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

Land preservationists hope to eventually double the size of the Purgatory Creek Natural Area with the purchase of 600 adjoining acres. But they don't have the money to do so immediately. For now, the Trust for Public Land will buy 107 acres of the 289.53 tract shown on this map and transfer the title to the city for the same price. MERCURY GRAPHIC by BRAD ROLLINS

by SEAN BATURA

The largest park in San Marcos just got even bigger.

City council members on Tuesday voted 5-2 in favor of buying a 107-acre, undeveloped tract of land adjacent to the 463-acre Purgatory Creek Natural Area for $1.6 million from the Trust for Public Land. However, most of the money for the purchase is being provided by other entities. The cost to the city will be $300,000, according to city staff.

There will be about 1,800 acres of greenspace in San Marcos once the city acquires the 107 acres, according to city parks director Rodney Cobb.

Council members Ryan Thomason and Shane Scott case the sole votes against the purchase. During Tuesday’s city council meeting, Thomason asked how much of the property is in the floodway. Scott Parker, Trust For Public Land senior program director, replied that the majority of the tract is not in a floodplain.

“That’s not a large percentage of the money from us, but it’s still a lot of money for land that couldn’t be developed even if someone wanted to,” Thomason said. “We are paying more than the development price for land that can’t be developed, which is why (I have a) hard time with using three or four other (public) entities’ tax dollars….”

Parker said the appraised fair market value of the property was determined to be $1.6 million.

Parker said property was identified for purchase in 2009 via the Central Texas Greenprint for Growth project.

“This property was identified as very high-quality habitat for the Golden-Cheeked Warbler and Black-Capped Vireo,” Parker said. “It’s also…in the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone and the San Marcos River watershed. So it happens to be uniquely-situated for a number of purposes — and it’s contiguous to the existing Purgatory Creek Natural Area. So there are a number of opportunities present for the preservation and conservation of this property.”

The city had intended to use an $800,000 grant from Hays County earmarked for parkland expansion to buy 289.53 acres adjoining the Purgatory Creek Natural Area. However, the trust did not receive a federal grant it had sought to cover the cost of buying the whole tract and, instead, the city will buy the 107-acre chunk of the property and return $500,000 to Hays County. The city may someday buy the remaining 182 acres as well as an additional 311.74-acre tract adjacent to the main greenspace. All of the purchases, totaling 601.27 acres, would more than double the existing Purgatory Creek Natural Area.

Richard Salmon, the city’s grant administrator, said last month that the city will apply for a federal land conservation grant in three to five months for the 182 acres if Congress funds the grant program. Salmon said the city would use the 107-acre purchase as a match against the grant, which means the city may not need to expend additional dollars to get the grant.

Parker said the 182-acre parcel is under contract with the trust for about a year.

“So we still have the ability to acquire it and subsequently convey it for conservation and protection,” Parker said. “We’re going to be looking at how we can fund that.”

Parker said the owners of the 182-acre parcel are very attached to the property and want to see it conserved and protected. He declined to identify the owners, citing a confidentiality agreement. The owners are Van Rea, a trustee of the Medical X-ray Consultants P.A. Profit Sharing Plan, and San Marcos residents Clovis R. and Margaret A. Barker, as indicated by the purchase agreement between the city and the trust.

“They previously developed adjoining property, so this is a property they would like to see in conservation,” Parker said. “And because of that, they’ve given the Trust for Public Land more time and more room to find funding in this really difficult economic time.”

Parker said the 182 acres will be developed residential unless a “public steward” is found to buy the property.

In October 2010, the trust estimated fair market value of the 289.53-acre and 311.74-acre tracts totaled $8.5 million. The 311.74-acre tract is owned by a Claud Wildenthal, who uses a Dallas address, according to appraisal records.

The funds available for the purchase of the 107 acres includes $800,000 in county funds ($500,000 of which is left over from a 2008 grant to the city); $300,000 from Brookfield Residential Properties as part of its deal with the city on the planned Paso Robles development; $250,000 from the Edwards Aquifer Authority; $150,000 from the Nature Conservancy; $61,000 from the Meadows Foundation and $50,000 from the Knobloch Family Foundation. The Trust for Public Land is paying for the land survey and other administrative costs.

Parker said the contributions by The Nature Conservancy and the Edwards Aquifer Authority were contingent on the creation of a conservation easement to protect habitat and water quality. The easement prohibits development on the 107 acres.

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2 thoughts on “City council buys more parkland

  1. Compliments to the Town Council for being wise enough to value the open land, right in the middle or our town, and accessible to us all.

    The hardest thing for me in moving to TX 5 years ago was the lack of public land in this state. Given it’s size, our beautiful state and national parks are not easily reached for many citizens. It is very expensive to drive the long distances. As I came from a town that was surrounded by National Forest, and grew up in a state with dozens of large town, county, and state parks and greenspace all with in a 3 hour drive, this was quite a shock for me.

    In protecting these city parks – ones with playing fields, but just as importantly, green spaces with critical wildlife habitat, the town council has given us all a great gift, one that our children will enjoy for years to come. Thank you!!

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