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

December 20th, 2011
Officials see hope for Thorpe Lane revival

Darren Casey's proposed Thorpe Lane apartment complex is one of a few recently approved projects for the blighted area between Hoopkins Street and Aquarena Springs Drive. HUMPHREYS & PARTNERS ARCHITECTS IMAGE


Thorpe Lane, a once-bustling commercial corridor connecting Hopkins Street to Aquarena Springs Drive, has been on the decline for years with a nearly abandoned major shopping center on one end and a shuttered nursing home on the other.

Click for an interactive map of recent and planned development on Thorpe Lane in San Marcos.

Now the area may be on the cusp of reinvestment if developers follow through with plans for two new apartment projects totaling about 500 units with a touch of street-level retail. In addition, a third apartment development near Thorpe Lane, the 39-year-old Shalamar Apartments, is scheduled for a major renovation coinciding with its recent renaming as the State Flats.

“I’m really excited about it. It looks to me like the first time in a while that there’s some hope for the area to get new money in it,” said council member Ryan Thomason, who sits on the city’s economic development board. “I don’t know if it’s going to bail out the whole area or not, but any new life in that sector can only help the Springtown situation.”

Springtown is the 200,000 square foot shopping center that has sat nearly vacant for more than two years on Interstate 35 at the highly traveled Hopkins Street gateway to interior San Marcos. The retail center has been mostly empty since 2009 when anchors Target, Best Buy and JC Penney relocated to the new Stone Creek Crossing retail center in south San Marcos near the outlet malls.

Officials say they have seen no sign that Springtown itself may be about to see a wholesale renaissance although new tenants have recently signed leases on some of the center’s smaller storefronts, including the former Blockbuster video. Thorpe Lane’s proximity to Texas State University and the HEB grocery store, however, make it attractive for redevelopment, said Matthew Lewis, the city’s Development Services director.

One of the recently approved projects, Thorpe Lane Lofts, would be built on 2.47 acres at the intersection of Thorpe and Warden streets where the former River Crest Nursing and Rehabilitation center has been deteriorating since closing in 2007.

A planned development district approved by the planning and zoning commission and the city council last month entitles the property’s owner to build a five-floor, 174-unit apartment building with 2,060 feet of ground floor retail space and a 2,907 square foot clubhouse for residents.

The Thorpe Lane Lofts agreement requires construction of a five-level parking garage with 403 parking spaces, 33 more than are required under city codes. The apartments would wrap the parking garage, concealing it from visibility on the street, as well as an interior courtyard.

With any zoning change or planned development district, it is not always immediately clear if the applicant actually plans to build what’s on paper. Sometimes the property owner just wants to lock in the land use rights to build something in order to make the property more marketable to potential buyers.

Even if that is the case with Thorpe Lane Lofts, Thomason said, any movement toward demolishing the overgrown and crumbling old nursing home is worth supporting.

“It’s an eyesore and it needs to go,” Thomason said.

Officials are more confident about the prospects for a 316-unit apartment complex across the street on the 10.7 acre site of the former county hospital. Hays County at one time planned to build its new Government Center on the tract before moving the project to an extension of Stagecoach Road off Wonder World Drive, where it was was recently completed.

Site plans and illustrations of the proposed project submitted by San Antonio-based Darren Casey Development show six three- and four-floor apartment buildings, built in a Mediterranean or Spanish style.

A little more than 8 acres of the property was rezoned from institutional use in 2009 after the county traded the tract with San Marcos-based Carson Development for the Government Center property on Wonder World Drive. About 2.5 acres fronting Interstate 35, however, was zoned for commercial use until the city council last month approved rezoning and adopted a planned development district for the property.

The development will require relocation of San Marcos/Hays County EMS which has always known that its lease there was temporary but now must move quickly to find a new home, said Mayor Daniel Guerrero, who chairs the emergency medical services board.

“It’s time for us to go ahead and pull the trigger on some of our plans to make sure we are where we need to be,” said Guerrero who said today EMS is making plans to vacate the property by the end of the year, if not before then.

At the same meeting in which both the Thorpe Lane Lofts and Casey’s Thorpe project were approved, the council granted rezoning of nearly two acres of the former Shalamar Apartments, which were built in 1972 when city codes allowed multi-family development on land zoned for commercial use.

The zoning was necessary to accommodate a planned renovation of the apartment complex, now called State Flats, which totals 162 units on 7.8 acres.

“There seems to be quite a bit of development in the area and that’s always a positive sign to see someone interested in investing,” Guerrero said. “We’re pleased to see that especially in an area that’s been in need of some rejuvenation.”


» Thorpe Lane Lofts council packet material [pdf]

» Casey Thorpe project council packet material [pdf]

» Shalamar rezoning council package material [pdf]

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11 thoughts on “Officials see hope for Thorpe Lane revival

  1. perhaps this is what the “Master Plan” instead of neighborhood destruction in many places around our city. Smart growth is certainly something the citizens of San Marcos can support and appreciate! Jaimy L. Breihan

  2. I hope the city will improve Jackson and Warden streets as part of this “revival”. Both those streets are poorly constructed and poorly designed but are important to relieve traffic from Thorpe and Aquarena. Specifically, Jackson needs to be widened and the turning radii at the I-35 frontage road needs to be reconstructed. Warden needs to be cut down and levelled. Springtown Way is better with the new sidewalks. Thorpe itself needs to have a continuous center turn lane and eliminate the odd lane merging that exists today. Thorpe needs to be 5 lanes – 2 each way with a center turn and sidewalks on both sides. An investment like this on the part of the city will make Springtown Center much more attractive to an investor.

  3. And it would be nice if Darren Casey’s project included a public street from Thorpe to the I-35 frontage road.

  4. Something still needs to be done with big HEB turn lane and the Hopkins/Thorpe intersection. And can’t city/county/state (whoever is in charge) do something about the ugly ‘median’ at the RR crossing there in front of big HEB and Walgreens???

  5. Morris – My vote is to employ the big hand of gov’t and force HEB to move their existing Hopkins entrance closer to the RR tracks thereby separating the drive from the Thorpe intersection. As to the aesthetics of the median in front of Walgreens, a raised island would look better and be more effective. The (formerly) white reflective posts are starting to get broken off from being driven over.

    All that said, it would make sense for HEB to take the Target building so TxState can go ahead and take HEB.

  6. I don’t know that they do but I want to plant the seed for any HEB execs that might read this thread. My theory is that if HEB commits to the Target building they won’t choose to leave the area altogether. I know they were at least talking internally about another site on the south side and that would be terribly inconvenient for me unless it was an additional store vs a relocation of “The Big H” (as we call it at my house). I would rather see any/all of those buildings remain as retail generating sales tax and providing me shopping options close to my home. That said, I challenge you to find a researcher or department head at TxState who doesn’t think he needs more space.

  7. I just drove Thorpe with a new eye and I retract my opinion that it should be 5 lanes. It needs to be 3 lanes with bike lanes on each side. Continuous center turn lane and a 30mph speed limit.

  8. Yes, let’s start telling developers that they need to plan for providing public streets as part of any plan that they submit. Let’s also tell them (as was suggested in another thread) that they should consider providing runoff protection for not only their development but also for other existing areas around town. And let’s start telling existing businesses that they have to redesign the entrance to their property (at their expense, of course) because the City has done such a poor job of managing its streets.

    Let’s do all of those things, and then we can sit right back and watch development interest in San Marcos dwindle to nothing….but hey, at least then the “no growthers” will be happy (for a while, then they’ll find something else to complain about).

  9. 1)A traffic impact analysis is SOP for a development of that size as is a requirement for the developer to mitigate their impact. And I don’t believe I said the developer had to pay. I’ve consistently held that this city underspends on streets. We have the traffic problems to prove it.

    2)I suspect Darren Casey would jump at the chance to spend some well placed dollars if the ROI were there. If that means going off-site to fix existing problems then so be it. It’s not new territory. The Corp of Engineers allows wetlands banking where a developer buys wetlands he never sees in order to fill wetlands that block his project. It’s classic “out of the box” thinking.

    3)I see how my wording implies HEB would pay to move their drive but that would not be my intent. The city has proposed creating a double left turn lane off Hopkins onto Thorpe and it’s at best a band-aid. The net result just could be better ingress/egress for HEB.

  10. This is a project people need to get around, if you’re against this you’re against everything….I hate the idea that everyone says we need “growth” at any expense.. I hate the idea of stupid apartment buildings and cheap homes being considered growth. But redevelopment of our run down areas is EXACTLY what growth should be. San Marcos needs to let new development know that if you want to build in new areas you will have mandates to go green including grey water and other energy saving measures that will reduce the use of our infrastructure thus saving the city money while increasing tax revenue for the more expensive properties However, if you want to redevelop then we can let those “measures” not be a requirement. This could become the cities new bargaining chip, “We won’t make you do all the energy saving measures if you rebuild” instead of “Hey here is a tax break” or whatever else they do to beg for business…

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