development. No apartments for them!!!!!

  13. Citizens elect representatives to make these decisions. We don’t make decisions by mob rule. We live by the rule of law.

  14. Mr. Moneybags…

    Houses all over town with two stories have windows and balconies overlooking their neighbors back yards. Are you seriously going to use that as a legitimate argument?

    As per illegal renters, that is precisely the reason why the first 2 property owners on Holland (very nice people, to be sure) asked for rezoning, so while your off-the-cuff remark regarding may have some truth to it, it is certainly not pertanent to the argument for rezoning the Sessom property.

  15. Money Bags: From the testimony at the December P&Z meeting I was under the impression that the Holland Street issue was only a parent wanting to change the rental capacity of a couple of houses purchased so their children could go to college for less money. If they were actually intending to build some sort of complex there I stand corrected and I applaud the P&Z for putting a stop to it. That hardly wins the argument, however. If you are against hurting a neighborhood in one instance, why are you not voting the same in the other?

    So correct me if I am wrong. You are saying that the logic of turning down the Holland project because it might negatively impact the neighborhood is valid, but, the Sessoms project should go ahead because it has no chance of having such a negative impact? Are you serious? A small project versus a small mall topped by a giant apartment complex served by a multi-floor parking garage? Really? I suppose if you gauge such negative impact only by direct line of sight metrics as having a balcony overlooking my backyard this might be true. But, what if you consider such issues as noise, traffic (and goodness, can you even imagine what this would be like?), property values, runoff, or pollution. In short, I don’t understand how you cannot understand the similarities between the reasons for not opposing the Holland Street and Sessom Drive proposals.

  16. Keith,
    There have actually been two separate groups wanting to change several properties at the corner of Holland and Academy. The first P and Z meeting were the mom and grandmom of students. The last P and Z meeting were a group wanting to change anywhere from 1 to 4 properties, and they showed possible concept drawings that included a 2 story building with shops down and lofts up. They asked for a change to a new code called vertical multiple use. I don’t know the details of that. It was remarked at some point that a least one or some of these properties had too many renters – but I’d check the videos to be definite. One older woman stood up and asked it not be changed – her home was flanked by the others.

  17. Keith, at the January p&z meeting there was a developer requesting to rezone two or three lots on Holland for construction of some sort of boutique neighborhood commercial development. I don’t know if the Holland request from the December meeting is related to this or if it is coincidental that it came up at about the same time as this guy’s request.

    4.5 acres and a small canyon is a significant buffer between the Casey project and the nearest single family home. There will be no through streets connecting This development to any single family neighborhood.

    I completely respect those who have legitimate concerns about the well being of their neighborhood and the security of their home investment. I just think a lot of that is mixed in with unfettered hysteria being skillfully stirred up by the Wassenichs and Co. as a precursor to mobilize voters for the mayoral election. I respectfully suggest some of you have a gut check to see if your reasonable concerns are being manipulated for John Thomaides’ political ambitions

  18. Money Bags – let’s live by the rule of the law as when I purchased my house and checked the neighborhood zoning. The Sessoms area was single family. The corner of RR12 and Bishop was single family. The corner of Bishop and access to new RR12 was single family. We now have 4,000 apartments under construction. We have only 30% of our homes that are lived in by the people that own them. More and more absentee landlords are buying, flipping and not maintaining. All of this will bring down our home values and quality of life – UNLESS we can sell and move too!

  19. I’m not sure that 4.5 acres is going to be a significant buffer, given the topography. It could be. This is another case where a sound engineer could be very handy. Again, it is easier to fix these things in the design phase, if they can be fixed at all.

    I don’t recall that it cost a whole lot for the sound engineer to tell the city that nothing could be done re: noise from Sagewood. Based on the buffer the engineer described at the time, it seemed like the elimination of a handful of units probably would have done wonders – again, FAR easier to do in the planning stages.

  20. And I have yet to hear anyone address the traffic issue. Do we want this area over here to compete with Highway 80 east of I-35 in front of Walmart for traffic snarl? I’m guessing this would be worse. And how would Alamo look with I’m guessing 500 or so more cars per day zipping through there? That is probably my biggest concern, that and trying to prevent that side of town from looking like Sagewood in 50 years which seems to be the direction we are going if we don’t slow down.

    Oh yeah, and from a standpoint of my firm belief in the rule of law and popular sovereignty I view the current zoning regs as kind of a contract with the people and there must be a clear approval (or apathy as indicated by no expressed concern) on the part of the people in order for the government to break said contract. I would say the same thing if this was zoned commercial and people were trying to retrofit it back to single family. The rules have been in place and the people have the right to not have them changed by some special interest if they — the people — find them egregious. Well, in this case the contract has been single family and I believe the general consensus is for them not to be changed. And, assuming we the people are truly in charge, the council should respect that. I’m actually kind of floored it has gotten this far. Who matters here?

  21. @Keith — I think it is dangerous to confuse volume with consensus. There has been the same volume against prior projects which were eventually approved by elected representatives. Then come the calls to remember at election time, followed be the reelection of the same or similar representatives — meaning the opposition is usually a very vocal minority. Too early to say if the same is true this time, but also rash to conclude a “general consensus” supports the position of the opposition special interest.

  22. I don’t know Darren Casey from Adam, but I do know that he is being wrongly vilified in this whole debate.

    He wants to bring a high-end development to San Marcos. That’s a good thing. He has indicated an willingness to go above and beyond published guidelines for being environmentally responsible during construction. That’s a good thing. He announced that he would once again exceed requirements by providing a buffer to reduce impact on the surrounding neighborhood. That’s a good thing. No outlets for this project through existing neighborhoods. Good thing. Refuses to replat the property to skirt the petition. Very good thing. At every step of the way, he has met or exceeded expectations and dealt with a hostile populace in an honest and forthright manner.

    Darren Casey seems to be the exact type of person that San Marcos should want to do business with. But we hate him because he’s a mean old developer who just “wants to destroy our neighborhoods”.

    So he will take his ideas somewhere else, and Mr McMullin will be stuck with an empty lot that he can’t sell for a bit longer.

  23. I largely agree, although I am withholding final judgment until he finishes some projects, so I can see what he delivers.

    I’d just like to see a little more expertise brought to bear. I hate to spend money, just to spend money, but our elected officials have historically demonstrated a limited ability to identify what does and does not make for a compatible development. It would be tragic, for Mr. case to make all sorts of concessions, and still end up with a problem development, where that could be avoided.

    Re: noise, it is entirely possible that loud noise will carry right over the canyon, to the adjoining neighborhoods. For that matter, it is possible that noise from higher floors would carry over the tops of the houses, bothering nobody. I know that we never hear noise from anything uphill from us, but we can hear a pin drop in the woods below us. Perhaps Mr. Casey should be asking for a variance re: building height, to get the rental residences higher than the single family homes across the canyon. Maybe a taller building, with more floors in the parking garage could yield a larger buffer area, and noise more prone to carry over rooftops anyway. Maybe the biggest issues will be on Alamo, and the location of the buffer should be reconsidered.

    As it stands, pretty much all I hear are some relative non-experts saying “4.5 acres ought to be enough.”

    Ditto for traffic impact.

    Concessions, that don’t yield better results for the neighbors, represent a lose-lose.

  24. Skeptical: I’m judging more from the amount of signs around town I have seen opposing this, the turnout at the public meetings about it, and what has seemed like the general willingness of people to sign the petition going around (when I have been present in situations where people have been asking for signatures I would say 9 out of 10 or so have been more than willing). It seems, from my vantage that the opposition to this is more than just a yelling minority of environmentalists or some other special interest. It seems that the opposition to this has come from many segments of San Marcos. I would like to see a legitimate poll done over the issue, but good luck with that. But, fully acknowledging the danger of equating noise with size, it seems to me that what evidence we have at our disposal points to a wide opposition.

  25. Keith, the problem with petitions is that so many are signed in response to a less than truthful presentation of the issue at hand. I sincerely doubt that the signature gatherers were simply asking people to sign a petition opposed to development of a lot near campus that was proposed as a mixed use development.

    My gut tells me that they were asked to sign a petition to “oppose the destruction of our single family neighborhoods” or some such propaganda.

    Lacking am independent study of some sort, I’m not ready to assign any significance to a petition.

  26. The conversations I heard surrounding people signing the petitions were above board from my perspective. Granted, I only witnessed a handful of them. Are we also discounting people’s ability to the read the petition and make their own decision? Not saying that is not possibly what happened, but is that what you are implying?

  27. I don’t think that Darren Casey is a villan. He is just like any other businessman trying to make money. I don’t object to his Concho Commons project – great location, great student development that is close to Texas State and will benefit businesses in downtown San Marcos. I would welcome the type of development that he is planning in a different location. It should be located near other student housing (not in single family neighborhoods and away from the sensitive creeks that flow into the San Marcos River. Just like Embassy Suites, which is doing well in its current location, let’s find another location that works. How about the Hays County Justice Center? How about along Thorpe Lane, how about at Springtown Mall or in place of the Shalamar apartments?

  28. Dano- I used one of Cori’s link to the Buie Tract debacle covered by Newstreamz. By your comment reactions,it seems that you *too* have once felt like those opposed to the Sessom’s Creek development. Should I be suspicious about your motives for protesting the Buie rezoning or were you simply looking out for best interest of the community? Should I dismiss the validity of the Buie petitions since the signers could have been probably maybe naive?

    Dano
    October 7, 2010 – 11:54 am

    “.. You (Prather) and your cohorts at P&Z are responsible for providing waiver after waiver of established zoning rules to allow one developer after another to dump multi-family and commercial development right up against established neighborhoods all over this town…

    Together, you’re systematically destroying any chance this city will ever have of maintaining any sort of community, and doing it all in the name of “smart growth” and “expanding the tax base”… I guess you’ll all be happy when this town is nothing but one giant apartment complex with a bunch of big-box retail scattered throughout. ..”

    Dano
    October 7, 2010 – 8:49 pm

    It’s good to see people riled up over this. We the people of San Marcos are being steamrolled by a Council and a P&Z alike who seem to want nothing but to give developers whatever they want around here.

  29. Kudos to all who spoke at the council meeting last night. It was especially nice to see the young BISM adults and teenagers partake in one of our civic responsibilities and freedoms. I was also impressed with the number of current TSU and post-grad residents who came out to offer even more expert and factual support on why this project should not be built on a creek canyon. Thank you all.

  30. Thank you to all of the citizens that spoke last night (and worked for many many hours before this night). Thank you to the city council members that voted to keep the current zoning in place – Kim Porterfield, Shane Scott, Daniel Guerrero and John Thomaides. A special thank you to Mayor Daniel Guerrero for his leadership and poise. We are lucky to have a BISM on the council.

  31. Cruizer,

    I have no connection to either the Casey development or the Buie project. I live out south, in the area that will be impacted by Paso Robles (which, for the record is a project I don’t support, but simply because I don’t think it will succeed).

    I look at the facts and circumstances surrounding each proposed development individually – and decide whether I “like” each based on its own merits. I did not support the “end around” the developer pulled on the Buie development and I did not support their (IMO) less-than sincere efforts to work with the citizenry. Conversely, I thought everything about Casey’s project was handled above board in a thoughtful, responsible manner. I like the concept and the location is perfect, and Casey did everything he could to alleviate neighborhood concerns. Alas, it seems that it was not enough.

  32. For the moment, a victory! Thanks to all that passionately spoke the truth about the real facts that will impact our neighborhoods, our eco-system ( especially our river) and our lives in general here in San Marcos! I for one have regained a sense that maybe the political process can work, if enough concerned citizens get involved and speak up when issues confront us. JLB 🙂

  33. Mr.Carter John, congrats! I totally support this development. It is good for San Marcos and it is good for me and everybody else in the community. Way to go!!! Go Ron Paul go!

  34. No games to undermine petition, but now miraculously there will be no chance for a super majority vote on Casey’s next multi family rezoning request as “another entity” has an option on Buck Scheib’s property now ~ not Casey. The option on this land makes it impossible for a super majority petition as residence would no longer be close enough to the proposed rezonging to sign the petition.

    What luck for Casey, no super majority vote required this time around, and he no longer has an option on the property that would have served as the 5 acres of parkland. I guess it’s true what they say, good things happen to good people. So glad he didn’t have to use any shennanigans to pull this off and it just organically came together for him.

  35. No games they said……..Look at the new PDD, they have moved the developement circle and they are attempting to disenfranchise the adjoining property owners in the area. Nothing has changed, it is still a classic ” Spot Zoning” case waiting for the courts…:-) jlb

  36. SPOT ZONING…NOT HERE, NOT NOW, NOT EVER. SAVE SESSOM CANYON! NO ZONING CHANGES! 🙂 jlb

  37. ” Anything that is less than transparent or above- board is not something Mr. Casey would like to do..” When this project hits The Parks Board on 3-26-2013… BE THERE! When this project hits Planning and Zoning Commission in early April….BE THERE, WE WILL HAVE 240 MINIMUM SPEAKERS LINED UP! when this project hits the City Council in mid April…..BE THERE, WE WILL HAVE 240 MINIMUM SPEAKERS LINED UP! This land will end up being added to the other properties that the city already owns in the canyon, making one very fine park for future generations to be proud of, one way or another, hook or crook, it shall be so. 🙂 jlb

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