The San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission approved several zoning changes to the Buie Tract earlier this month. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
By ANDY SEVILLA
The San Marcos City Council will take up proposed changes to the controversial Buie Tract project next Tuesday after the city’s Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission gave the green light earlier this month despite much public outcry.
If the P&Z meeting is any indication of how next Tuesday’s council meeting will play out, a standing-room only chamber will witness possible action on the zoning and land use modifications for the proposed project after a public hearing that is expected to be greatly in dissent.
The P&Z approved almost all the zoning and land use amendments unanimously on April 13. However, a land use amendment that would change 33.20 acres located north of Craddock Avenue and east of the future Wonder World Drive extension from Very Low Density Residential (VLDR) to Medium Density Residential (MDR) received “no” votes, from P&Z Chairman Sherwood Bishop and commissioner Randy Bryan.
Bishop and Bryan also voted against a zoning change of 30.97 acres located at 1314 Franklin Street from Future Development (FD) to Multi-Family (MF-12). Bishop went on to oppose a zoning change from Single-Family (SF-6) to Multi-Family (MF-12) on 5.64 acres located west of the future Craddock Avenue extension.
Eventually, Craddock Avenue Partners, LLC, which owns the Buie Tract, received approval for all the changes requested. One of the partners, Gordon Muir, took in with a jovial hand-holding moment with former Councilmember Pam Couch.
Couch spoke fondly of the owners and the proposed project during the public hearing of the modifications to the land. Couch said Craddock Avenue Partners have gone the extra-mile to address area residents’ concerns.
“Thank you Buie Tract people … for coming into our community, investing money and providing a great development,” Couch said during the public hearing.
Pam Couch’s husband, Bucky Couch, recently was elected onto the P&Z just after Pam Couch’s term on the council expired. In the same set of appointments, newly elected Councilmember Thomason, who took over Couch’s council seat after a grueling election, saw another familiar face on the P&Z, as his business partner, Chris Wood, gained an appointment. Jude Prather, who ran an unsuccessful bid for council against incumbent Gaylord Bose in 2007 and was considering a 2009 run before returning to Iraq for military service, also was appointed to the P&Z.
Couch’s sentiment expressed during the public hearing resounded with a minority of those in attendance. Aside from Pam Couch and anyone connected to the proposed project, all comments received were in opposition.
“If you go along with (approval) tonight, you’re going against the hard work of many citizens working to protect the (Edwards) aquifer,” said Dianne Wassenich, Director of the San Marcos River Foundation.
Joe Schneider, who would be directly affected by the development, as he lives on Franklin Street, submitted a signed petition against some of the zoning changes because of inconsistencies with the city’s Horizons Master Plan regarding “proper buffer” between the neighborhoods and generated traffic. Fourteen Franklin Street homeowners signed the petition, though the Franklin Street Homeowners Association has endorsed the proposed development. The endorsement came after the homeowners association was able to secure a gift of five acres from the developers to be used as a private park for those who live on Franklin Street.
Several residents commenting during the public hearing alluded to alleged deceit from the developers to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and to the city.
When the city council approved a development agreement for the proposed project in December, Mayor Susan Narvaiz touted the Buie Tract owners’ diligent work in having documents in order and submitting of an Exception Request with TCEQ, a claim Baker-Aiklen and Associates, who are representing the Buie Tract developers, didn’t deny. The Exception Request by the developers however, had been pulled before the December meeting, and apparently city officials weren’t notified of the change.
Steve Ramsey of Baker-Aiklen and Associates said the request was pulled after TCEQ sent the developers a letter demanding answers to the omission of at least two caves on their request.
After addressing the glitches in the original request, another Exception Request was submitted to TCEQ in February. Upon final review of extra necessary material submitted on March 25, March 30, and April 7, TCEQ granted the request, establishing protection to sensitive features outlined in a geological assessment.
Community activist Chris North, who lives in the Westover neighborhood adjacent to the Buie Tract, has been a strong voice of opposition to the project. North has questioned the legality of the development agreement with the city and has detailed what she called “utter lies” from the developers reaching as far back as 2007.
According to an investigation report from the TCEQ in 2007 looking into possible violations because of bulldozed land clearing on agriculture exempt property over the Edwards Aquifer, Rick Coleman, who is part owner of the Buie Tract, said a housing development was not planned for the property and that the clearing was intended to encourage the growth of native grasses for his cattle.
An unnamed resident in the report called to file a complaint because the Buie Tract property was being cleared with a bulldozer, which could have potentially constituted a violation of the Edwards Aquifer rules.
Also during this time, the city was venturing into a possible business deal with Avenue Craddock Partners. The city was looking to purchase approximately 28 acres in order to extend Wonder World Drive and connect it to Craddock Avenue. San Marcos later did purchase the property.
“I (Investigator Russ Alexander) asked if (Coleman) had any plans for a subdivision and (Coleman) stated that he has no intention of developing a subdivision and the land clearing is only for cattle,” stated the 2007 investigation report. “I (Alexander) told (Coleman) that if a development is planned, a Water Pollution Abatement Plan must be filed with TCEQ. Mr. Coleman reiterated that the property will be left as ranch land.”
Less than three years later, the property that was cleared for ranch land is now in the process of being developed for proposed mixed use.
“We do want a responsible development here,” Muir said during the public hearing. “We have a high stake in it.”
Muir said he plans to wed his fiancé and move into the Buie Tract.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make it a great development,” Coleman said after the P&Z approved the changes.
If the city council passes the zoning and land use changes on first reading next Tuesday, it will take the matter up again May 18 for a second and final reading.Email | Print