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

October 29th, 2008
P&Z picks ‘common sense’ over codes

Editor at Large

Nearly every time they meet, planning and zoning commissioners hear requests for variances to city codes. But it’s not every day when such a commission gets to wave off the codes from its own city and the next county.

The San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) relished that opportunity Tuesday night, “in the name of common sense,” as Commissioner Curtis Seebeck put it. The commissioners voted, 6-1, to recommend that one property receive two variances – one from city codes and the other from Comal County codes. The city’s development staff recommended denial of both requests.

The commissioners were presented the unique situation because the property in question belongs not just within the San Marcos extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) but also within Comal County. Thus it fell under the auspices of an inter-local development agreement between San Marcos and Comal County, which says city regulations hold in every respect except for Comal County’s water availability standards.

The owners of the property at 8173 Old Bastrop Highway, Mario and America Perez, wished to divide his 5.7 acres into two lots so their son could have one of them. The large lot has two houses, each with its own septic system, and the lot would be subdivided in two, with each lot including a house and a septic system.

The Comal County regulation in question concerns the property’s water supplier. Though the property is supplied by Crystal Clear Water Supply, which serves 4,500 homes, that service fails to satisfy the Comal County code because the county doesn’t recognize Crystal Clear as a water supplier.

Finding the situation at least slightly absurd and not fully knowing Comal County’s disposition towards Crystal Clear, at least part of the commission was openly sympathetic to Perez.

“It’s really a pain when you do stuff like this if you don’t have a ton of money,” Commissioner Randy Bryan said.

It was unclear why Comal County doesn’t recognize Crystal Clear, though some speculation had it that perhaps Crystal Clear hasn’t provided documentation to the county guaranteeing a 20-year water supply. The discussion broached the possibility that Comal County intends such a regulation to guarantee water availability for big housing developments and might approve the much smaller Perez request on a single-case basis.

Whatever the reason, the P&Z majority decided to recommend approval and move the process to the Comal County Commissioners Court.

“It’s a little bit of a strange situation for us to be enforcing another county’s standards,” said Commissioner Bill DeSoto, who still was the only commissioner to go against the request in a 6-1 vote.

On the next matter, the P&Z considered enforcing its own city’s standard, and found that a bit of a strange situation, as well.

The city requires that the depth of a lot can’t exceed three times the size of its width across the street frontage. The purpose of that regulation, written in 1975, is to facilitate rational patterns of street construction and to protect property owners adjoining on the backside from being landlocked.

The width of the undivided Perez lot is 327.9 feet, against a longest depth of 815.6 feet, which brings it well within the city’s requirement. However, Perez requested to divide the lot lengthwise, in which case each of two lots would have 163.95 feet of street frontage, and one of the lots would be 815.63 feet deep.

Arguing on behalf of the Perez family, Thor Thornhill of S. Craig Hollmig said the San Marcos regulation wouldn’t be a problem for the property owners if the city hadn’t covered the lot with a recent expansion of ETJ. When the city claimed a 50,000 population last summer, its ETJ expanded from two miles to three and one-half miles outside of its city limits.

Commissioners noted that the properties immediately on each side of the Perez lots are light industrial type businesses, indicating that the property’s future probably consists in being purchased for a commercial use. Furthermore, Seebeck said, denial on this count would prevent the matter from going to the Comal County commissioners for a ruling on the water issue.

City officials said Perez could have avoided the problem by building a road to city standards across the property and subdividing it accordingly. Ultimately, the commissioners apparently were compelled to view the matter as a fellow wanting to give a slice of his property in the middle of nowhere to his son, so they decided, again, to grant the variance by a 6-1 vote, with DeSoto, again, dissenting.

Now, it’s left for the Comal County Commissioners Court to decide on one variance, and for the San Marcos City Council to decide on the other.

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One thought on “P&Z picks ‘common sense’ over codes

  1. It’s good to see that the zoning commission thinks independently and isn’t a slave to the codes.

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