by BRAD ROLLINS
The San Marcos City Council on Monday approved a developer’s request to build 306 student apartment units on a prime piece of riverfront property at Interstate 35 and River Road. The package includes donation to the city of 20 acres of future parkland along the San Marcos River’s northern bank, including the areas known locally as Cape’s Camp and Thompson’s Islands.
The measure was approved 5-2 with council members John Thomaides and Jude Prather voting against. Mayor Daniel Guerrero and council members Ryan Thomason, Shane Scott, Kim Porterfield and Wayne Becak voted for the development and the parkland donation.
“This is a challenging decision. It is especially challenging to me because this is is my neighborhood. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 25 years,” said Guerrero, the only council member who resides east of Interstate 35.
The planned development district entitles Athens, Ga.-based Dovetail Development to build a total of 1,000 bedrooms in three-story buildings clustered along River Road. In addition to the parkland donation — which the developers noted amounts to six times more acreage than city ordinances require them to dedicate – Dovetail will contribute $75,000 to help establish the riverside open space and will build a 10-foot-wide crushed granite trail connecting parking on Cape’s Road to the heart of the park.
At the last minute, Scott successfully moved to amend the PDD to require Dovetail to give the city right of first refusal for one year to buy 31.25 acres south of the river that Dovetail says it intends to purchase from the Thornton family. But the motion did not include a purchase price or price range as City Attorney Michael Cosentino suggested.
Council members also accepted a motion from Porterfield to require the apartments’ eventual operator to provide a private shuttle to Texas State if the university doesn’t add the property to its bus routes.
The vote followed a five-hour-long meeting during which more than 60 residents spoke on the topic, most urging council members to reject Dovetail’s offer. The project’s supporters, however, pointed out that while San Marcos voters overwhelming said through November’s nonbinding propositions that they would like to see the Cape’s Camp property acquired as parkland, a similarly wide margin said they did not want to pay higher property taxes to buy it.
“I appreciate that the vast majority of voters said ‘We want this parkland.’ But the same percentage said, ‘Don’t send us a bill,’” Thomason said.
Thomaides urged his colleagues to reject the proposal and thereby preserve the option to find a better use for the land. But Dovetail’s heavy-hitting attorney, Steve Drenner of Austin, warned again that Dovetail has no intention of selling the property to the city.
“This property is not for sale to the city of San Marcos. It is not for sale to the city, nor will it ever be. The only way [Thompson's Islands and Cape's Camp] will ever be parkland is if this PDD moves forward,” Drenner said.
With the future of the Thornton family’s holdings north of the river settled, attention will no doubt turn to their acreage on the other side of the river. A city council-commissioned appraisal pegged the value of the land last summer at $2,518,000; Cosentino said tonight that the most recent selling price advanced by Dovetail was more than $5 million.
David Mulkey, Dovetail Development’s chief executive officer, said he has no current plans to develop the south part of the property and that the zoning change he would need to do so ensures the city will have an opportunity to make a purchase offer.
Prather’s opposition to the development marks the only time during more than two years on the council that he has voted against rezoning or land use changes needed to facilitate a development. At Monday’s meeting he asked Mulkey if the developer could reconfigure his plans to provide for taller buildings with a smaller footprint. Mulkey said he could not.
“As impressive as that piece of land is, this PDD is not so impressive,” Prather said.
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