by BRAD ROLLINS
A Canadian company is asking the San Marcos City Council to create a public improvement district to help fund development of 495 acres on Centerpoint Road near the outlet malls.
A public utility district, or PID, would be empowered to levy its own ad valorem tax on those who buy property within the development, which is being called the Gas Lamp District.
Representatives of Calgary, Alberta-based Walton Development & Management say the additional property tax — estimated to be somewhere in the range of 39 cents per $100 — would be used to build infrastructure for a high-quality, mixed-use project that would include single-, multi-family and senior housing; an office park; and a corporate campus intended to attract research and development firms.
“We know that the city only grants economic benefits — public financing benefits — in very special situations. We think we can demonstrate to you that this project is unique in terms of its location, quality of the project, use of the SmartCode and its potential positive impact on city revenues,” land use attorney David Armbrust told council members at their regular meeting on Tuesday.
Alexa Knight, Walton’s regional vice president for Texas, said early phases of the development would focus on building homes designed to appeal to young homebuyers in the $175,000 to $200,000 range.
Council member John Thomaides seemed skeptical that the company would be successful in marketing homes that carry an additional tax burden — about $800 on a $200,000 home — to first-time homebuyers.
“You’re asking the city to allow you to charge 40 cents on top of our 53 cents tax rate. For a $200,000 product, that’s going to bring your city [and PID] tax alone to $2,000 a year. So you’re going to get young, first-time home buyers to pay $2,000 a year in city tax plus the school district tax plus the county and road tax? That’s your plan?” Thomaides asked.
Rick Rosenberg, a principal in Austin-based Development Planning & Financing Group Inc., said total tax rates for property in the Gas Lamp District are project to amount to $2.73 per $100 in assessed property value, which he said would position the Gas Lamp District below other Central Texas competitors developments funded through add-on taxes like municipal utility districts.
“One of the things we look at is, once the assessment is put on the property, that the tax rate is market successful. The last thing we want is a tax rate that is so high that nobody will buy the home,” Rosenberg said. “In doing our analysis for this project, we projected that a 39-cent tax rate puts this project in the middle of the competitive market. There are projects this will be competing with that will have a total tax rate over $3.”
The district’s creation would not take away from taxes collected by the city of San Marcos, Hays County and San Marcos CISD, officials said. But if the city wants to build water, wastewater and street infrastructure sized to accommodate expected future growth in the area, it will need to invest an estimated $5.3 million to oversize those facilities beyond what Walton need build to service only the Gas Lamp District.
The Gas Lamp District would be the first full-scale development in San Marcos to be built under the optional SmartCode ordinance adopted in April 2011, which emphasizes bike- and pedestrian-oriented communities in the New Urbanism school of city planning.
A very basic PowerPoint presentation shown to the council at its meeting last week shows a mix of land uses arrayed around network of streets and public parks. Walton representatives said more details would be publicly released as the proposal makes it way through city approval processes.
The San Marcos Planning & Zoning Commission is scheduled to hear a presentation on the project at its meeting tomorrow with public hearings tentatively scheduled for Aug. 14 before the planning commission and Sept. 4 before the city council.
Walton Development owns a total of 8,400 acres in Hays and Caldwell counties, Knight said, including large holdings along the route of the Texas 130 bypass around Austin and San Antonio. In a previous meeting, council members were told that Walton is interested in becoming a partner in the Hays Caldwell Public Utility District — made up of Hays County’s corridor cities and the Canyon Regional Water Authority — to provide water to its planned Caldwell County development. The Gas Lamp District, however, would be on city of San Marcos water, council members were told on Tuesday.
Located less than a mile from the sprawling Premium and Tanger outlet centers, the Walton property at the intersection of the Old Bastrop Highway and Centerpoint Road has been slated for development before. Most recently, the council heard plans from a California company for a commercial and residential development that never materialized.
CORRECTION: This article originally referred to the Canyon Regional Water Supply Corp.; it is the Canyon Regional Water Authority.