San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

If the city council grants developer Darren Casey’s request for a height warrant, the high-rise would likely be the tallest building so far along the Interstate 35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio. 

by BRAD ROLLINS

Offering a nearly unanimous blessing for what could be the tallest building between Austin and San Antonio, San Marcos planning commissioners on Tuesday voted to recommend approval of Casey Development Ltd.’s request to stretch his proposed Concho Commons high-rise to a full 15 floors.

San Antonio developer Darren Casey holds a long-term ground lease on a 1.7-acre vacant tract bound by two major thoroughfares and planted between Texas State University and the city’s lively downtown retail and entertainment district. Since 2008, city officials have approved entitlements for a succession of ever-larger proposed developments culminating in Casey’s current plan for a high-rise with 15,800 square feet of retail and restaurant space topped by 326 living units with 766 bedrooms.

In areas of the Central Business District zoned as urban centers — the highest level of density under the SmartCode development ordinance adopted in 2011 — developers can, by right, build up to five stories. They also have the option of requesting a “height warrant” to build higher as Casey did in 2012 and again this year. If developer’s current vision for the property materializes, the building would almost certainly surpass the 11-floor, 150-foot J.C. Kellum Building — currently the tallest in San Marcos — and the seven-floor, 120-foot Landmark Lofts — currently the tallest in New Braunfels.

“I don’t have a problem with the height. I’d rather build this downtown” than in residential areas, planning commissioner Travis Kelsey said. “The more density we put on that side of the university in downtown, the less we’re putting in someone’s neighborhood.”

Under terms negotiated by city staff in exchange for a recommendation for approval, Casey agreed to screen an electricity transformer that would have otherwise blighted the streetscape; install a “jellyfish” water quality system designed to treat runoff at levels higher than required by municipal codes; and meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standards for energy conservation and environmental sustainability.

The height warrant would expire if Casey does not begin construction — as evidenced by securing a site preparation permit from the city — within two years of the measure’s approval by the city council. The deadline to start site work would affect only the warrant granting Casey permission to build the top two floors of Concho Commons; he is already legally entitled to build up to 13 floors under a height warrant approved by planning commissioners in October 2012.

“I’m only voting in favor of this because of the two-year [deadline]… I have no interest in voting on open-ended height warrants that go with the land — that never expire — for projects that may never get built,” said planning commissioner Angie Ramirez, who made the motion to grant Casey’s request.

The planning commission voted 6-1 to recommend approval of Casey’s warrant to build 15 floors. Curtis Seebeck cast the only vote against approval; newly appointed planning commissioner Jim Garber has not yet been seated and planning commissioner Amy Stanfield was absent.

Seebeck noted that the city council created a planned development district in 2008 that permitted Casey to build three floors comprised of 37,000 square feet of retail and office space. The next year, the development agreement was amended to add two more floors as well as 39 residential units. The 2012 iteration of Concho Commons jumped to 13 floors with 17,000 square feet of retail space and 310 living units with a total of 584 beds.

“This thing started out in 2008 as a three-story building. Here we are eight years later with a 15-story building. In a year, are we going to be asking for 17 stories and, in another year, we’ll go on up to 20? Where does it stop?” Seebeck said.

Casey intends to have the building completed in time for tenants to move in sometime in 2017, Dripping Springs architect Dan Alexander told commissioners. Doing so will require city council approval in January, he said.

“To allow that time frame to work, we need to be underway right now so we’re already moving forward” said Alexander, who works for the Pasadena, Calif.-based Jacobs engineering and architecture firm.

Casey’s latest application for a height warrant does not specify how tall the building will rise from street level. Under the 13-floor plan, Concho Commons was envisioned to be 128 feet tall, consultants working for Casey said at the time. The addition of two additional floors — typically 12- to 14-feet in height — would seem certain to push it over 150 feet.

 

Downloads

Casey Development’s height warrant application [pdf]

Staff analysis recommending approval height warrant [pdf]

Concho Commons SmartCode Compliance Review [pdf]

Concho Commons Design Compliance Review [pdf]

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24 thoughts on “San Marcos commission recommends approval of 15-floor Concho Commons

  1. That is about the dumbest thing I have read of the P&Z. How many apartment buildings do yall think you need? To make it the tallest building in SM? That is shameful!!! I thought we yall had elected better people with better understanding of what it means to live in the Hill country and all its blessings of beauty, and listened to what the people who know business wants! Shame on all of you all!!! Shame!!!!!! Disgrace the community with the horrible thing/building! FYI THERE ARE ENOUGH APARTMENT BUILDINGS IN SAN MARCOS!!!!!!! YOU ALL WILL HAVE MANY RUN DOWN BUILDINGS BEFORE YOU KNOW IT! It has happened before to over zealous college towns. Did you all not learn a thing?

  2. I like the location. I question whether it will get built.

    What about parking? Now that it is 5x taller than originally planned, have parking requirements been adjusted accordingly?

  3. This building will “meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standards for energy conservation and environmental sustainability?” Are we sure about that?

  4. I like it. Can’t wait to see it. And if it hides the butt ugly Kellum and Alkek so much the better.

  5. Will these be student housing only? Rent by the room? Like the lovely complex going up by Cape’s Camp? Will they ever build housing near downtown for grown up professionals who love San Marcos and would love to live walking distance to the river and downtown?

  6. It’s a perfect place for student housing, but 15 stories? If 121 feet is good enough for Paris, it should be good enough for San Marcos. Also, this is hideous.

    I found this funny:

    “I don’t have a problem with the height. I’d rather build this downtown” than in residential areas, planning commissioner Travis Kelsey said. “The more density we put on that side of the university in downtown, the less we’re putting in someone’s neighborhood.”

    Sorry Travis Kelsey, this won’t stop apartment complexes in residential areas. The only thing that can do that is you lot sticking to your guns and not granting them permits.

  7. Ted
    +
    In reference to your questions about parking, here is how it shakes out:

    Concho-Commons-parking-worksheet-630C

    Concho Commons is, consequently, 60 parking spaces short of what the code would require for the residential component of the project. This amounts to 0.92 parking spaces per bedroom. If the developer eliminated the 52 public parking spots, and reserved them instead for residents, they would still be eight parking spaces below the requirement (at 0.99 spaces per bedroom.)
    +
    According to Casey Development Ltd.’s height warrant application, however, the code allows buildings located within a half-mile of a “Transit-Oriented Development Zone” to request a 30 percent reduction in the number of parking spaces. The code requirements included in the above tables do not include the 30 percent reduction in parking requirement.
    +
    With a 30 percent reduction, required parking would look like this:
    +
    Residential: 536 spaces
    Retail: 33
    Total: 569

  8. Interesting. Thanks.

    With all of the parking problems downtown, I wonder how they will prevent residents and their guests from parking in the commercial spots.

    I’m not sure I’d want to risk opening a business there, despite the appeal of having so many potential customers living in the building.

    I’ll be curious to see how it works out. Successful mixed-use could be very good for downtown.

  9. This project would be a lot more inviting if there were some decent setbacks from the roads. That is one thing I consistently notice with projects that appeal to me in Austin….there is green (yes, even drought tolerant greenery makes a huge difference) and there is a wide sidewalk.

    This project is smack on the narrow sidewalk and the sidewalk is smack against the street. Even at five stories that would feel confining. If the builder is going to go up for 15 stories, surely there could be room for a more inviting street level environment, on all sides of the complex.

  10. This is awesome for San Marcos! San Marcos already has a vibrant, fun, and economically important downtown area, this will only further strengthen it! It’ll brings more business to small businesses in the downtown area and promote more active and eco-friendly lifestyles with people walking and biking more.

  11. Yep. Bars.

    And also restaurants, retail boutiques, electronics stores, personal services businesses, and any of a number of businesses that can cater to not only the nearby student population but also residents of San Marcos in general.

  12. The businesses in the building aren’t as interesting to me, as the value to the existing downtown businesses, of having so many residents moving in.

    This is *much* more beneficial to the city, than apartments in residential neighborhoods.

  13. Speak with you elected official’s Chris Woods & Ryan Thompson who both worked on The Uptown Square project. They are on Casey’s payroll acting as superintendent on the project.

  14. The only thing funnier than watching the usual pro-development schills salivate over business that might be coming to downtown is that they actually believe that it’s going to happen. Corpse, meet Ganges…..

    Concho Commons is at least seven years behind schedule, and the bars, restaurants, retail boutiques, electronics stores, personal services businesses, and any of a number of businesses that can cater to not only the nearby student population but also residents of San Marcos in general are going to look exactly like the ones on the bottom floor of Sanctuary Lofts.

    And why am I not surprised that one council member and one P&Z member are on Casey’s payroll? Probably for the same reason that I’m not surprised our mayor works for a lobbying group and was hand-picked by the usual good old boy network.

  15. Daniel, just out of curiosity what businesses are on the bottom floor of the Sanctuary Lofts? I am curious but not enough to try and find a parking place and go look for myself.

  16. There AREN’T any, although I seem to remember that there were SUPPOSED to be plenty. The fact that you don’t want to go over there and see for yourself doesn’t undersell the folly of it in the least, does it?

  17. Way deep down I kinda knew what your answer would be, Daniel. I really wasn’t all that curious either as nothing about San Marcos interests me anymore albeit I’ve lived here for many years. There comes a point when one just gives up and lets the powers-that-be do whatever they want.

    What difference does it make after all.

  18. I feel you, Jim. The powers that be can try all they want, but they can’t change the realities of the market place. They may play one side against the other, put lipsticjk on a pig and stack deck, but they can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

  19. Daniel, I’ve long suspected that these endless plans for this lot are just Casey upping the property’s value for when it’s sold to the university. That lot and the catholic student center are the two most logical pieces of property for university expansion in the entire city.

    Obviously Casey’s reluctance to build has been noted; hopefully the time limit on this entitlement will encourage him to either build or stop bothering city council.

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