by BRAD ROLLINS
A group of residents calling itself the San Marcos Voice has filed a lawsuit against the city that argues rezoning last month of a tract of land on North LBJ Drive constitutes illegal “spot zoning.”
The San Marcos City Council last month granted a request by Chicago developer Jared Schenk to rezone 10.95 acres from single-family to multi-family use to facilitate an expansion of his adjoining Hillside Ranch apartment complex. The rezoning request initially stalled 3-3 when first considered by the council on March 6 but, at the next meeting two weeks later, it passed 4-3 when council member Shane Scott cast the deciding vote in favor.
Most of the neighbors who live nearest the expansion on Elm Hill Court supported the Hillside Ranch planned development district but others in the general area seized on the rezoning as the latest example of apartment complexes crowding out formerly single-family neighborhoods.
The lawsuit filed on Tuesday asks 274th District Court Judge Gary Steel to declare the rezoning invalid and arbitrary and to order the city to pay the group’s legal fees. Made up of many of the same members formerly organized as Protect San Marcos, the San Marcos Voice group is led by San Marcos residents Nancy Moore, Ollie Giles, Jay Hiebert and Melissa Derrick.
“We hope that by filing this suit we will bring some clarity and focus to the issue of apartments in San Marcos. All we ask is that the masterplan that is in place, that had plenty of acreage zoned for apartments, be followed. Give the current masterplanning process time to work,” attorney David Sergi said.
Texas case law on spot zoning descends from a 1980 lawsuit filed by residents of the city of Pharr who opposed an apartment complex planned for a neighboring property.
In 1981, the Texas Supreme Court described spot zoning as “an unacceptable amendatory ordinance that singles out a small tract for treatment that differs from that accorded similar surrounding land without proof of changes in conditions….Spot zoning is regarded as a preferential treatment which defeats a pre-established comprehensive plan…. It is piecemeal zoning, the antithesis of planned zoning.”
To guard against spot zoning, planners apply a test to rezoning requests including determining whether the change is primarily intended benefit the landowner and whether the nature and condition of a neighborhood has changed significantly since the city’s masterplan was adopted in the mid-1990s. In the case of Hillside Ranch, they pointed to the rapidly expanding Texas State University less than a mile away and market pressures for more rental properties.
The spot zoning lawsuit is here: