3:45 p.m. OCT. 24: San Antonio developer Darren Casey told the San Marcos Mercury that he hopes to complete design and permitting processes in time to start construction on his Concho Commons high-rise by April 2013. The 13-floor building will have retail on the first two floors and 310 apartment units on the upper floors.
“We’ve tried for several years to match up the market with the demand and the site and now we feel like we maybe got the timing right. We think the university and the city are ready for a high-end luxury student housing option for students and we’re going to deliver a landmark project in the heart of San Marcos,” Casey said.
Because the warrant allowing added building height does not require city council approval, Casey said the Concho Commons project is fully entitled with last night’s planning and zoning commission vote.
“We’ve got the entitlement and we’re off to the races,” he said. Construction will take about 22 months with a projected completion date of late spring 2015, Casey said.
by BRAD ROLLINS
The planning and zoning commission unanimously approved a measure Tuesday evening that allows developer Darren Casey to add eight additional floors to his anticipated Concho Commons development between Texas State University and downtown San Marcos.
Standing at 128 feet from street level, the resulting 13-floor mid-rise would be among San Marcos’ tallest buildings. The building site lies in the transition area between campus and downtown where city planners want to see denser, urban-style development as an antidote to congested streets and suburban sprawl.
Casey’s plans include 17,000 square feet of retail space on the bottom two floors and 584 beds between 310 apartment units on the upper 10 floors. (A basement would bring the total number of floors to 13.) He would build 588 parking spaces, more than the 480 required under city codes.
“I look at this as a wonderful entrance way into that part of the university,” planning commissioner Bucky Couch said.
The 1.7 acre tract between Guadalupe Street and LBJ Drive has been the subject of “Coming Soon” signs for more than a decade. After suing the city over density restrictions, property owner W.C. Carson won a settlement in 2003 that allowed construction of a 142-unit, six-floor residential development.
In 2008, Casey and Carson won city council approval for a much smaller two-floor, 37,000 square foot retail center. A year later, the council and planning and zoning commission amended the plan to allow for three additional floors of residential.
For part of the last decade, city law restricted buildings in the central business district to less than 45 feet or four floors, whichever was lower. That measure expired in 2008. The downtown SmartCode adopted in 2011 restricts buildings to no more than five stories but establishes a process for real estate developers to seek a “warrant” to build higher if it achieves planning objectives.
On that count, Casey’s enlarged plans for Concho Commons passes muster, city planner Emily Koller said, recommending approval with the condition that Casey follow changes to the SmartCode architectural standards that have been approved by P&Z but not yet enacted by the city council.
Those conditions would have required, among other things, redesigning the building to provide larger setbacks of the upper floors from the building footprint, a practice intended to trim the building’s “massing,” or general shape. The pending changes add requirements intended to avoid the canyon effect created by the sheer walls of towering buildings.
“Staff is generally concerned about the massing of this project. The scale is so much larger than anything we’ve seen downtown,” Koller said.
Answering a question from planning commissioner Travis Kelsey, Casey’s architect, Dan Alexander, said the additional requirements would cut 92 beds from the plan, 22 percent of the proposed total.
“In our world, that’s not supportable,” Alexander said.
Planning commissioner Carter Morris moved that the commission issue Casey the warrant without the conditions recommended by city staff. During their deliberations, several commissioners said they were reluctant to apply design standards that are not yet part of city ordinances.
“By putting in the conditions, we are being asked to enforce a law that has not been approved yet, a regulation that is not a regulation yet,” said commissioner Curtis Seebeck.
Currently valued by the Hays Central Appraisal District at $635,980, the Concho Commons tract yields less than $15,000 a year in city, county and school district taxes. The taxes on the completed project would amount to $265,000 in city, $212,500 in county and $675,000 in San Marcos CISD tax revenue, said Ed Theriot, a consultant working for Casey.
“It will put $600,000 dollars into our school system and place very little demand on our schools because most of [the residents] are going to be college students and aren’t going to have kids,” planning commissioner Chris Wood said.
If Concho Commons tops out at 128 feet, it will be the second tallest privately owned building in San Marcos, coming in behind Embassy Suites, which is 10 floors and 135 feet.
The J.C. Kellum administration building at Texas State is listed as the tallest in San Marcos at 11 floors and 150 feet, according to construction research firm Emporis. Also making the top five list are Jackson Hall (12 floors, 140 feet) and The Tower residence hall (9 floors, 115 feet). The two towers of the recently opened North Campus Housing Complex on Sessom Drive are both 88 feet with six floors.
When land elevation is taken into account, Concho Commons will stand a little taller than J.C. Kellum (740 feet above sea level compared to 728), Theriot said. It would sit lower on the skyline than either Alkek Library (805 feet) the new General Academic Building (765 feet), he said.
CLARIFICATION: The paragraph discussing the architectural concept of “massing” was reworked to be clearer and more accurate.