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

March 28th, 2012
Thorntons envision apartment development for Cape’s Camp


The owner of Cape’s Camp, one of the largest San Marcos River-front properties in the city limits remaining in private owners’ hands, is seeking to rezone part of his land from commercial to medium-density multi-family residential and give part of it to the city as a park.

Bob Thornton, whose family has owned the land for more than a century, wants to build apartments on 23 acres of his property nearest the Interstate 35 access road and River Road. Most of the buildable part of the tracts — about 18.6 of 23 acres — is already planned for medium-density multi-family use in the city’s master plan, but 4.5 acres nearest the access road is designated for commercial use.

In addition to the land use changes, Thornton Family Investments wants the whole property zoned for apartments from its current placeholder zoning as Future Development.

The San Marcos Planning & Zoning Commission, absorbing the first public airing of the plan, voted to postpone action at its regular meeting Tuesday night.

“I know this commission has considered a number of multi-family rezoning cases in the last few months but I think this is a very different situation in fundamental ways,” said Steve Drenner, a prominent property attorney in the Austin firm Winstead PC.

For one, Drenner said, most of the property is already included in the masterplan for development as apartments and the part that isn’t is designated as commercial, not single-family — the particular type of rezoning that riled many residents this winter and sparked a petition drive.

In addition, he said, “It is an extraordinary opportunity to secure parkland that is a jewel along the San Marcos River.”

Thornton’s proposal would dedicate 11 to 12 acres of his property for public parkland — including the historic Thompson’s Islands  between the river and a manmade channel built in the 1850s as part of a cotton gin. Adjoining the city’s existing Stokes Park, Thompson’s Islands are a popular take-out point for tubers, canoeists and kayakers who don’t want to brave a four- to five-foot drop over Thompson’s Dam. Another three or four acres, including the site of the property’s namesake Cape’s Camp on a lazy bend in the river just above the dam, would remain privately owned open space guaranteed to remain undeveloped through a deed covenant, Drenner said.

A handful of residents who live in the area and Council of Neighborhood Associations representative Lorraine Burleson told planning commissioners they had little notice and even less information about Thornton’s plans for the property.

Former planning commissioner Saul Gonzales said he would like to see the site handled as a Planned Development District, which functions as sort of a contract granting the developer certain entitlements in exchange for guarantees of specific standards or features. Under more traditional zoning law, city decision makers are restricted from negotiating conditions in exchange for zoning or land use changes— either the property qualifies or it doesn’t.

Drenner said the property is appropriate for development as apartments because the neighborhoods along River Road are already a mishmash of single-family homes and apartment complexes. The property is not viable as a commercial site because of a narrow window of I-35 access road frontage and the environmentally sensitive nature of the site.

It is not clear how big an apartment complex could be legally built on the property. Using 39  gross acres — the proposed development site plus the private open space plus the city parkland dedication — Thornton or a buyer could theoretically build 468 apartment units.

That number does not account for the city’s restrictive building standards for property in the San Marcos River corridor which limit impervious rooftops and parking lots to no more than 30 percent of the total project area. The total unit count is likely to be significantly less than 468 although an engineer working for the developer said his firm is still figuring  how many apartments city rules would allow.


» Cape’s Camp land use amendment request [pdf]

» Cape’s Camp zoning change request [pdf]

» Landowner’s presentation, maps [pdf] Email Email | Print Print


57 thoughts on “Thorntons envision apartment development for Cape’s Camp

  1. It would be nice if there was a stronger market for other types of development (where is that prosperity, Mr. Prather spoke of?), but I can’t complain about apartments on property zoned for apartments, especially if there is a riverside park included.

    It would be nice, if there was a PDD, as that seems to lead to more community involvement and more efforts to end up with a compatible development. I don’t know that one is super-critical in this case. There are a couple of houses across the street, if I recall correctly, and it would be great to see the developer take those into consideration, when deciding where buildings are located, which way they face, where exits are located, etc., but for the most part, we’re talking about apartments, on IH35, across the street from more apartments.

  2. For some perspective, Rio Vista Park, bounded by CM Allen, the RR Tracks, Cheatham to the middle of the river is just over 18 acres. That includes the pool and the tennis courts. This development would give us 11 to 12 acres of river front park land. We need to jump on this and kiss Mr. Thornton’s feet. And then hopefully develop it in a way that we can use it and take some pressure off Rio Vista.

  3. Alright folks let us slow down a little. From my house I can see most of this property. A small park will not help me if they build a giant three story complex with more traffic on Barbara and the island. How is this even gonna help my property values? Blanco Gardens is mostly single family homes. Try not to forget us over here. So do not start kissing feet. Do you think developers give out of the kindness in their hearts?

  4. Well, here we go yet once again. The rush to build temporary shelters (multi-family)for the tax revenue. What’s the logic? What great planning. Wait a minute, what is the plan? The planning and development department are obviously not doing any work on a comprehensive master plan while they are busy with the developers approvals and PDD’s trying to get these things passed. The consultant, Ed Theriot, aka ETR consulting, has his own office at the city hall and planning offices. He is directing staff, Jim Nuse, Christine Holmes, Matthew Lewis, and others on how to bypass those pesky Land Development Codes and citizen/neighborhood input. So, what is to be done. I can imagine that it isn’t going to be pretty. Thanks for all of the lip service from the city planning and managers office. You really have mastered the art of propaganda, acting like a democratic representative city government while maintaining the schedule for the developers. Thanks!

  5. Again, apartments on property already zoned for apartments. The objections really do lend some credibility to the “no growth” accusations.

    Oh well.

  6. Although the area on the river is private, it’s easy to get into and has long been a more secluded alternative to the crowded parks. Unfortunately this has also made it full of trash from people who don’t care. Maybe the rezoning with the park will at least mean that the litter gets cleaned up. Parts of it are pretty nasty. I just hope it doesn’t get too crowded.

    Also, twice this year already the sewage treatment plant just above this park overflowed with diluted wastewater. Something to think about.

  7. Yes, of course this could have some advantageous effects on our Barbara Drive neighborhood, specifically the river park. And, yes, the Thorton’s have a right to benefit from their land ownership. And we, as citizens, neighbors, and land owners, have a RESPONSIBILITY to speak up as an interested party in this. We would be fools not to.

    I own a business and sometimes have negotiations. I don’t make a habit of BEGINNING the meeting with feet kissing. And I’m willing to bet Mr. Ramsey doesn’t either. It’s real hard to see what’s going on when you’re on the floor.

  8. Ted,

    Again, huh? I was referring to the lack of a necessary overall “comprehensive master plan” that would help all of San Marcos in this time of need. You should look at the big picture and not just try to be a troll here. Again I will say that we need a good plan to accommodate the 20,000 more students that Texas State wants to add to their enrollment. We need a forward looking transportation plan, not a shortsighted rush to build more apartments near the core of the city. Maybe the scenic river area would be ok for more traffic/people impact. I reiterate, again, where is the planning in this?

  9. Troll?

    We have a master plan. A lot of time, effort, and money went into it. I am in favor of following it, until it is updated, and then following the updated plan.

    I have been to city council meetings, to speak out against developments that did not make sense. I have taken time out of my personal schedule, to stand up for neighborhood concerns on myriad issues. I served for years on the transportation advisory board, often working late into the night, with other volunteers and city employees, to sort through our bike/ped/auto challenges. I’ve gone out of my way, to try to see both sides of every issue on this site, and the site before it, long before your anonymous handle showed up.

    Now, I am a troll, because I support development in line with our current master plan?


    BTW, I don’t know where you get 20,000 more students at TXST anytime soon. Their master plan, which they follow, and which they rely on, to meet the needs of their students, indicates another 5,000 students within the next ten years, and does not (that I saw) speculate beyond that.

  10. No-Dano,

    I believe you owe Ted and apology, he is no troll. You have some nerve. The County is in the middle of re-doing their transportation master plan, and the City is about ready to name the new committee to accomplish their new master plan.

    Let me repeat what is already in this story. This is zoned for multifamily, and has been for a while. this is not in downtown, this is on the other side of 35. Isn’t that what everyone requested from Casey? When Casey came in with his development everyone said “right development” “wrong location”.

    I am beginning to think we are living in California with all you “no growthers”

  11. Just to clarify, this property is not zoned multi-family right now. The 4.5 acres on the tip by the feeder road is zoned commercial. The other 23 acres is zoned “Future Development”.

  12. Why are we surprised at this point?

    Here we have a property that is zoned for apartments, on the side of town where it has been suggested to build apartments – and in an area designated by our current Master Plan for apartments.

    All of this against the backdrop of another story on this site about record enrollment for the University again this year.

    Yet we hear the same old arguments from the usual suspects about “more apartments”. But they’re quick to point out that they’re not against growth, don’t you know….

  13. Actually the story says it is ZONED “Future Development” (paragraph 3) while 18.6 acres of 23 acres is Master Planned multi-family (paragraph 2)

    Words have meanings, use the existing ones.

  14. The Buie Tract (now zoned for 500 Apartments) was originally listed as Future Development-Low Density Residential. Didn’t hear the “Follow the Master Plan” argument from the pro-development folks then did we?

  15. Come to think of it the Retreat property, the Purgatory Creek Apartment property, the Sessoms/Casey and Rivendell Property were all NOT Future Development-Multi-Family.

  16. BTW, yes, you did hear “follow the master plan” re the Buie Tract, from me, and many, many, many, other people.

    Many people seem to recite that line when it suits them. Luckily, it suits me most of the time. It seems like a fairly simple concept.

  17. Ted,

    Ok, so troll is strong here. It would better be used to describe others. Your sarcasm begged a response though. So, I apologize for referring to you as a troll, it was too harsh.

    About the zoning that has everyone in a twist, what is it, Future Development or Multi-family?

  18. Wasn’t directed at you Ted but others who hypocritically claim follow the plan when it suits their development preferences.

  19. Precisely Watson!

    The planning is just something they do while they are making other plans.
    What happened to a semblance of democracy or citizen input.

  20. Also, note the adjoining properties are pretty much Mixed Use, Commercial and MF. If there was a neighborhood of SF properties, on the property line, with no room for a buffer, like the recently approved property at Craddock and 12 (across the street from The Retreat), I might be inclined to question whether the Master Plan was wrong in this case.

    Of course, the Master Plan calls for low density residential at that location…

    I’m also in favor of apartments/mixed-use at the Rivendell site, since that came up. Residents are all but guaranteed to walk to campus, and there are quite a few businesses around that site, creating a great work/live/play opportunity. That one is probably the closest to where I live, too. Other than the recently approved development at LBJ and Holland, which I also supported.

    So, it’s not really about which side of the highway they’re on, and I am not opposed to changing the master plan, where it makes sense. Many of the developments Susan and Co rubber-stamped did not make sense; they just made people money.

  21. I liked your link Ted, to the Buie Tract debacle of 2 years ago. As I read through the comments, it’s very interesting to see how some vocal opponents of that project are using the *exact* same arguments about neighborhood integrity I and others have put forth recently against the Sessom Drive and Holland St projects.

    This time though, they are are in the opposite camp.

    I wonder why the change of heart??

  22. That being said, if the neighbors are opposed to mixed use at the Rivendell site, I’d ask that P&Z and City Council respect that, and deny the zoning change. They are, after all, supposed to represent the interests of the citizens. As good a fit as I think mixed use would be, those neighbors bought their properties with the expectation that the Rivendell site would be zoned neighborhood commercial (I think that was the previous zoning).

  23. Re: Sessom, I am not in the opposite camp. I am in the same camp, but thought that done right, it could be a good fit. My concern is that we don’t have a track record that suggests we, particularly P&Z and City Council, know what “done right” means. It all seems to be speculation, with no post mortem afterward, so no meaningful lessons from our mistakes.

    For example, as I said before, the cost of a sound engineer, to determine what would make for a suitable buffer, would be money well spent. It probably wouldn’t cost much, either.

  24. I think some people had a change of heart, because they started to feel like everything was meeting with resistance, just like others felt like all resistance was being ignored and all requests were being rubber-stamped.

  25. Well since you brought it up Ted, the “Master Plan” called for Single-Family (actually zoned for it)at the recently approved Holland/LBJ apartments which you mentioned above that you support.

  26. If and whatever gets built here, isn’t this area pretty much square in the middle of a floodplain? How does that figure into all of this?

  27. Right. The neighbors favored the change, and I support that. If they had opposed it, I’d support that. I don’t support changing the zoning simply so that someone can sell their property for a few bucks.

    I wouldn’t have complained, if P&Z had shot down the request, and stuck with the master plan.

  28. The neighbors only favored the change after Sherwood Bishop convinced them that the residential build out would be next to their back fences. If you remember, many of “the neighbors” had written letters against the rezoning to multi-family. Reiterating, the traffic will become worse, parking in neighborhoods will increase. Ted, your reasons for supporting the rezoning there sounds like developer orc mischief to me.

  29. Maybe, but it is what it is.

    There’s no big secret, or vague “smart growth” talk behind my reasoning. Nor was it based on some desire to “teach people a lesson” like a previous Council member, when faced with opposition to a student housing development.

    The developer worked with the neighbors. Wise or otherwise, the neighbors were happy with what they decided on. I support that.

    I still strongly recommend a post mortem evaluation at completion, 1 year out, and 5 years out.

  30. The neighbors…… a few people that live in a potentially illegally subdivided SF-6, what, one street, maybe 10 people max, out of the entire side of town???? Ohh, there were no less than 2 leasing agents speaking so eloquently about how good apartments are for San Marcos….. that is if you are a leasing agent employed by the developer! Go ahead, disregard the voices of the MAJORITY of surrounding landowners, go ahead, because you can, and see how it all turns out for you later:-) jlb

  31. Remember, the City Of San MArcos ” cheerleading squad/ P&D Dept.” made it very clear that this area is not a residential neighborhood….REALLY????? Hmmm, only lived in the area for over 50 years now….HMMMMMM??? We will see. 🙂

  32. Be sure to watch the usual suspects and their soon to be defined tricks, yes, back at Sessoms again. I presume that they are going to use the destructive SF-6 plan on the back half of the property, and as they alluded to at the last P&Z meeting, they will be comiong back again, like FREDDIE KRUEGER to attempt a another re-zoning on the top acres, spot zoning anyone???? This city we live in is quickly disenfranchising its citizens, when will this nightmare end, IN COURT???? We should not be forced to live like this! JLB 🙂

  33. I wonder, as a result of the ” P&D Dept. ” vision to build only ” rent by the room” apartments here in San Marcos, how quickly we can get the federal funding,presently provided to the city for affordable housing, removed and back charged for misappropriation of funding???? So many errors, so many ethical issues, where does one begin to clean up this nighmare of a charade??? Do we start with the city manager and clean house downward from there?? Then, of course, there are the elections in November:-) Ballot issues??? I wonder what a strong voting block of over 3000 mis-represented citizens can do to clean up this quagmire we have found ourselves now painfully enduring??? The proverbial pitchforks and torches are quietly awaiting their moment of truth 🙂 jlb

  34. Ted, the argument the the “neighbors supported it” is pretty weak. The exact same could be said for a few residents of Grant Court who received a open space buffer and spoke on behalf of the Buie tract apartments, which you opposed. Some on the closest street spoke in favor but most in the surrounding streets opposed it and wanted the city to “follow the plan”. Don’t they count?

  35. The Buie Tract had a significant number of neighbors who opposed it, and then the plan was “changed” so that those neighbors were no longer within 200 feet. It was a nasty, dirty trick, and at that point, all bets were off. If they had refined their plan to win those neighbors over, I would have supported it.

    I’m sorry you think the reasoning is weak. At least I’m open and honest about who I am and why I support and don’t support certain projects.

    Like I said, if P&Z had stuck with the master plan for the Holland/LBJ development, I would have been fine with that too.

  36. The master plan is developed by a small (relative to the population) group of fallible human beings. I am not naive enough to think that it is a perfect document.

    IMO, if the owner of a piece of property feels that the master plan is wrong, with respect to that piece of property, and the surrounding neighbors, who have to live with it, agree that the master plan was wrong, that is a valid reason for P&Z to consider the change. If, on the other hand, the people in that area have looked at the master plan and think the city nailed it, that ought to be the end of it, until the next scheduled revision.

    At that point, P&Z should be looking at the big picture, to see if there are *any* reasons that the property owner and neighbors overlooked, which might explain why the master plan is the way it is – infrastructure limitations, potential gluts or shortages of certain types of properties, etc. If they can’t find any such reason, and agree that the master plan is wrong in this case, then they should send a recommendation to City Council for approval.

    City Council should then apply the same scrutiny.

    If the change is approved, it should be clearly explained, why the master plan was wrong. “The city has changed over the years” is not an explanation. “The plan is old” is not an explanation. My family has changed over the years, and our house is old, that doesn’t mean the house is no longer any good. We have ten kids and only two bedrooms, is a valid explanation.

    Most change requests should probably fail. If they don’t, the city should be taking a close look at why the master plan has been found to be wrong in so many cases. Again, because it is old, and because the city has changed, are not valid explanations for a master plan that is no good.

    To over-simplify things, that is how I think the process should work. The default, at each stage, ought to be to stick with the plan.

  37. Now, how large an area to survey, and how much support to require, before a change is considered, is another matter. That’s far too complicated to get into in a thread like this, IMO.

  38. I suspect many others would be happy with this process as well. The problem is that (by appearances, anyway) we have a history of ignoring the neighbors, and defaulting to approval.

  39. Watson, I have to address somthing here because you could not be more wrong in what you just said. The people on Grant Court were opposed to the Buie Tract fiasco. In fact the Buie tract rezoning was altered specifically to disenfrachise the Grant Court residents, all of which had signed the petition against the zoning.

  40. Very well stated Ted. And about as fair a process we can hope for in a democracy which is messy more or less by definition on most issues.

  41. Thanks.

    Right now, it feels like the burden of proof is on everyone, to demonstrate that the plan is correct. The burden of proof should be on the person(s) requesting the change, to show that their way is better.

    Of course, now that I have put it that way, I am not sure I favor the change from commercial to MF in this case. It may very well be better, with the park land, but that should be clearly demonstrated.

  42. “Most change requests should probably fail. If they don’t, the city should be taking a close look at why the master plan has been found to be wrong in so many cases. Again, because it is old, and because the city has changed, are not valid explanations for a master plan that is no good.

    To over-simplify things, that is how I think the process should work. The default, at each stage, ought to be to stick with the plan.”

    My feelings exactly Ted, although I strongly feel that Hillside II is spot zoning and that the city should have let the citizenry work with them to secure Heritage Park to the benefit of all, especially the adjacent neighborhoods.

    Larry I think Ted might be confusing Grant Court with Franklin Square. I wrote a guest column about all that along w/ some other issues in the Daily Record. My neighborhood (Franklin Square) H.O.A. supported the Buie tract, well a few did, but since the higher ups used lawyers who worked to get the buffer it all got out of hand very quickly and led to neighborhoods/friends being pitted against each other, it was a total fiasco and now those who supported it most moved either just b/4 or at the beginning stages of the Retreat debacle ~ not too sure, two of them just kind of up and left last summer. They may have been offered promises that weren’t kept, who knows, all I know is that when I saw apartments coming when all that went down, and I was RIGHT. They were talking of coffee shops and bookstores and they may well be what they were promised, but zoning changes are a slippery slope!!!

    I hope that Sherwood’s neighborhood is not duped and that the developer doesn’t turn around in a couple years and expand and put in for permits to use more land.

    Everyone paying attention knows what Casey is up to. I hope to see as many there as last time when he goes for his rezoning to multi-family b/c his single family property is the nearest abutting property to the proposed rezoning. ACK!

  43. While I don’t like the idea of more apartments in the city I have a very simple analysis;
    1. Is this development within the contemplation of the current masterplan?
    2. If so then the owners have the right to develop it as they wish so long as it meets other relevant environmental criteria that are currently in place. i.e. it follows the current rules.
    3. If not then they need to wait until it’s in keeping with the currently masterplan and the next reincarnation thereof.

    While I understand that lots of us don’t want more apartments the fact is that the university does need more apartments; it’s just not in the middle of single family neighborhoods. I would also guess that the older generations of the Thornton Family that have now passed on might would shudder to think that apartments would be build on this wonderful place we simply don’t have the right to tell a property owner they can’t build apartments on their property simply because we dont like aprtments. We can oppose aprtments if and when they amount to spot zoning or otherwise violate an ordinace, state or federal law.

  44. Melisa, you summed it up perfectly in regards to Franklin Square. BTW, my mother lives on Grant Court, I was embroiled in the Buie Tract fiasco from the get go.

  45. Sorry Larry. Thought it was the HOA president who negotiated land around Grant. Must have been a different street. Still a similar process used for Hillside.

  46. Larry nice of you to advocate for your mama 🙂 I was totally underwater with issues with my son at the time and could not be as much a part of it as I would have liked. Good thing is I spent a lot of time working with him and the docs and he’s totally good now, but he was about to be kicked out of school for his ADHD and my advocacy and time had to be spent there instead. I really appreciate all of the folks that dove into it as hard as they could to try to stop it….too bad it didn’t work.

  47. Please direct Mr. Lewis in the Planning and Development Department to hold a Saturday public
    hearing on the Cape’s Camp development. Many people work on Tuesday night or are returning home
    from work and cannot attend. This development will effect our community for the next 100 years and ruin
    a pristine environment that has been home to the oldest civilization in North American aka the Clovis



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *