by BRAD ROLLINS
San Marcos business leaders are rallying against a proposed addition to the city’s comprehensive plan that would cut in half the number of new homes that could be built in western parts of the city that sit atop the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone.
In recent weeks, a citizens advisory committee charged with making recommendations to the city council on a new 10-year comprehensive plan — including a redrawn future land use map — has been kicking around a proposal to limit future development in the recharge zone to 10 percent impervious cover.
About 50 local business people — including an unprecedented assembly of heavy-hitters representing major local corporate and manufacturing employers — have signed a letter to the San Marcos City Council that calls on elected officials to oppose the 10 percent rule and to adopt a comprehensive plan that “relaxes existing regulations in community-desired growth areas to constructively guide future development.”
“Historically in our community, the business community has been rather disorganized. I think as we go forward, you can count on the business community to be organized,” said Corridor Title president Patrick M. Rose, a former state representative who was among the organizers of an Oct. 19 meeting at Embassy Suites that launched the advocacy efforts.
General goals outlined in the letter are endorsed by major corridor industrial chiefs such as Hunter Industries President Johnny Weisman; Heldenfels Enterprises executives Fred and Gil Heldenfels; and Ingram Readymix executive Earl Ingram.
Other signatories include Central Texas Medical Center CEO Sam Huenergard; CenturyLink’s South Texas operations chief John Navarrette; McCoys Corporation board director Meagan McCoy; Sac-N-Pac CEO Kevin Brumley; Embassy Suites General Manager Tom Pugh; auto dealer Chuck Nash; developers Carter Morris, Dan Gribbon, Fraye Stokes, Walter Elias, Chris Carson, John David Carson, Darren Casey and Robert McDonald; and bankers John Schott, Lance Spruiell and Deanna Brock.
“While we may not be a visual reminder to the council on a weekly basis, we collectively represent approximately 3,146 in employment base in the Greater San Marcos community and we care deeply about the success of our community,” the letter states.
The San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce board chair Richard Bump and Greater Austin Home Builders Association President Brent Allison also sent letters opposing tightening restrictions on planned development and reiterating the general object of a development-friendly comprehensive plan.[Updated: A contingent of business people are expected to show up at the San Marcos City Council meeting tonight to press the issue during the standing public comments period.]
Under current Edwards Aquifer Authority regulations, 20 percent of the land area can be developed as impervious cover, meaning nonporous construction like traditional homes and driveways that impede rainwater from refilling the aquifer through crazy quilts of limestone gravel, karsts, sinkholes and caves.
At an Oct. 1 meeting of the citizens committee and a council-appointed steering committee, city Planning and Development Services Director Matthew Lewis said effectively mean no more than 4,000 traditionally constructed homes could be built in 26,545 acres of the city limits that overlap with the recharge zone. Currently, about 315 acres of the 26,545 in the city limits and extraterritorial jurisdiction is developed as impervious cover.
With current EAA regulations and the city’s density rules, about 8,000 new homes — one per 3.19 gross acres — could be built in the recharge zone. Dropping to a maximum of 10 percent impervious cover would mean no more 4,000 homes could ever be built in the recharge zone, Lewis said.
The 10 percent bar was a recommendation, Lewis said, from Thomas B. Hardy, the chief science officer for the San Marcos-based Meadows Center for Water and the Environment.
Denser development than 10 percent causes irreparable harm to the rate that the Edwards Aquifer is refilled during times of rainfall, said San Marcos River Foundation director Dianne Wassenich, a comp plan citizen’s committee member
“You’re diminishing the amount of recharge that can get in the aquifer if you go above 10 percent. That’s the bottom line,” Wassenich said at the Oct. 1 meeting during a lively discussion of the western San Marcos development restrictions.
City council member Ryan Thomason, sits on the plan steering committee with Mayor Daniel Guerrero and council member John Thomaides, said imposing 10 percent ceiling would practically rule out construction on any vacant lots in existing recharge zone neighborhoods.
“If you go lower that 20 percent, you have probably killed infill development. If that’s you’re goal, it will probably do it. Going below 20 percent impervious cover should kill those opportunities pretty quickly,” said Thomason, who is a home and commercial builder by trade.
Comp plan steering committee chair Bill Taylor, who also chairs the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission, said he prefers the impervious cover debate be hashed out when the city rewrites its land development code, which will have to be replaced to work in tandem with whatever form of the comprehensive plan is eventually adopted by the city council.
“I don’t want to get in such finite detail on a 30,000-foot birds eye view master plan. This needs to deal with the big picture and I’d rather we consider this as staff begins to write the new land development code,” Taylor told the San Marcos Mercury.
Rose said he and Hays County Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley and others decided to weigh in on the ongoing comprehensive planning process after hearing about the 10 percent impervious cover rule and other potential policy.
“The commissioner and I were thinking through how absent the business community as been during the comprehensive planning process. There are good people from the Chamber and good people from the Board of Realtors and good business people on the committees but, on the whole, the business community has been disengaged in that process. And shame on us. We think it is important for those of us who work where and employ people where to be a stakeholder in the process. That’s all we want, to be a stakeholder.”
5:29 p.m. TUESDAY, NOV. 20: Meadows Center for Water chief science officer Thom Hardy descibes what’s being called the “10 percent rule” as a measure of water quality, not the quantity of recharge.
In a phone interview with the Mercury, he said 10 percent is a “rule of thumb” used by the Environmental Protection Agency to indicate at what point percentage of impervious cover in a given watershed begins to negatively impact water quality.
“It’s not me saying it. The EPA says, after having studied this in a number of watersheds, that you start seeing degradation in water quality at 10 percent. It’s sort of a trip point that you want to be aware of,” Hardy said. “When you plot the concentration of nutrients and other stuff coming off a watershed as you increase impervious cover, 10 percent is a pretty good break.”