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

The owner of the Hillside Ranch apartments has agreed to reconfigure a proposed expansion to address concerns of nearby homeowners on Elm Hill Court. The most recent iteration of the plan includes a 150-foot buffer between the closest apartment building and home lot property line — and public access to the city-owned Spring Lake Preserve.

UPDATED 02/15/12: The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the rezoning, 5-2.


All but one Elm Hill Court resident has withdrawn their name from a petition opposing expansion of the Hillside Ranch apartment complex on North LBJ Drive.

View San Marcos Development Map in a larger map

When Chicago-based real estate investor Jared Schenk originally proposed expanding his apartment complex by 124 new units on an adjoining lot, people who live nearby rose up to obstruct his effort to rezone the 10.9-acre tract from single-family to multi-family residential. Neighborhood activists point to Schenk’s rezoning request as evidence of the relentless creep of apartments complexes — popularly assumed to cater to college and college-aged residents — into kid-friendly neighborhoods.

The people who live nearest the Hillside Ranch expansion, however, have decided they would rather see an apartment complex done well than a single-family development done poorly, said Sherwood Bishop, a former Planning & Zoning Commission chair who represents the Tanglewood neighborhood on the Council of Neighborhood Associations.

“I think the project protects our neighborhoods better than putting another single family housing project there,” said Bishop, who said a single-family neighborhood would inevitably end up as unregulated rent houses. “Trying to keep students out of those houses when you have new ones move in every semester is a real hassle. … It is kind of ironic that I’m for this project because for most of the six years I was on the P&Z, I’ve been against most apartment complexes that were anywhere close to an existing neighborhood. This is a case where it fits in and it’s appropriate.”

The San Marcos Planning & Zoning is scheduled to vote on the rezoning request at its regular meeting this evening.

To make the project more palatable to Elm Hill Court residents, Schenk, working through Buda-based ETR Development Consulting, agreed to pare down the number of units from 124 to 111 and orient the buildings to fit with the hilly topography of the site. He also agreed to a minimum 150-foot buffer between Elm Court homeowners’ property lines and the nearest apartment, further separated by a wall and earthen berm.

He agreed to build units facing North LBJ in an New Urbanist, rowhouse style, which pleased city planners pushing a certain flavor in future development. And for parks system enthusiasts, Schenk is going to build a western trailhead for the system of paths and trails in the city’s 251-acre Spring Lake Preserve, which adjoins Hillside Ranch.

“Each time we met with them we asked for more things, and basically, they gave us everything that we asked for. So they really negotiated in good faith and our feeling now is that the development as we’ve negotiated it would be much better for the neighborhood,” Bishop said.

The developer also agreed to eliminate a clubhouse and swimming pool from the plan and re-orient the complex entrance on LBJ Drive to align with the Holland Street intersection — and to help fund a roundabout on LBJ Drive to slow traffic as it comes up the hill from Texas State University. Schenk also agreed to adopt a pet owners policy at neighbors’ behest that establishes weight and breed limitations for future residents of the apartment complex who own dogs.

Mercury Assistant Editor Sean Batura contributed reporting to this story.


» Hillside Ranch site plan before negotiations [pdf]

» Hillside Ranch site plan after negotiations [pdf]

» Hillside Ranch proposed Planned Development District [pdf]

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45 thoughts on “Apartment developer wins over Elm Hill Court foes

  1. Glad to hear that the neighbors and the developer were able to work something out that sounds like it could be a good fit.

    “Anti-development activists?” Hardly. Sounds like almost everyone was very reasonable. I guess that’s not as much fun to write…

  2. At 111 units, assuming avg of 3 students per unit that’s 333 more students walking up and down LBJ. When will we finally pull the trigger on the much needed reconstruction of this stretch of road?

  3. It is amazing what can be accomplished when both sides come to the table willing to negotiate in good faith.

    I seem to recall another scenario here in San Marcos where the neighbors weren’t willing to negotiate on a deal for some development (not here, not now, not ever), and they’re getting a crowded little subdivision (perfect for rentals!) in that place instead…..

  4. Brad, why refer to them at all? The neighbors and the developer reached an agreement. Any time any neighbors push back on anything, people come out of the woodwork to cite “anti-development” whatever. If there are significant “anti-development activists” in this case, they were a non issue. Bringing them in only serves to perpetuate the tensions that are holding the city back.

    SMsince95, I feel like I have commented several times that the reconstruction of LBJ is in the works and that specific dates are probably pretty easy to come by. Here they are.

    Page 12

    Reconstuct North LBJ, from Sessom to Holland, including sidewalks and bike lanes.

    Design start: 6/1/2008
    Design end: 10/17/2011
    Bidding/construction start: 4/1/2012
    Bidding/construction end: 1/15/2004

  5. Thanks for the N. LBJ Reconstruction CIP project info, Ted. I meant to add that in. I’ll attach a link to a project map when I get back to the office.

    My point in mentioning “anti-development activists” is that they are using this project, among others, as an example of why San Marcos needs a moratorium on rezoning SF land for MF. Yet, as the story notes, the people most impacted by this particular project have reached terms everyone seems to be happy with — and, indeed, prefer this project to a single-family one.

  6. Maybe, but some neighbors have legitimate concerns/complaints, which are regularly dismissed out of hand as coming from “anti-development” and/or “anti-student” groups.

  7. Well, I don’t mind being a thorn in the city’s side on this one (to the extent that anyone from the city reads these posts). I’ve seen these projects get pushed back too many times. But thanks for the link and the info. I’ll be surprised and delighted when they break ground.

  8. We’ll see.

    I believe 4/1 is the date to award the contract, so ground should be broken shortly thereafter.

  9. Here’s the N. LBJ Reconstruction Project design

  10. Actually, tossing aside an overcrowded street system, the fact that DCs HS 1 is destroyoing the Sink Spring watershed, and the fact that neighborhoods are the wrong place for more cars and drunks untill 4 or 5 am on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, I guess it is a prettyy good concession, for those that like to sell short/ conced their own property owner rights! What part of ‘not consistant with existing plats” is so hard to understand? I am just as close as the Elm Court neighbors, over 200 ft, but less than a 1000 ft, so glad my rights matter too! Perhaps some feel that we should maybe go ahead and build apartments ” At will” where ever the developers wish to, so glad that is not going to happen. Let the games begin….:-) Get off my cloud and stay off, no soul selling here! Apartments are apartments, no matter what fictitous names you dream up to call them, and how well you attempt to disguise the fact that there will be major noise, traffic, and lifestyle degradation in the surrounding area! jlb 🙂

  11. 150 ft buffer,how funny, noise from 12 blocks away is already destroying the quality of life in our neighborhoods! Just the facts..jlb

  12. I also live in the area and am impacted by this development, like Jaimy. I realize that San Marcos has a large student population and think this is an opptunity to show how the community can work collaboratively with a developer to develop a property that is better than tract housing, or that takes advantage of the big hill in the middle of the property in addition to the set back. Everyone wants to throw out the comment that this project is going to harm Sink Creek, the city has development standards and that isn’t going to happen. Plus, let’s take advantage of the developer’s offer to give more land for a roundabout to control and steer traffic. It is a great idea.

    This is land between a large student complex and single family. It is a transitional design in a transitional neighborhood. Who better to comment on their happiness with a project than the adjacent neighbors. It is always easy to say no and that is what the large and vocal anti-development group is doing…it is harder to say yes to something that would be good. The irony, is the people that want to just say “no” should be claiming this as a victory–see what a good honest negotiation can achieve.

  13. Mr. Rollins,

    With all due respect, by using the term “anti-development activists” you are not reporting the news, you are shaping the news. While you certainly have the right to do this, it does not show respect for the concerns of a large swath of San Marcos citizen’s and doesn’t promote community dialogue. It also shows that you do not listen. These concerns about rezoning are very specific and have to do with sensitive areas ONLY – single family neighborhoods and environmentally fragile properties. There are also very legitimate concerns regarding the road infrastructure on the north side of campus, including but not limited to LBJ.

    No one is against development in areas zoned for commercial or multifamily that are away from watershed and the recharge areas, with roads that can handle the traffic. There are many of these in town! In my book that is pro development – pro RESPONSIBLE development.

  14. After thinking about it, I agree that it is probably too loaded of a term to use so broadly. I’m going to change it to “neighborhood activist” which still isn’t perfect but works better. I do think people who are flat out anti-development often try to hide it because being outright and vocally against everything wears so thin

  15. Yes, and people who want to rubber-stamp every proposal (yes, there are some of those people, too) like to label every opposing voice as “anti-development.”

    Having supported many developments, including this one, I reserve the right to object to bad developments, without being lumped together with the “anti-development” crowd. I suspect there are many like me in town.

  16. The changed plan is a much better outcome, but it still sets a bad precedent by changing zoning. We really need a masterplan that includes the university and future population growth. The university is going to artificially increase our population with the increase in enrollment that they desire. We need leadership at the P&Z and city council now, not the short sided rezoning that will benefit only developers. The traffic will filter through the neighborhoods without any improvements, until the extension of Craddock to Lime Kiln. We need to reevaluate the SF-6 designation for this area as well as for the Sessoms project. Oh and Dano, I don’t want to encourage you, but,if you just take concessions and what scraps that developers are willing to give, you might as well not even get up in the morning! Don’t be afraid to get off the fence and try!

  17. Agreed, re: the connection from Craddock to Lime Kiln (and through to 35). The number of cars taking the Wonder World extension, to IH35 North is staggering.

  18. It was very amusing to see the “temporary resident” speakers bussed in by the what, maybe 10 max Elm Court residents and the developer, in a feeble attempt to justify yet more multi-family re-zoning in established residential neighborhoods! Lets see, 2500 minimum residents against multi-family intrussion, divided by 10 = 1/250 % voice for overloading the street system, adding 3, 4, 5 am traffic and noise, and general degradation of OUR neighborhoods. Oh, this is a town run by such a feeble percentage of people? No, this is a town run by a P+Z that apparently chooses to listen to them and ignore the facts on traffic, the voice of multitudes of residents that are fed up with not being heard when they present ” Facts” that thoroughly discredit the fabricated, flawed testimony of “Paid” lobbyists/ consultants, and unsound developement plans in areas that should be off limits to any more apartments, by whatever silly name is ficticously attached to them. Transition zone, get real, I suppose that until all neighborhoods are “Transitioned” to multi- family at the hands of “Greed” driven request of land owners and developers, no neighborhood is actually safe, with the exception of a few carefully protected ones in curiously “Select” areas of town! No,as long as developements continue to be ” rubber stamped” by a P+Z that only appears to listen to “bussed in” and “paid” voices, some of us ‘Lifetime citizens” will be motivated to appear as ” Anti-developement”, acknowledging that the projects that are being protested have no adequate infrastucture ( streets, sewer, water, evironmental controls,code enforcement,etc) to support their placement, not to mention the degradation of the surrounding homeowners quality of life! Yes, this will proceed to the city council now, and we shall see if all the true “Facts” are acknowledged, or not. Living in a city that appears to have a government that is so easily “Sold Out” to paid lobbyists, is truly a scary time in my life,and shall soon be vindicated at the ballot box!

  19. Ted M. , would a loop not be more effective on the outside of the developed town, rather than through residential areas, or is it really, once again, developer driven for the purpose of land speculation and profits, rather than smart planning for the future? A highway so close in town seems a bit ridiculous, does it not? Just currious…jlb 🙂

  20. It would be just as effective as the Craddock extension/Wonder World extension. Maybe more effective.

    What is not effective, is having just about the nusiest route through town – Aquarena to Sessom to LBJ, choked off at LBJ and Holland, with narrow, winding streets, arbitrarily placed stop signs, rumble strips, speed bumps, etc.

    Rather than give people an easy way from point A to point B, we have send them all through all of the surrounding neighborhood streets, in a failed effort to keep them out altogether.

    I already know all the people who don’t want to hear that, but it is reality. LBJ can’t handle the traffic, so people split up between LBJ and Chestnut. That, and they cuth through Spring Lake Hills, to avoid most of Sessom and LBJ. North of Holland, the problem continues.

    Connect Craddock to 35 North, and much of that traffic will never even touch LBJ. If the city could somehow manage to work with the university, to get some commuter parking out there, it would be even better. For that matter, if the city put a free park and ride lot out there, and ran their own shuttle to the campus, then downtown, it would probably be full all day, every day, but the city and the university don’t work that way.

  21. The decision last night is only preliminary, Council will meet on this next. The immediate street adjoining the development made a deal but 2000 other citizens, hundreds of whom surround this proposed apartment complex, do not want more apartments, and do not want rezoning happening when there are four square miles of land already zoned for apartments elsewhere. Instead of making this land a transition zone that is apartments, it should be single family transitioning to the apt. location on the other side. But that will never happen in San Marcos as long as every apartment proposed is approved.

    As many of us pointed out in the meeting, which was ignored in the article, there are still traffic problems made more problematic by rezoning to a more dense type of land use. The wastewater spills that go on at Sessom and Aquarena are not scheduled to be alleviated until perhaps 2015, if all goes well on the reroute which will need agreement from the University to travel through campus. Meanwhile our city is allowing Peachtree Apts. to be built already while the sewage spills are happening during rainfalls. The new dorm is adding to the load of wastewater, and that will open soon. The Chestnut Lofts were approved to add to the load. And now Hillside 2 gets preliminary approval from P&Z. I’m astonished that TCEQ requires city to publish their sewage spills but does not call a halt to building more apartmehts that add to the load that then gets spilled.

    Many of us who live surrounding that one street are very concerned to see more apartments encroach on a neighborhood that is already damaged on one side by Sagewood and Craddock. The Holland Street folks are going to see a large increase in traffic through their quiet neighborhood. San Marcos needs to do what it can to protect single family neighborhoods, and make sure those are viable, if there is going to be any kind of community that people will want to live in. If this location is rezoned, then when the church across the street decides to sell and move out of town like other churches, that will be the next plot to be rezoned to apartments. This is a precedent that will cause more deterioration.

  22. Imagine that….Dianne and Jaimy are coming out against yet another development. Who would have thunk it?

  23. Last night was a great opportunity to see compromise and collaboration at work. I respect Diane’s advocacy for “community”–I think, however, she is making a mistake by not embracing this as a “model” development where community activism has resulted in a project that melds the needs of the adjacent neighbors (Elm Hill Court) who have to live with this every day and frankly the broader community.

    This is a transitional property between MF-24 and SF-6. Let’s not pretend otherwise. 40% of the property will have the same density as SF-6 and the same impervious coverage of a single family development. The other half which is located on the other side of the hill will anchor the majority of the development.

    There is going to be trail access to the preserve. Emergency vehicles are now going to be able to get to homes and locations they were unable to before.

    Focusing on the fact that there is “4 Square Miles” of other multifamily land is missing the point. This is a pedestrian property to campus. Most people accessing campus come from Aquarena and I-35. The multifamily land that is available is all out by Aquarena and would result in greater congestion–this site actually is an example of smart development. The use of a roundabout will help traffic. Especially in conjunction with the LBJ improvements.

    The scare tactics need to stop and as a community we should work together to make sure that growth happens thoughtfully and smartly. It does no one any good when there is a failure to have an honest dialogue. Saying no is easy. Saying Yes is Harder.

  24. @ Danno, Imagine that, a faceless ….. opposing over 2000 citizens that are standing up for sensible growth, not destructive insanity! So sad that greed and stupidity can overwhelm the weaker, shortsided examples of humanity!I know 6 year old children that can do the math, TOO MANY PEOPLE, TOO MANY CARS, TOO MUCH POOP CONCETRATED IN THE ABSOLUTE WRONG LOCATION! WAKE UP, YOU WILL BE DROWNING IN IT ( And if you like the river, swimming in it)BEFORE YOU EVER LEARN ENOUGH TO PROPERLY COMPREHEND IT! JLB 🙂

  25. 10 acres, 400 + cars, not including the 2-5 am drunken visitors. Average residental area, less than 80 cars per 10 acres,depending on plats, allowing 2 per household,sometimes as few as 20 per 10 acres, in bed by 10 pm weeknights,maybe up to midnight on occassion on weekends.Simple math easily destroys all irrational excuses and greed driven arguments, multi-family is unwanted in existing neighborhoods, period! One who constantly sells themselves out, and concedes their true values, ends up worthless in the end!( Ancient German/Irish Proverb)jlb 🙂

  26. Jeff, I agree to an extent, it is fantastic to have developers willing to sit down with neighbors and hash something out that appeals to both parties that could potentially set a precedent that would encourage more of the same in the future. However 800,000 gallons of waste water spilled into the river from this area just last month and has been a continuous problem for years. The city knows that the waste water lines are already over taxed. Why not ask the developers to wait until infrastructure ~ both roadways and sewage lines are properly in place? Why is there always such a rush to just approve it??

  27. The 800,000 gallons came from this area? From an article elsewhere on this site:

    “The overflow occurred from the city’s wastewater collection system just outside the main lift station, located at 502 River Road.”

    I didn’t get the impresstion that the pipes at LBJ and Holland had anything to do with it.

  28. You’re right Ted, I was typing to fast on my way out the door to pick up my son from school and meant to point out that we have major problems anytime it floods and especially with this area. The 800,000 gallons did come from the main station, but the manholes were popping (I’ll refrain from using another word 😉 ) as they frequently do spewing waste water from that over taxed line. As one person who went out to check on the situation said ~ it’s good to know that the student health center is doing such a good job of promoting the use of condoms ~ ACK!

  29. Design start: 6/1/2008
    Design end: 10/17/2011
    Bidding/construction start: 4/1/2012
    Bidding/construction end: 1/15/2004—–2014 right? I believe someone said last night it was projected to be completed in 2015.

  30. Ted M. , check out the sewer manhole at the corner of Sessom and Aquarena Springs, just south of the intersection, we have pictures, it was a geiser on the morning of the last heavy rain, which all mixes together in the storm sewers, it was a very ugly picture. Despite the inaccurate discriptions of when this whole system will be upgraded, actual years after all the new proposed apartments are built, just imagine, truly a civil engineering nightmare that must be remedied before any more improperly approved, improperly placed apartments are allowed. I think I will do my best to put the state/ federal officials in the middle of all this, perhaps some hefty fines and gross neglect charges would wake up the city officials presently at the wheelhouse??? I just wish that they personally would have to pay the fines, instead of Joe and Jane taxpayer. I was getting calls during the meeting last night from those that are all too aware of our present inadequate system, they could not believe the distorted information that was being presented by our city staff, to P+Z commissioners that sat there like little baby birds eating regurgitated bugs from their momma birds!TRUE EXAMPLE OF FALSELY PRESENTED INFORMATION, SALES PITCH!!! LET THE GAMES BEGIN 🙂 JLB

  31. Yes, I saw the flood of sewage out of the manhole covers at the Sessom intersection too – it wasn’t stopped until almost noon that day, and my husband reported it around 7 am. We also have photos – truly gross.

    I would like to see the sewage system addressed before ANY more housing projects are done that feed into that line, even if it means waiting a year or two.

  32. I don’t dispute that these sewers back up. I don’t recall saying that I do. I simply pointed out that this is not what the 800,000 gallon overflow was.

  33. Well Dano- Imagine that- Jaimy and Diane- two long time residents, involved in their community, taking time to protect what defines San Marcos : its natural beauty and a great place to call home. And most bizarre, they aren’t in it for the money….Weird.

  34. I like the plan the developer has come up with. I like that the developer worked with some people in the neighborhood. I like that the developer includes parkland and access to the preserve.

    I don’t like that people within 200 feet are considered the “community” (i.e., the only people impacted by the increased temporary residents). I don’t like the absurd argument that traffic won’t increase because these students will walk/bike to school. Even if they did, they certainly don’t bike/walk to work, to the grocery store, or anywhere else. I don’t like the scare tactic that Bishop fed to the Elm Hill court residents that if you don’t accept this, then the only thing that can be built there will be 10x worse. I don’t like that the city encourages smart growth, but only as superficial, cute cottages occupied by well-off college students but isn’t encouraging affordable, QUALITY single family housing. I don’t like that P&Z and Council neighborhoods are increasingly buffered by large tracts of preserve land.

    I admire the long-term residents that continue to represent and advocate for the established neighborhoods and soon-to-be forgotten traditional communities. I find the name-calling (i.e., anti-development…which should be appropriately labeled “anti-encroachment) by fellow citizens on this forum and decisions by P&Z and Council demoralizing. It’s no wonder that more residents don’t participate in this process. That’s my two-cents. Attack away…

  35. Very well stated Jennifer. Don’t worry about the names people call you and others (no-growther’s, anti-development, communists or whatever else they come up with).

  36. All plans to add new loads to the inadequate sewer system west of campus need to be shelved, some permanently! I will look into how we can engage city, county, state, and federal entities into the matter, perhaps severe fines would get their attention maybe???? jlb 😉

  37. 800,000 from the main plant, and ???? from all the geiser manholes that were blowing off for hours, maybe total over 1,000,000+++++++ who knows…. a real infrastructure problem no doubt!!!

  38. Yep. Maybe 1,000,000+++. Maybe 801,000.

    In this particular instance, one has to wonder, if 800,000 overflowed at the plant, what would have happened if our pipes here were large enough to carry everything from here, to there? Would the capacity of the plant have suddenly increase? Or, would everything that overflowed here, have overflowed there?

    Of course, I’m sure many would prefer that it overflows “there.”

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