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

June 11th, 2009
Conflict brews over recharge development

The location of the annexed property, part of Windemere Ranch.

News Reporter

San Marcos City Council members voted 6-1 last week in favor of annexing 22.5 acres of aquifer recharge land on which out-of-town developers intend to place 40 units of townhomes and two lots of neighborhood commercial buildings. City land use plans call for low density on the annexed tract, located about a mile northwest of Post Road near Spring Lake Preserve.

Of the eight individuals who spoke during public comment, only ETR Development Consulting co-founder Thomas Rhodes asked the council to vote for annexation. Rhodes’ clients are developers Thomas Haug and Vince Wood, who own the 22.5-acre tract. The rest of those who spoke, five of whom said they live near the proposed development, opposed the annexation and any future development of a density higher than specified by the New Horizons Master Plan.

“In order to even begin the development process on this site, we have to begin the annexation,” said ETR Development Consulting co-founder Thomas Rhodes. “We can’t do anything else until we’re annexed into the city.”

Among other benefits, annexation enables Haug and Wood to build water and wastewater lines that connect to city infrastructure.

Haug and Wood also own a 212-acre tract near the annexed 22.5 acres. The city annexed the 212-acre tract on a voluntary basis in 2007. Both tracts comprise what is now known as Windemere Ranch, most of which the Storts family used for horse boarding and riding in the 1980s and milk production in the 1950s.

Because Windemere Ranch is located in a recharge zone for the Edwards Aquifer, which supplies water to about 1.7 million people, the city prohibits any development in the region from having nonporous surfaces averaging more than 20 percent of the development’s area.

Recharge land is typified by thin soils covering extremely porous limestone. Water runoff over impervious cover can erode soil, pool and force water into the ground quickly, thereby bypassing microbial and plant filtration of possible pollutants. Additional water runoff at Windemere Ranch may flow overland into Spring Lake, the source of the San Marcos River and home to several endangered species.

According to the developers’ conceptual plan, there is at least one cave on the property, two sinkholes, two solution enlarged fractures and two solution cavities. Haug and Wood hired professional geologist and cave biologist Andy Grubbs to examine the aquifer recharge features on Windemere Ranch.

“I am very familiar with the area because I lived in a rent house on (Windemere Ranch) when it was a horse ranch back in the ’80s,” said Grubbs. ” … I found some sensitive recharge features. The TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) came out and examined them and we concurred on how sensitive they were, and the proposed development came up with setbacks and exclusion zones in their conceptual plan that satisfies the TCEQ’s requirements.”

Said biologist and Science Director for the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance Tom Hayes last week as he asked council to vote against the annexation, “That recharge dam is on (Sink Creek). The creek is the major recharge to Spring Lake. If you sediment it, if you put the pollutants in that flood control dam, they’re going to be going directly into the springs. You cannot do that … The city needs to protect this area. The TCEQ rules are not adequate to protect the second-largest fresh water spring in the State of Texas.”

During the meeting, Mayor Susan Narvaiz, councilmembers John Thomaides, Pam Couch and Kim Porterfield said their votes for annexation should not be taken as a sign of total agreement with the developers’ plans for Windemere Ranch, but as an effort to protect the area and give residents greater control over future development. Councilmember Gaylord Bose was alone in voting against the annexation.

Said Porterfield, “I really like the ring of ‘Windemere Canyon Park,’ but the truth of matter is … the city cannot afford to purchase this land, and so, absent another group coming in to work with us, the owner has a right to develop the land, just as everyone who lives out there now had a right to dig a well and build a home. The land, I also believe … is better off in the city limits rather than in the unincorporated area because we have more control, and there are fewer land use controls in unincorporated areas.”

The city’s Future Land Use Map, formulated using surveys of city residents, specifies “very low density residential development” for Windemere Ranch. The developers’ conceptual plan specifies a higher density development for the area than that stipulated by the land use map. Wood and Haug intend the 212-acre portion of their property to accommodate 67 1/4-acre lots, 96 1/2-acre lots and 47 3/4-acre lots.

“(The) future land use plan may or may not be amended, depending on what the needs are to help the development and to meet the development needs of the developer,” Rhodes said during last week’s city council meeting.

Assistant City Manager Laurie Moyer said requests for land use amendments have increased because the master plan hasn’t been updated since 1996. Moyer said work on a new master plan will begin this year.

“If it makes sense, (developers are) granted a change in land use,” said Moyer. “But the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council look at each one individually … It’s really a case-by-case basis.”

In March, the city council voted, 4-3, to approved a change to the land use plan that allows denser housing development near Hunter Road and Wonder World Drive. ETR Consulting represented developer Larry Peel & Company in that instance.

Last summer, Haug and Wood withdrew their request for a variance specifying only one access point for the 212-acre portion of Windemere Ranch after local residents protested.

“It is inconsistent to expect taxpayers to pay for surface water they’re drinking while also obligating citizens to pay for wastewater lines and roads that enable this development, which endangers the springs,” said Tyler Carlson, a resident who lives near Windemere Ranch. “It is incompatible to restrict development along the San Marcos River while promoting development along water routes that directly feed it.”

Except for the new sewer line now being built through a portion of Windemere Ranch, the developers will have to pay 100 percent of water and wastewater infrastructure installed on the property. Moyer said the sewer line now being built has been planned since 2002 and is being laid to accommodate the growth of Texas State University and apartments near North LBJ Drive and Craddock Avenue.

Half the cost of  installing the sewer line will be charged to utility customers and half will be charged via impact fees to all new development in the city. Off-site construction of water and wastewater infrastructure to accommodate the development will be borne by the developer. The city will pay for maintenance of on-site water, wastewater and road infrastructure. State law prohibits cities from charging developers more than 50 percent of the cost to accommodate growth caused by new development.

Daniel Hosage, a resident living near Windemere Ranch, asked the city council last week to wait 30 days before deciding on annexing the 22.5-acre tract.

“It’s going to impact our lives, from everything from the depth of our wells to how long we wait at stop signs, to how many children are in our school classes,” Hosage said.

Because city staff placed the annexation ordinance on the council’s agenda as an emergency item, councilmembers were not required to hold more than one vote or meeting on the issue. Moyer said city staff crafted the agenda item as an emergency ordinance for efficiency’s sake.

Said Moyer, “I think from a staff perspective, the assumption was, ‘Well, this is not a problem to place it on emergency because it was (a) voluntary (annexation) and the main discussion, the deeper discussion, was held with the 200-acre parcel. They followed that logic. Whether or not the people, the citizens felt that way, you know, they obviously didn’t, and they felt like they wanted to have a deeper discussion.”

To proceed with their development, Haug and Wood will need to get their property zoned, which entails gaining the approval of the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council. If they get their zoning approved, Haug and Wood will have to get their concept plan approved, then get their property platted. Their submissions for a sewer collection system must be approved by the city and TCEQ. A TCEQ-approved water pollution abatement plan and a traffic study must be completed before the developers can move forward with their plans.

“The thing I want everyone to know is that this is only a baby step,” said Narvaiz “That long list (of development requirements) does not exist now in the county. And that is what is important. That is what we look at, especially in areas that we believe are sensitive. This gives us an opportunity to hold many more public hearings, hold a higher standard.”

This sign on Lime Kiln Road is near the annexed property.

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0 thoughts on “Conflict brews over recharge development

  1. “During the meeting, Mayor Susan Narvaiz, councilmembers John Thomaides, Pam Couch and Kim Porterfield said their votes for annexation should not be taken as a sign of total agreement with the developers’ plans for Windemere Ranch, but as an effort to protect the area and give residents greater control over future development.”

    Uh, yeah. Whatever you say.

  2. Too bad the Edwards Aquifer Authority does not have water quality protections in place that would ensure adequate protection of the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. TCEQ regulations are not adequate.

  3. I continue to be dismayed that so little concern
    seems to be exhibited by Council over this very
    important ecologically sensitive tract. This is the closest runoff into the Spring Lake tributary-Sink Creek and therefore the San Marcos River. The dangers of pollution are dramatic and the San Marcos River could have irreversible damage to the plant and animal life.
    In addition, the huge increase of vehicle traffic on Lime Kiln dead ending onto Post Road would be an
    additional nightmare for everyone involved.
    Without annexation, the developers would not have had the incentives to go ahead pushing their plans.

  4. Council votes on Tuesday June 16 in the second reading and then it is law. To help stop this, please tell the Mayor and City Council to vote NO on annexation of this tract; we do not want them to spend tax money harming the recharge zone; and please to not enable developers to harm it. Considering the future and our desire to be able to continue to enjoy the San Marcos River, the community does not want commercial or mixed-use or any dense development in this area; we do not want pollution of the recharge zone; we do not want to obligate ourselves into spending taxpayer money attempting to remediate the damage that will surely be caused by the developer if we annex this land. Taxpayer funds should NOT be used to provide infrastructure that would simply benefit developers in their quest to harm the recharge zone with dense development.

  5. Just something to keep in mind… the city has far more land use control after it has been annexed. The City can’t do much about ETJ development.

  6. Steve Harvey: “Council votes on Tuesday June 16 in the second reading and then it is law.”

    The June 16 council meeting agenda does not include an item relating to the annexation of the 22 acres. It was an emergency ordinance the council voted on. The property is part of the city now.

  7. The whole reason that these developers might be able to do what they want to, on this very sensitive recharge zone land, is that the city is providing a huge wastewater line for them to tie on to serve their development, a line built with taxpayer funds. Using taxpayer funds to harm the recharge zone is a recipe for disaster, and the citizens of this town will remember what has been done here, when the river is not swimmable any more. Also, the developer will not have adequate access to his property without the city building a huge road extension from Craddock. This road is now being analyzed for route and costs by the city. The developer wants to be annexed because he knows he will be promised these things, and that will help him flip the property for a lot more money. This kind of thing makes the property so over priced that no one can afford to buy it for conservation.

  8. If this project is allowed, the LAST thing that should be done is to install conventional wastewater lines in that terrain. That would be the “best” way to assure that the aquifer gets polluted. That, along with the need to begin fostering a high degree of beneficial reuse of “waste” water in this region, demands that this 19th century strategy be deemphasized, and that 21st century strategies be used instead. This would entail holistic, integrated, decentralized water management, including rainwater harvesting for water supply, low-impact development stormwater management methods, and reuse-focused decentralized concept “waste” water strategies, under which this water is addressed as a resource to be husbanded — rather than as a nuisance to just be made to go “away” — from its point of generation. It would be treated in small-scale units, utilizing “fail-safe” technologies, to a very high quality, and then reused for toilet flushing and to provide irrigation, which would be with subsurface drip to both maximize irrigation efficiency and to sequester the water from human contact. Back when I first started suggesting these strategies to the city, when Lowman Ranch was proposed in 1985, the city just couldn’t be bothered to even consider such ideas. It will probably be the same way now. And that will be to the detriment of this entire region. The changes society needs to make to respond to the water realities of this region need to start happening NOW. This is infrastructure with a very long service life, so installations made now will impact on the efficiency of water resources management for decades to come.

  9. I am deeply saddened to realize this was an “emergency” that our city leaders shoved through, and now it is law, without appropriate community dialog, and falling far short of the transparency we deserve from local leadership and government.

  10. I really hope the developers look up conservation design and the neighborhood design philosophies of Randall Arendt. I’d like to see them do some of those new modernized package wastewater treatment plants on site that would allow them to produce high quality water for reuse within the development in combination with communal rainwater harvesting (probably similar to what David is suggesting above), both of which can be reused for greywater applications. Sadly, most developers are unwilling to move beyond the status quo and attempt creative approaches development, even though they’ve been proven in other parts of the country.

  11. I attended the council meeting where the vote to annex the 22.5 acres occurred and I found Sean Batura’s article to be informative, especially the quotes from Andy Grubb and information about TCEQ. Does anyone know where I can get a copy of Andy Grubb’s report or the TCEQ report on this land?

    Also, I heard more than one member of the council say that they believed there were residents of the area who support the subdivision. I guess the only way we’ll find out is by talking to our neighbors.

    One thing is obvious: the current road infrastructure isn’t sufficient to support the developer’s current concept plan. You can see from the satelite photos that Limekiln feeds into miles of little roads, yet has only one way in and out – the Limekiln -Post Road intersection.

  12. “intend to place 40 units of townhomes and two lots of neighborhood commercial buildings.”

    I am interpreting this to mean that this will be a 40 structure apartment complex. We live out Limekiln Rd. I have met no one out here who is excited to hear the terms “townhomes or commercial” Leaving I35 and turning out Limekiln from Post Rd, one enters “the country” immediately upon crossing Sink Creek. We always knew development would eventually move out Limekiln, and disrupt this peaceful setting so close to town and campus, but we did not expect it to be the worst type of development possible. I hold no hope that City of San Marcos Council and Mayor Narvaiz will do anything but facilitate the high density development of this acreage.

  13. I too am deeply saddened by this vote by our elected officials, supported by no county residents on record. What are they thinking? I have known a few of the council members who voted for this for many years and I cannot understand why they would vote for a plan that has the potential to make our aquifer and river unusable and in the process make much of Hays county uninhabitable so that one property owner can do what he wants with his 22 acres of land. Does this serve the interests of anyone other than a developer? Are they hoping they will not be here when the consequences begin?

  14. 40 units of townhomes sounds like Sagewood II, not an apartment complex. You’ll wish they had built an apartment complex. At least then, there would be a single owner and manager to hold accountable. Instead, you’ll get 40 absentee owners and no accountability whatsoever.

  15. Calm down folks… there is no reason to be disappointed by this vote. This was not a vote approving the development proposal–it was a vote bringing in an additional 22 acres adjacent to the larger Windemere Ranch property that was annexed in 2007. If you want to control what happens on this property, you want it in the city limits.

    Now is the time for folks like you to begin organizing to have a polished response when the land use amendments, zoning changes, subdivision master plans, etc. are presented. Work on trying to find alternative development scenarios. Get neighbors to show up at the meetings and speak to the P&Z and Council (rather than just watching from the sidelines).

  16. I think everyone is calm, but I agree that this is the time to get organized. Better now, before anything is rezoned or built, than every year for going a decade or more afterward.

    There are 50 townhomes in the Sagewood neighborhood, which was originally supposed to be a green space to act as a buffer between the single family neighborhood and the apartments. Come by and ask the neighbors over here how many of us wish we could undo that rezoning decision.

  17. The reasons why this development is a bad idea cover a range of categories big and small: Recharge zone concerns, Runoff concerns, Road Safety concerns, Endangered Habitat concerns, San Marcos/Sink Creek concerns, Aesthetic Concerns, and no neighbors want it there either.

    And what are the benefits of the proposed development? There is only one: Making Money. Who makes the money? The developers and the City of San Marcos.

    Yes the developers have the legal right to do almost whatever they want with the property, but the City Council also has the right to use it powers to discourage new development, particularly when their constituents don’t want it.

    Our City Council (and our County Commissioners) don’t seem to notice that none of their constituents support the Windemere Developement. The safety concerns alone should be reason enough for hesitation.

    The City and Hays County need to focus on the long-term sustainability of the the county’s resources. If current growth and water usage trends continue in Central Texas, the western portion of the county will be dry very soon, and the most robust models on warming trends over the next century in Texas suggest that we will be hotter sooner than expected.

    Where will all the new residents recreate when the San Marcos and Blanco Rivers have dried up? The County, along with the City of San Marcos and Wimberley, need to pick up the ball they dropped and begin searching for ways to acquire tracts that can serve the multi-purposes of watershed protection, public parks/greenbelts, and endangered species habitat protection. One can’t help notice that, starting with the Windemere tracts, there are thousands of contiguous acres of undeveloped recharge/endangered bird habitat/potential greenbelt that are owned by only a handful of landowners, and this land extends all the way to the Blanco River. Through swift, deft, and collaborated maneuverings, our local elected officials can create a Parks and Preserve System that rivals our neighbors to the north. I can see it now: The Liz Sumter Greenbelt, Susan Narvaiz City Park, Will Conley Blanco River Park, The Jeff Barton Preserve.

  18. Well said, Jason, Ted and Hack. Time to start paying attention to our City Council and P&Z agendas.
    Like children, you turn your back on them for a second, they will break something.

  19. Everyone should just calm down and get educated before passing judgement on this development. First of all…Hack…you are absolutely correct. This property is far better off inside the City limits than outside. Outside the City limits and you have virtually no control over the use of the property.

    The City actually requires that developers request annexation into the City if they want City services. These developers VOLUNTARILY requested annexation to the City. They could have easily done lots on septic and wells and TOTALLY destroyed this environmentally sensitive area. Instead, they want to to build within the requirements of the TCEQ and the City (less than 20% impervious cover over the entire site) and are not going to be requesting anything out of the ordinary.

    Travis…the vote of the City Council did not legally guarantee any development rights to this property. The vote of the Council was simply to annex the property. As their consultant, Mr. Rhodes, pointed out, there is a long way to go on this project. This is just the first step. As the Mayor pointed out, there are many more approvals required and there will also be many more opportunities for the public to be heard.

    Chris North…you’ve finally pulled your head out of the sand and actually have something useful to say…yeah, pay attention to agendas. The City Council will throw the City under the bus to make a buck.

    However, all of the people who question the wastewater line running through the property (Dianne Wassenich), you need to get your head out of the sand and get educated. The Sink Creek Interceptor project is part of the City’s CIP and is paid for 100% by impact fees that are paid by developers developing new properties and new connections to existing City infrastructure. The City’s CIP and Impact Fees are designed to make new development pay for itself and are regulated by Chapter 395 of the Texas Local Government Code. Furthermore, recent development proposals on the northwest part of the City (LBJ north of Sessom) have been denied because of a lack of sewer infrastructure. The great University on the Hill has built so many new buildings that the City doesn’t have any capacity remaining; however, the City cannot deny the rights of property owners to connect to an available public wastewater system. Perhaps you (Dianne Wassenich) would like to pony up the cash for attorney’s fees when the developers start sueing the City for violations of federal law related to “takings”.

    The City’s Sink Creek Interceptor is a CIP project that would have been done regardless of this project being submitted and serves no direct benefit to this property. The developers will still be required to construct their own infrastructure within their development. Perhaps you should open mouth and insert foot before you start spewing false accusations.

    There are a wide variety of concerns that still need to be addressed on this project. However, as the developer’s representatives have stated to the Council and the public, this is the first step and is a good step for the City. It’s better than not having City control over the property. If you do your due diligence and research the property owners representatives on Newstreamz and their website, they actually have a lot of experience with the City and this could be beneficial to this project.

  20. Annexation into the city is exactly what makes the denser development possible. Virtually no development rules in the county is not the truth and you are well aware of this. Wells and Septics require larger lots under existing county rules. Even with a public water system in place you would still only be able to subdivide into 1.5 acres lots minimum under county ossf rules. =not profitable to develop this land after costs of roads and public water supply. For Wells and Septic over recharge minimum lot was 3 acres under 2001 rules, likely larger lots now. Besides, to qualify for private wells, the Edwards Aqufifer District is requiring much large lots sizes for any new subdivisions. I think up from 5 acres to 10 acres now. But you know all this Anonymous.

    Same as you know, as do the developers also, that the ONLY possible way this property gets developed is at a level of density that results in profits. Not possible under existing county subdivision and aquifer rules already in place, only possible under city development rules. Of course they have voluntarily requested annexation. Of course they are willing to pay to develop sewer infrastructure. Costs will be recovered in many many smaller lots yielding higher per acre return. Quit being silly.

    You call a lot of names out for a person hiding their own. Your words would be more persuasive if you were willing to own them. That you will not suggests to me that you really know the value of them.

  21. The river is “swimmable”? With all the out of control vegitation, I’m scared to get in for fear of getting tangled up and drowning in it. The river was a lot nicer 10-15 years ago when it was being cleaned regularly.

  22. We should require the water coolers at the city engineers office be filled with water from the springs at the headwaters of the river.

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