UPDATED 02/15/12: The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the rezoning, 5-2.
by BRAD ROLLINS
All but one Elm Hill Court resident has withdrawn their name from a petition opposing expansion of the Hillside Ranch apartment complex on North LBJ Drive.
When Chicago-based real estate investor Jared Schenk originally proposed expanding his apartment complex by 124 new units on an adjoining lot, people who live nearby rose up to obstruct his effort to rezone the 10.9-acre tract from single-family to multi-family residential. Neighborhood activists point to Schenk’s rezoning request as evidence of the relentless creep of apartments complexes — popularly assumed to cater to college and college-aged residents — into kid-friendly neighborhoods.
The people who live nearest the Hillside Ranch expansion, however, have decided they would rather see an apartment complex done well than a single-family development done poorly, said Sherwood Bishop, a former Planning & Zoning Commission chair who represents the Tanglewood neighborhood on the Council of Neighborhood Associations.
“I think the project protects our neighborhoods better than putting another single family housing project there,” said Bishop, who said a single-family neighborhood would inevitably end up as unregulated rent houses. “Trying to keep students out of those houses when you have new ones move in every semester is a real hassle. … It is kind of ironic that I’m for this project because for most of the six years I was on the P&Z, I’ve been against most apartment complexes that were anywhere close to an existing neighborhood. This is a case where it fits in and it’s appropriate.”
The San Marcos Planning & Zoning is scheduled to vote on the rezoning request at its regular meeting this evening.
To make the project more palatable to Elm Hill Court residents, Schenk, working through Buda-based ETR Development Consulting, agreed to pare down the number of units from 124 to 111 and orient the buildings to fit with the hilly topography of the site. He also agreed to a minimum 150-foot buffer between Elm Court homeowners’ property lines and the nearest apartment, further separated by a wall and earthen berm.
He agreed to build units facing North LBJ in an New Urbanist, rowhouse style, which pleased city planners pushing a certain flavor in future development. And for parks system enthusiasts, Schenk is going to build a western trailhead for the system of paths and trails in the city’s 251-acre Spring Lake Preserve, which adjoins Hillside Ranch.
“Each time we met with them we asked for more things, and basically, they gave us everything that we asked for. So they really negotiated in good faith and our feeling now is that the development as we’ve negotiated it would be much better for the neighborhood,” Bishop said.
The developer also agreed to eliminate a clubhouse and swimming pool from the plan and re-orient the complex entrance on LBJ Drive to align with the Holland Street intersection — and to help fund a roundabout on LBJ Drive to slow traffic as it comes up the hill from Texas State University. Schenk also agreed to adopt a pet owners policy at neighbors’ behest that establishes weight and breed limitations for future residents of the apartment complex who own dogs.
Mercury Assistant Editor Sean Batura contributed reporting to this story.