by BRAD ROLLINS
In a potentially pivotal decision, the San Marcos City Council will be asked tonight to answer two questions about the proposed La Cima development west of town, a sprawling single-family residential subdivision anchored by a 200-acre corporate campus.
The first question: “Is it still the council’s preference to not participate in the costs associated with the extension of infrastructure for the La Cima development?”
If the council’s present position is consistent with its record, the answer to this one will be simple. “No.”
Last year, a subcommittee of three council members negotiating with the same developers stripped out language pointing toward possible quasi-public financing before the agreement ever reached a council vote. In a lopsided 6-1 decision, the council ultimately approved an agreement with the developers specifying that “this agreement shall not be deemed to be an obligation or commitment by the city to consent to or approve any such special district or other financing tool.”
More generally, the council has regularly demonstrated a reluctance to incentivize primarily residential development even when there is a commercial component. When Walton Development applied for a public improvement district to pay for infrastructure in its 495-acre Gas Lamp District on Centerpoint Road, the company’s request was whittled down so much during negotiations with a council subcommittee that the developer ultimately declined to pursue the PID.
“The city of San Marcos has never been a banker for a developer, and that’s what we’re being asked to do,” then-council member Kim Porterfield said last June during a discussion of Walton’s PID request.
The real question that proponents of La Cima want answered, the second one on the city council’s plate tonight: “Is the council agreeable to the county providing financing and/or incentives for public improvements associated with the proposed La Cima development?”
In other words, if the Hays County Commissioners Court approves Lazy Oaks General Partnership LLC’s application for a public improvement district, will the council wreck the deal under a provision of the Texas Local Government Code that gives a municipality veto power over PIDs formed within its extra-territorial jurisdiction. An ETJ is a buffer zone that lies outside a city’s corporate limits but falls under some of its land use authority and development standards.
During six meetings so far between city and county staff and elected officials, that biggest of questions has not been addressed head-on, much less answered. It is, after all, a question only the city council can answer: Is the city council — rightly or wrongly, justifiably or not — going to play spoiler when it comes to La Cima?
“We’ve got to get off center and we’re struck at the committee process. The council, hopefully, will shed some light and bring some clarity to this issue so we all understand what our roles are,” said Hays County Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley, who has argued forcefully in favor of La Cima.
Since announcing the project in April, Conley has a held nothing back in pushing for approval of La Cima and for creation of a public improvement district that would be authorized to raise an initial $18 million through bond sales. The debt would be repaid by future owners of 2,400 single-family homes within the development through annual assessments on their property.
On Friday, in an interview with the Mercury, Conley again made the case that La Cima is critical to putting San Marcos in the running for major employers locating elsewhere in Central Texas by the droves; for extending Centerpoint Road as a four-lane divided parkway to Wonder World Drive; and for adding 800 acres in parks and habitat conservation land connected by a trail system to the city’s 463-acre Purgatory Creek Natural Area.
Elected officials who are skeptical that La Cima can deliver everything that the developers and Conley promise have so far confined themselves, in public, to asking questions. With such a big deal in the making — one with so many “moving parts,” as they say — it has been thus far more than reasonable for decision makers to deliberately go about gathering facts before becoming entrenched in a position.
Tonight, we may see if anyone on council can articulate an argument against La Cima as compelling as the one Conley has made in favor of it.
COVER: Artist’s rendering of how the main gateway to the proposed La Cima development might look. IMAGE by RVi AUSTIN