By SEAN BATURA
An 8-1 vote of the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) Tuesday night means a portion of the controversial Buie Tract that had been forced to start its re-zoning bid all over is on track for passage within a month.
City staff recommended the zoning change for 12.88 acres of the proposed development before Tuesday night’s vote by the P&Z. Only P&Z chair Sherwood Bishop voted against the change.
Opponents of the Buie Tract development are attempting to stop the project through legal action, arguing that a state environmental agency has approved an insufficient geological assessment of the property.
At issue Tuesday night was a 12.88-acre piece of the 174.24-acre Buie Tract. Developers want to build on 46.15 acres of the land, ending up with two- and three-story buildings featuring office/retail units on the first floors and office/retail/residential on the upper floors, for up to 459 units. The Buie Tract is located near the future Craddock Avenue extension, North Bishop Street and Franklin Drive.
On May 18, the San Marcos City Council gave final approval to future land use map amendments and zoning changes for all but 12.88 acres of the proposed development. The 12.88 acres fronting Franklin Drive, which were approved on first council reading on May 4, were not included in the council’s actions last week, due to what city staff called a “notification error.”
Nearby homeowner Joe Schneider had discovered the city’s failure to notify all property owners within 200 feet of the proposed land use changes, as required by state law, thus requiring P&Z’s reconsideration of the Franklin Drive parcel on Tuesday. The Buie Tract developer, Craddock Avenue Partners, LLC, now needs the city council to approve the land use changes to the Franklin Drive parcel on two readings.
During the public hearing portion of Tuesday’s P&Z meeting, four people rose to speak in favor of the land use changes and three individuals voiced their opposition to the development.
City of San Marcos Senior Planner Sofia Nelson informed P&Z commissioners that a petition against re-zoning the Franklin Drive parcel contains signatures amounting to “19-point zero some percent” of nearby property owners. Twenty percent of property owners within 200 feet of the proposed land use changes must sign the petition in order to trigger a supermajority requirement, whereby a successful zoning change needs at least six councilmember votes.
Signatures still can be added to the petition until June 1, when the city council will take up the matter. The petition is on file at the city clerk’s office.
One step in the development process required Craddock Avenue Partners to submit a geologic assessment to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which it did to the agency’s satisfaction.
San Marcos River Foundation (SMRF) Executive Director Dianne Wassenich said SMRF has filed a motion in state district court to overturn TCEQ’s approval of the geological assessment “in order for TCEQ to take our request seriously.” Wassenich said studies conducted in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s indicate the presence of “significant caves” on the Buie Tract, as well as other recharge features that allow substances to travel quickly into the Edwards Aquifer, a source of water for 1.7 million Texans.
“We gathered a few documents that made it clear to us that the developers’ GA was quite incomplete — especially in the phase 1 area where the three-story apartments and retail will be built, and where the city is cutting a deep road channel,” Wassenich said.
Wassenich accused the Buie Tract owners of bulldozing over a cave a few years ago “under the guise of agricultural clearing,” and she claimed the developers withheld evidence of more sensitive recharge features than they reported to the city and TCEQ.
Nelson said the mixed use zoning would allow a 60 percent impervious cover limitation, a maximum building height of 30 feet, the screening of parking and dumpsters, and four-sided design requirements placing building articulation and windows on all sides of structures that face public right of way. Nelson said development on the 12.88-acre parcel fronting Craddock Avenue, Bishop Street, and Franklin Drive would support the goals of the Horizons Master Plan, developed in 1995 after extensive resident input.
“While staff understands that this area is over the recharge zone, by clustering the buildings closer to Craddock Avenue, that is preventing them from being sprawled all over the entire tract,” Nelson said.
Camille Phillips, formerly the president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA), said the development is not supported by the Horizons Master Plan. Phillips opposed building new apartments next to old neighborhoods, said that “many people” in Franklin Square had signed a petition opposing the land use changes, and said the development would contribute to a “brain drain” whereby people who work in the city choose to live elsewhere.
“The brains realize that if they live here, the financial future of their families will not be protected,” Phillips said. “So they are totally justified living elsewhere. Please deny these changes.”
Craddock Avenue Partners manager Rick Coleman said his development would widen Franklin Drive by probably five feet, install curbing, guttering and sidewalks on the road, and connect Columbia Street with Craddock Avenue, thereby improving safety and traffic circulation for existing residents.
“Right now, we do have (the Buie Tract) under agriculture exemption,” Coleman said. “Last year, we paid $1,500 in property taxes. When this project is completely built out, it will generate for the tax roles about $1.4 million. Eight or nine hundred thousand dollars of that will go to Hays Independent Consolidated School District (Actually, the tract is within San Marcos CISD.).”
Coleman said the city would benefit from increased sales taxes from the increased retail activity created by the development.
P&Z Commissioner Bill Taylor asked Nelson what the developers would have to do if sensitive recharge features were discovered on the Buie Tract.
“All work stops,” replied Nelson. “Prior to that point, though, they are required to submit a watershed protection plan, a site preparation plan, they’ll have some work to do with TCEQ … All of that will have to take place before they even go vertical. But if something happens under construction, then all work is required to stop.”
If sensitive recharge features were found, TCEQ would analyze them and possibly mandate the construction and maintenance of mitigation measures.
“I voted for this the last time because I thought it would be nice to have some small shops or office professional in this area,” said Bishop, explaining his dissenting vote. “Unfortunately, since then, things have changed. This body and council have approved a zoning change that would allow a large number of apartments to be constructed in this area, which would be a larger number of apartments, as I see it, than the number of houses between this area and Ranch Road 12.”
The amendment to the future land use map approved by P&Z Tuesday would change zoning on the 12.88 acres from very low density residential to mixed use on the Franklin Drive parcel.Email | Print