by BRAD ROLLINS
Turned back last time by the largest opposition ever assembled in San Marcos against a single development, real estate investor Darren Casey is now asking the city for approval of a scaled-down version of the high-end, mixed-use retail and residential complex he wants to build on Sessom Drive.
The new plan calls for 16,000 feet of retail space — slightly less than the proposal rejected by the San Marcos City Council in January — and a 7,000-square-foot outdoor plaza of stained and polished concrete.
The proposal allows for 742 bedrooms between 354 units, compared to 420 units and about 1,000 bedrooms in the earlier version. In addition, 10 of those units will be in the form of townhomes on individual lots backing up to Sessom Creek. Casey thinks the townhomes — and the 5.2 acres of parkland along the creek he’ll donate to the city as part of the deal — will create a transitional buffer that addresses some nearby homeowners’ concerns about noise.
If the council and planning and zoning commission again decline to approve his planned development district, Casey said he will develop the land as a small lot single-family subdivision. Because the properties are already zoned for single-family use, Casey is legally entitled to build a subdivision with 46 lots shoehorned on 14.2 acres without any parkland.
“We currently have a preliminary plant to develop 46 lots but before we go forward with that development plan, we’re going to go back through the process and see if we can get approval for what we think is a much better development and use of that land,” Casey said.
The planning and zoning commission approved the preliminary plat for that project, called Sessom Court, at a meeting in March as they were required to do by law. Casey said he has invested too much in the Sessom project plans to walk away without recouping his losses with one development or another.
“It is just our preference that we build the [multi-family] project over the one we legally have the right to develop. Both of them are viable projects but the new PDD has fewer overall units with the same stringent environmental protections as our previous one and more parkland dedication,” Casey said.
In January, the city council voted 4-3 against Casey’s earlier proposal in late January as hundreds of protesters packed City Hall and spilled outside. Opponents of the project said it will create a dangerous traffic situation on Sessom Drive, needlessly destroy wildlife habitat, pollute the San Marcos River and lower the standard of living of nearby single family households, among other concerns.
Supporters argued the Sessom properties are a short hop across the street from rapidly growing Texas State, including a new 600-bedroom residence hall. Embracing a New Urbanist ethos of walkable urban development with less sprawl, proponents say building denser developments nearer the university will ease traffic problems by encouraging biking and walking.
Casey’s newest proposal is tentatively scheduled for a planning and zoning commission vote on May 12 and a final city council vote on July 3.
All new development north of the university was recently imperiled when Texas State declined to let the city build a wastewater bypass through its campus as an alternative to the Sink Creek Interceptor. The Sink Creek interceptor project had likewise been abandoned in part because of concern that it crossed a portion of the Spring Lake Natural Area.
Instead of either the Sink Creek interceptor or the cross-campus bypass, city engineers now intend to replace and enlarge the existing wastewater main that runs up Sessom Drive.
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