by BRAD ROLLINS
Editor and Publisher
In an encore appearance before the San Marcos City Council, a controversial rezoning request in the Heritage Historical District gained one vote and lost one vote, thus failing to pass by the same 4-3 margin it garnered two weeks ago.
Longtime resident Bernice Rainosek wants to open a Merle Norman cosmetics shop at 705 W. Hopkins in a multi-suite building she owns with Oliver Billingsley. To do so, she needs either a zoning change from Office/Professional to Neighborhood Commercial or a conditional use permit, renewed annually, in conjunction with the property’s existing zoning. Rainosek opted to pursue the more permanent zoning change and, on April 13, the Planning and Zoning Commission, 6-3, recommended rezoning the half-acre tract for Neighborhood Commercial.
While professing no problems with an elderly Rainosek selling makeup in a building she owns, some neighbors do oppose rezoning because of longer-term implications. Said Belvin Street resident Diana Baker, “The historic districts are one of the reasons you can claim San Marcos as the jewel of the corridor … Once you change it, you open the door.”
On May 4, the city council declined to grant the rezoning on a 4-3 vote with council members Ryan Thomason, John Thomaides, Fred Terry and Chris Jones in opposition to Rainosek’s request and Mayor Susan Narvaiz and members Kim Porterfield and Gaylord Bose in favor.
The council, however, did not formally vote to deny the motion thus affording Rainosek the option to ask that it be put on the council’s next agenda for reconsideration, which she did.
When the city council voted on Rainosek’s request for a second time on Tuesday, Thomason switched his vote to support the rezoning and Bose switched his vote to oppose it. The rezoning therefore did not pass a second time — but it also did not fail. Again, Thomaides moved to deny the request and, again, council members (Jones and Terry) who voted against approval nonetheless voted against denial, effectively leaving the issue open for further consideration.
Seeking middle ground, Jones said he might be willing to entertain rezoning if the council approves a policy change that gives city council the option to overrule the P&Z on conditional use permits.
Neighborhood Commercial allows, by right, uses ranging from art studios to bookstores to shoe repair shops to florists, generally low-traffic, low-key functions that do not seem to be the focus of much concern. But with the addition of a conditional use permit granted by the Planning and Zoning Commission, potential uses encompass grittier, louder establishments like bars, laundrymats and convenience stores. Under current ordinances, the P&Z has final say on whether to grant these conditional uses permits. If the council claims more oversight or at least veto authority, Jones said, he would be less concerned that an incompatible business might open within the historic district in the future.
With the possibility of a third airing, residents on both sides of the zoning fight are circulating dueling petitions. Rainosek said she has signatures or letters of support from about a dozen property owners in the vicinity. The property was zoned for commercial use for decades, Rainosek said, until it emerged from a citywide rezoning in 2005 with the more restrict Office/Professional designation.
Pointing out that she lives on Hopkins Street within blocks of her building, she said, “I wouldn’t foul my own backyard. I live there.”
Ryan Patrick Perkins, whose home is a few doors down and opposes the rezoning change, said he has signatures from owners representing 19.8 percent of the land area within 200 foot of the subject property’s boundaries. That’s within a hair of the 20 percent threshold that triggers a supermajority requirement for zoning changes under state law and the city charter.
The addition of a single signature from an affected land owner would likely tip that scale. Perkins said he’ll be looking for it.
“Although the property owner might have good intentions, we can’t say what might or might not happen when the property changes hands,” Perkins said.