San Marcos City Councilmembers Fred Terry, left, and John Thomaides, right, at a meeting last month. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
San Marcos City Councilmembers approved another zoning change to accommodate increased density last month, granting preliminary approval to a zoning change and a land use plan for the Retreat on Willow Creek, a proposed 101.40-acre mixed-use development just west of Hunter Road and south of Stagecoach Trail.
Area residents expressed concerns about increased vehicle traffic, water consumption, and deer habitat depletion. Since June, seven residents from surrounding neighborhoods wrote letters and placed phone calls opposing land use changes or development on the 101-acre tract.
But no residents living near the proposed development voiced their opposition at the Dec. 16 city council meeting at which the council unanimously approved the zoning change from single-family residential to a Planned Development District (PDD) with a Mixed Use base zoning.
In recent months, the council has approved plans to increase density at the Willow Creek development, the Buie tract and in a 22-acre development near Stagecoach Trail and Hunter Road. Developers for the Windemere Ranch are hoping to gain similar approvals. The Buie and Windemere projects are located over Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.
The concept plan for the Retreat on Willow Creek entails 36.349 acres of publicly-accessible parkland and open space between two developable areas of 30.557 acres and 18.392 acres. The amount of parkland and open space offered for public use greatly exceeds the amount required in the city’s Land Development Code (LDC).
Willow Springs Creek runs through the proposed parkland and open space, much of which lies within the Willow Creek Flood Plain, a costly area to build upon. The developer has agreed to pay a park development fee of $18,000 to assist in the building of a Frisbee golf course within the parkland and open space. A trail system is planned and a parking garage is allowed.
Councilmembers stopped short of permitting the construction of duplexes, triplexes, quadraplexes, dormitories, boarding houses, or multifamily apartments at the proposed Retreat on Willow Creek. Prompted by councilmembers, city staff amended the Dec. 16 zoning and land use plan ordinance to include a prohibition on multifamily land uses for the development in the absence of a city council-approved petition for a zoning map amendment.
The ordinance, which is up for reconsideration Tuesday, also prohibits the developer from using a conditional use permit to gain authorization for multi-family uses.
“We’re probably six or eight months away from really having a plan that we can get our hands wrapped around, and a project in place is probably 12 months away,” said Don Kuyrkendall, partner with San Antonio-based Preferred Development Partners, which owns the land. “Initially, we were going to do single family residences in there, and there’s just not a need right now in San Marcos for that kind of product. So we had to shift gears and go to more of a mixed use-type development.”
The developer’s concept plan includes a 200-foot greenbelt buffer between the development and neighborhoods to the west and south, exceeding the city’s LDC requirements for buffers, which would not be required under the previous zoning classification.
In addition to the greenbelt area, the developer has agreed to a minimum 300-foot height restricted setback adjacent to the neighborhoods to the south and west so no structures higher than two stories can be built there. The prohibition on building height was included to ensure privacy for those living in the Willow Creek Estates to the west and and the Laurel Estates to the south.
The proposed Retreat on Willow Creek is bound on the northeast by Hernandez Elementary School. The Gardens at Willow Creek Subdivisions is north of the proposed development, and Hunters Hill Subdivision is to the south.
San Marcos River Foundation Executive Director Dianne Wassenich was on hand at the Dec. 16 city council meeting to speak out against changing the zoning for the proposed Retreat on Willow Creek and two proposed recharge land developments entailing past and proposed zoning changes — the Buie tract property and Windemere Ranch.
The Retreat on Willow Creek is not over aquifer recharge land. Development on the recharge zone is subject to more stringent impervious cover requirements, due to concerns about water quality and adequate recharge of the Edwards Aquifer, which supplies water to about 1.7 million people and is home to several endangered species. As required by the city’s LDC, no more than 60 percent of the Retreat on Willow Creek – or any mixed-use development – can consist of impervious cover.
“There was a lot of effort by your citizens put into your master plan” Wassenich said to councilmembers Dec. 16. “And when it says ‘very low density’ — that was not a placeholder until somebody wanted to change it. That was put there because people did a lot of research and people who know a lot about the aquifer where on that Horizons Master Plan committee. And ‘very low density’ was on the recharge zone for a reason — to protect the aquifer. So now all these changes that are coming again and again, for ‘mixed use’ and ‘multi-family’ on top of what used to be very low density, are a big mistake, and we want to make sure that you understand, when all these come up, that you should be thinking about that each time.”
Councilmembers on also amended the Retreat on Willow Creek tract portion of the city’s future land use map from Very Low Density Residential, Low Density Residential, and Open Space to Mixed Use, a deviation from the Horizons Master Plan. In the course of comparing the proposed Willow Creek development with 14 Horizons Master Plan policy statements, city staff found eight congruences and six neutralities. City staff advised the city council to approve the land use map amendment, base zoning changes, and land plan and development standards for the Retreat on Willow Creek PDD.
Because the design and building of the Retreat on Willow Creek will proceed via a planned development district (PDD), the city will have more control over the final product.
“What has to happen is there has to be follow-through at the building stage, that both the developer and the city work to be sure they get a better quality development,” said San Marcos Development Projects Coordinator Bill Couch. “(The PDD is) designed to do that. But until building plans get submitted and you know exactly what’s going back there, it’s only then that you can get into the details of how it’s going to be better. But the intent is that it be better.”
The proposed development includes a four-sided design for structures therein, which means the buildings must look appealing from every angle.
“If you went to the rear of a building, it wouldn’t necessarily look like the backside of a building — you wouldn’t see all the dumpsters and electrical wires and all that stuff,” Couch said. “It’s not to say they wouldn’t be there. They would just be incorporated into the design so they aren’t so intrusive.”
The advantage of a PDD to a developer is more versatility in the type of projects that can be initiated in a development.
“There are projects that he can construct in there that might not be permitted if it were just zoned SF-6, or if it was just zoned commercial,” Couch said. “Now he could do a mixture of those two.”
Couch said last week that he was given to understand that Preferred Development Partners intends to sell the property.
“What the applicant was telling us is that they don’t have a buyer for the property,” Couch said. “They’re trying to get it entitled so they can sell it to someone that would come in and develop it.”
However, Kuyrkendall said last Wednesday that his firm intends to be the developer for the site, though it may sell.
“You never know in the real estate business,” Kuyrkendall said. “But we are developers. We’ve done seven Class A projects in San Antonio, and this is our first venture outside of San Antonio. Our plan right now is to develop it and build it ourselves.”
Preferred Development Partners’ previous projects include Greystone Country Estates and the Fountains, the Park, and the Waters at Deerfield.