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December 18th, 2012
Letter: Listen to the people on Cape’s Camp


River Road was paved this spring, which it did not really need. The recently installed sidewalk and driveway entrance on the Interstate 35 access road at River Road, and the widening of the underpass at Interstate Highway 35, all make it easy to understand why some people believe that the Woodlands project is going to happen, “Come hell of high water.”  Oh, that’s right, the high water happens after it is built; but only during severe storms. I have been writing, attending the Planning and Zoning Commission meetings, City Council meetings, and two meetings of the Parks and Recreation board. I have always spoken against the continuation of the development of anything other than park land on the properties of Cape’s Camp and adjacent acreage.

I am not alone in this opposition. Indeed, the positive response to Proposition 1 on the ballot this November 6, 2012 authorizing the City of San Marcos to acquire said properties as parkland was in excess of seventy-five percent. This is a significant cause for action on the part of the city council to ordain such a park. The contractor, Dovetail, has its home base in Athens, Georgia. Athens, Georgia was named after Athens, Greece, the birthplace of Demokratia, We use the English spelling, “democracy.”  It denotes popular government, that is; rule by the people. Abraham Lincoln gave the most succinct definition of democracy in the Gettysburgh Address, delivered November 19, 1863, almost exactly 149 years ago. He said that a democracy is a nation, “Of the people, by the people, and for the people.”  This ought be meaningful to Americans.

The presentation of the proposed apartment complex and its inherent zoning changes reminds me of the story of the frog who does not realize that the temperature of the pot of water in which he sits is being raised unnoticeably, until he has been killed. Certain inconsistencies have become apparent. Beginning in May, 2012, when this proposal was first brought to light, Mr. Ed Theriot told the City Council that the Cape’s Camp property had belonged to the Thornton family for 150 years. However, at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting of  November 27, 2012, Mr. Bob Thornton, the property owner, said that Cape’s Camp had been in his family for 100 years. This may be considered a trivial matter, but, which is correct?  Who was deceiving us then, and is one of them still deceiving us?  Moreover, Although the Thornton Family Trust may have had tenure for whatever amount of time it turns out to be, it should be noted that, collectively, we residents of Blanco Gardens and adjoining areas, have families with many hundreds of years of occupancy. In fact, Thornton stated that he lives in Georgetown, Texas. He has not actually occupied the Cape’s Camp area for several decades.

At the Parks and Recreation Board meeting, it was noted that no footprint of the project had been presented. Theriot was asked how many beds were in the plan. He said that, “Off the top of his head,” he just could not say. But he did report how many acres were involved in each parcel of land, and that there were to be a total of 306 units, some of which were designated as medium density and others which were to be high density. He also mentioned fifty parking spaces. It is unbelievable that anyone who knew such details regarding this project could simply have no idea of the number of beds.

When this proposed project was first outlined to the City Council in May, 2012, Theriot said that the level of the land at Cape’s Camp would have to be raised. At the meeting called by the city for the benefit of the various neighborhood groups in August, 2012,  I asked an engineering representative if, by raising the level of the land, and building a privacy fence on top of it, this was not the way in which a levee is constructed. She told me that,  “It’s not a levee. It’s just something to stop the water.”  I was so flabbergasted that the only reply I could make was, “Ta-daaa!”  Is the stopping of water not, precisely, why there are levees?

More recently, at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting of November 27, 2012, the property owner, Thornton,  after he made the statement about the length of time that Cape’s Camp had been in his family’s posession, as mentioned above, went on to say that, “Water has never crossed the field at Cape’s Camp.”  Why, then, was raising the land’s level presented as part of the plan from the beginning?  Why, indeed, was the farmhouse replaced after the 1998 flood?  And why were the new house and adjacent building built, several feet above ground level, on stilts?

On November 27, 2012, Planning and Zoning Commissioner Carter Morris proposed that the development include semi-impervious parking. This indicated to me that water, in point of fact, does flow across the field, contrary to the owner’s insistence that it does not. Interestingly, Morris, at the Regular Meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission of October 9,2012, wished to be put on record to request that he not be verbally accosted when he goes to the grocery store. So was his suggestion of semi-impervious cover some form of appeasement?  That is all it could be since, any cover at a development on raised land would hardly have any affect on water that would have already coursed through Blanco Gardens. Primarily, his wish not to be bothered in public indicates to me that he desires pardon in advance for any decisions that he is already contemplating, which might be considered unethical.

According to the website, City Council Member Shane Scott states that, “Current data shows [sic] that the right kind of development actually protects our river better then [sic] being left in a natural state. This is due to better filtration and met water quality standards.”  His statement reminds me of the time, during the Vietnam War, a commander said that, “It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it.”  The council member’s statement begs the question; What is the, “right kind of development?”  Adequate parking for a 1000 bed Student Housing project would have to accommodate parking for about an additional 1000 guests. That calls for several acres of parking lots alone. Concern for the health of the San Marcos River should take into account that asphalt would create runoff containing the residue of the asphalt itself, dripping oil, anti freeze, and other automotive fluids from parked vehicles that should not have been allowed to be there in the first place. One might also expect leakage from dumpsters. Concern over the San Marcos River is one thing, however, as I have said numerous times, it is the Blanco River, with markedly increased development in its watershed that poses the greatest threat to the neighborhoods surrounding Cape’s Camp in flood times.

We were told that this development was planned with a single entrance and exit driveway at the frontage road south of the River Road intersection. Theriot was asked what was to prevent the tenants from turning right onto River Road and they driving down the residential streets to Bugg Lane and Highway 80. He said, “Why would they?”  Anyone familiar with traffic on that north-bound access road and its intersection with Highway 80 during the morning and evening rush times might well ask, “Why wouldn’t they?”  Plus the fact that using Barbara Drive, Linda Drive, or Conway Drive to reach Bugg Lane serves as a shortcut to the northern end of River Road and can be used to travel to Wal-Mart. Theriot went on to say that this development would not cause any appreciable increase in traffic. How does he make such an assumption?  I use River Road, Cape Road, and my own street, Barbara Drive regularly and, in the past several years, I do not recall driving over the rubber hoses of any traffic counting equipment. Therefore there is no base number for existing traffic, so nobody can say, with any certainty, whether there might be no particular increase. More recently, there was a traffic counter on the northbound access road approaching the Interstate 35 underpass near River Road. Presumably, this was to gage capacity for widening the underpass. But this does not reflect any traffic into Blanco Gardens and other neighborhoods.

Most recently, at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting of November 27, 2012,  the developer showed a projection of the Woodlands footprint that illustrated two driveways onto River Road. We were told that the intention of these was for the use of tenants navagating between the various parking lots, and for the easy access of emergency vehicles. What is to prevent the use of these driveways as de-facto, uncontrolled intersections that cross River Road and onto the feeder streets?  Furthermore the southern half of Barbara Drive is the original part of that street. It is narrower than the newer northern section. Parking is allowed on both sides of the street making southern Barbara Drive all the more difficult to navagate. People are always having to skirt the first available space to the right when faced with oncoming vehicles. There is currently a questionnaire in which the city is asking whether the speed limit should be lowered from thirty miles-per-hour to twenty-five. With such a concern for the safety of the residents and their children, should we be inviting an increase in traffic by students who, one hopes, will be sober when using our neighborhood streets?  I have lost two of my student friends to drunk drivers; Rosalinda Torres and Lisanne Smith Warner.

The car and remains of the cousin of my friend, Fransisco Rodriguez III, were only recently recovered from under the rubble that swept her away in the flood of 2003. Do not underestimate the power of water. An increase of one foot in the depth of moving water increases its force by a factor of four. To illustrate; At one foot in depth, if the force of the current is, for example, measured at twenty foot-pounds per square foot, the force will be eighty foot-pounds at a depth of two feet. At three feet of depth the force becomes 320 foot-pounds per square foot. This is why we say that on flooded roads we should, “Turn around. Don’t drown.”  It was reported, in the San Marcos Daily Record that, in the 1998 flood, one man had been sucked down into a storm drain but, fortunately, he resurfaced and did not drown.

The fact is that the Blanco River overflowed its banks three times in the five year period between 1998 and 2003. The flood waters must flow from the higher elevation of the Blanco to the lower level of the San Marcos River, south of River Road. These flood waters progress in this route through the neighborhoods directly to the north of the proposed Woodlands project at Cape’s Camp. The proliferation of construction in the Blanco river watershed over the fourteen years since the 1998 flood is a contributing factor to the amount of runoff into that river. The nearest construction to San Marcos in the Blanco River watershed is the Blanco River Lodge, a large complex of three story apartment buildings, across River Road to the east of Wal-Mart. Runoff from this complex empties directly into the Blanco. Any construction that impedes the exit of the flood waters from the neighborhood to the San Marcos River will exacerbate already perilous flooding conditions.

It is not only flood damage, there is also subsidence and mold, neither of which is covered by the National Flood Insurance Program, now known as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Recent reports from New York and New Jersey after “Super Storm Sandy,”  tell us that people, in the Rockaway area Queens, New York, were wearing face masks to prevent inhalation of mold spores. San Marcos, Texas, is similarly vulnerable. With climate change, storms are going to increase in frequency and in severity. Another article, written after one of the three floods that I witnessed, said that most damage to our property is from the cumulative effects of repeated flooding.

Concerns other than traffic and worsening flood conditions include; light pollution, the heat-island effect, student misbehavior, including drunk driving in residential neighborhoods, and more, I keep hoping that enough of you; Your Honor, Mayor Guerrero, our City Council Members, and Planning and Zoning Commissioners will take this to heart. I am hoping, and the pun is intentional, that nobody gives a “dam” (misspelling intentional) for fear that a dam is exactly what will result if this irresponsible and negligent project should proceed. The best way to prevent disaster is to not create the sort of conditions that will cause or worsen disaster. This entire project is a terrible idea. Please, for the safety of the current, and future residents of San Marcos, do not turn us into the Central Texas equivalent of the Fifth Ward of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Do not allow us to become another Rockaway, Queens, New York.

San Marcos 

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3 thoughts on “Letter: Listen to the people on Cape’s Camp

  1. Very well reasoned Mr. Beckett. Let’s hope such thinking prevails over the other kind of rea$oning tomorrow when our elected representatives meet.

  2. I ask only, what kind of city will our elected leaders ( leaders ? ) end up leaving the permanent citizens of San Marcos, after it has been blighted with ” Rent by the room” university housing, facilities that have no accomadation for families, even if they were rich enough and dumb enough to want to live in such a complex. Facilities marketed to the planning department, the Planning and Zoning Commission and the city council under the present Land Developement Code as ” Multi-Family” . There is absolutely nothing family about these complexes, and dare I say, a potential legal question as to the accurate definition of their existance looms to be determined. What is the job of our city council members, and beyond that our mayor, if not to have vision and safeguard the future of our city for permanent residents and temporary residents alike. Harmony, not disharmony, should be sought out. And as for our jewel, The San Marcos River, once it has been destroyed the travesty of said destruction will fall squarely on those that support such folly, and this shall be their resounding legacy. jlb 🙂

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