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

July 17th, 2012
City angling to buy Cape’s Camp for park; preps for November vote


The San Marcos City Council on Tuesday strongly signaled interest in buying Cape’s Camp, part of the largest undeveloped tract of land on the San Marcos River within the city limits. If talks with the seller are fruitful, voters could be asked to weigh in as early as November.

After meeting for two hours behind closed doors in executive session, Mayor Daniel Guerrero said the council had instructed its staff to contact landowners, Robert Thornton and his family, about buying the 98-acre property. Council members also moved to commission an independent appraisal and prepare ballot language for a possible proposition election in November.

In addition, the council said staff should start preparing to trade or sell acreage it owns on Leah Avenue in the medial district near Central Texas Medical Center. Council members have suggested that apartments planned for part of the Thornton tract might be better suited for the Leah property.

“There are a lot of moving pieces to this particular puzzle but we do intend to have additional conversation in the future,” Guerrero said.

An Athens, Georgia-based developer wants to build student apartments on about 23 acres of the Thornton property, including the area known locally as Cape’s Camp. That development proposal would involve donation to the city of a dozen or more acres of waterfront property, including manmade Thompson’s Islands on a part of the river wrestled into submission 160 years ago by an enterprising Louisiana transplant and his slaves.

Parkland and environmental advocates — backed by a group of residents from the nearby Blanco Gardens neighborhood off River Road — have been appearing before citizens’ boards and commissions this summer to argue that the city should buy all of the land, not just parts unsuitable for building apartments.

On the west side of Interstate 35, the city owns more than 100 acres of parkland on both sides of the San Marcos River starting near its spring-fed headwater. On the east side, Texas Parks & Wildlife already owns 4.7 acres of Thompson’s Islands, which the city operates on behalf of the state as Stokes Park. The Thornton property would connect the two.

“This is not a quick, reactionary thought that people are expressing. A lot of thought is going into it,” said Angie Ramirez, who represents Blanco Gardens in the Council of Neighborhood Associations. “It’s important for me that you all understand how invested the people on the eastside are in the project. We’re in it for the long haul.”

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38 thoughts on “City angling to buy Cape’s Camp for park; preps for November vote

  1. I am glad that our leaders are finally listening. Capes Camp is the first step in achieving a rational balance between preservation of traditional neighborhoods and recognizing the need for more student housing.

  2. I think it stretches credibility, David, for you to imply that you’re due credit for this. I know, I know … you’re just advancing your client’s interests in a public forum. You really just want to make sure your name is associated with a popular project even though you don’t have anything to do with this. In terms of ridiculousness, that’s like Lisa wanting that little postage stamp of mulch downtown to be named the Scales-Copoletta Green Space.

    What do the Protect San Marcos officers think about their attorney using them to grandstand and self-aggrandize and then lead them into settlements that compromise their values?

  3. Also, David, your comment on this article when the apartments on Cape’s Camp were first proposed imply that you support the Thornton’s right to develop the property for student housing.

    “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.” — David Sergi

  4. Money Bags, David is not Protect San Marcos’ lawyer, he’s our lawyer ~ San Marcos Voice. Before we hired him he stood along side us all and spoke for neighborhoods and protecting the river as a community member for 8 months while many, many concerned citizens spent most Tuesday nights doing the same.

    I think most people who have been behind the movement of protecting neighborhoods and the river feel the same way David does. After almost a year of trying to convince the city that we need to protect neighborhoods and the river, they are doing just that and even suggesting a land swap ~ it’s a very refreshing and to be honest a relief to see them dealing with this in such a positive way. This is the type of leadership we can all be proud of.

    As far as speculating what another person’s intentions are in commenting here or taking a past post on the topic and stretching it ~ well it just seems like you have a beef with David.

    Do you support the aquisition of the parkland?

  5. I am really trying to understand the right/wrong here…

    OK, let’s just say:

    My house and land are up for sale. A buyer comes along and puts a contract on the property. I (the seller) accept the contract.

    After the contracts are in place, the San Marcos Parks board hears about my pending land sale and decides my land and house would make a great park. The board recommends to the Planning & Zoning Commission that they do what they can to block the sale of the property or, at the very least, impair the development of the land thereby discouraging the buyer.

    Then some members of the city council like the idea of the park and now want to buy my land…. However, all of this is well after a valid real estate contract is in place for the sale.

    This just does not seem right to me. While I am not an expert in real estate law, the timing here is clear. The buyer (not the city) got the deal first and should not use it’s power to interfere with a private sale.

    Am I missing something here? If so, please enlighten me. Thanks!

  6. correction:

    This just does not seem right to me. While I am not an expert in real estate law, the timing here is clear. The buyer (not the city) got the deal first and the city should not use it’s power to interfere with a private sale.

    BTW, I am all for parkland acquisition but in the context of what is right and wrong.

  7. MikeO, I’d wager the contract was contingent upon the property being zoned for multifamily. No zoning change, no contract. I would think there would be flood plain issues as well.

  8. The contract was indeed contingent upon rezoning to multi-family, the city decided not to entertain that and instead is working towards purchasing the land and assisting the developer to find an alternate location for their project on city owned land.

    This was all above board, and half of the owners of this land really want it to be parkland, the other half is just interested in their option of cashing out whichever way they can. A city purchase seems to meet both criteria of the sellers involved.

  9. Money Bags ? BS.. reference, for claritys sake,Protect San Marcos or is the media arm of The Angels Of San Marcos Nature Wildlife and Educational Preserve LLC, the legal entity that is presently solely in the name of myself, Jaimy L. Breihan. All liabilities and represetations not authorized or represented by this LLC , myself or my appointed editor/moderator are null. Check out the website, a truly funny satirical comic strip will soon be added, ” The Jesters Of San Marcos” Should be a hoot no doubt! As far as the Capes Camp issue, could not be happier personally. Now, we are still working on protecting / preserving the other end of the riversystem, the watershed that apparently, despite the recent false information being spread around by ETR, the land stakeholders, etc, needs to also be safeguarded from shortsided destruction. Sessom Canyon / Creek is still the line in the sand so to say. 🙂 jlb

  10. So the contract with the 1st buyer was contingent on a zoning change approved by City of San Marcos.

    However, the City of San Marcos is now the (late coming to the table) 2nd buyer and, conveniently, is the sole authority to deny the zoning change of the 1st buyer.

    If the City of San Marcos denies the zoning change and subsequently buys the property, is this fair to the 1st buyer? Is this kind of maneuver even legal?

    I am purposefully leaving out the sensitive issues of parkland and multifamily. I am just trying to understand what is the ethical standard that applies to this type of real estate transaction.

    Again, please enlighten me. Thanks!

  11. The initial contract was contingent upon the Seller obtaining the desired zoning change. The Seller failed to obtain the desired zoning change; hence there was no contract. Just as if the contract had been contingent on financing, or any other factor.

    Everyone involved in the initial contract, Buyer, Seller, their lawyers, and their real estate agents are a) big boys and girls who know how business works b) knew that the City was interested in obtaining the property and c) knew that a zoning change was required for the deal to work.

    Was it fair? Not sure that’s an issue in a real estate transaction of this nature. But my response would be, pretty much so. Was it legal? Yes, with out a doubt.

  12. Let’s just hope the City doesn’t take an interest in your property when you decide to sell it and bully the other buyers out of the way with similar tactics. This deal is basically shaping up to be eminent domain by proxy. And another valuable piece of property goes off of the tax rolls…..

  13. Looks a lot like Spring Lake Conference Center Part II. City has interest in property for a park, but needs to create a crisis for electorate to appreciate the value of the property. Then, a willing partner developer proposes something awful for the sight knowing full well it will never fly. Citizens react in predictable, almost scripted ways, and the City can then do what it wanted to do and even appear responsive. Developer then gets traded another parcel more ideal for the original idea, and the citizens get a park which they probably can’t afford.

  14. “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.” Quote from the 3/28/12 article by Brad Rollins in the San Marcos Mercury. I trust this is correct information.

    OK – So both the Seller and Buyer #1 (developer, not the city) are consistent with the city master plan – i.e. “medium-density multi-family use.”

    Along comes the city (via Parks Commission, P&Z, and Council) and blocks the deal because they want the land to be a park, contrary to the master plan and land use designation in effect at the time of the original deal.

    WOW – I am amazed this is considered ethical treatment of the land owner by city government…

  15. I’m with Dano and skeptical on this one. The city is negotiating with a smile and a handshake but everyone is aware of the gun in the city’s pocket.

  16. Not to mention we could have the sweetest part of the property FOR FREE if we just allow the high ground to be developed according to the master plan.

  17. Planned, not zoned.

    Welcome to the world of commercial real estate development.

    But I do agree with Dano, more property off the tax rolls. Time to sell the downtown property to the private sector.

  18. The master plan creates the reasonable expectation that zoning can be secured (or not secured). That’s what it’s for.

    I doubt there’s anyone in this thread or in the deal that doesn’t see the conflict of interest. It may not serve the cause to acknowledge it but a person would have to be blind not see it. I wouldn’t want to get into a commercial real estate deal with a person who truly didn’t see that. It’s like jumping into a card game when you know one of the players has the trump card in his pocket.

  19. SM95. it’s not a conflict of interest; the Seller could not provide the zoning required by the Buyer. If there is an issue it’s the Seller trying to squeeze more tax payer dollars out of the City.

  20. W, can you say for certain that desire to own the property didn’t influence the vote of any city council person?

  21. If an individual member of the Council were interested in buying the land, then there is a conflict of interest. Not the case here.

    Since the contract was contingent upon the zoning change being obtained, and same did not happen; there was not a contract.

  22. I suppose that’s what you choose to believe because it suits your objectives. My opinion is the conflict could not be more clear.

  23. Since I don’t have a dog in this fight, I don’t have objectives. It’s welcome to the brass knuckle world of commercial real estate. If something needs a zoning change, a waiver, a variance, an additional curb cut; the deal isn’t done. Bottom line here is, there was never a contract because it was contingent upon the zoning change being obtained.

    My question about this development boil down to, can they obtain financing on the project because it’s in a flood plain?

  24. The question has never been whether or not there was a contract. The question is does the city have a conflict of interest as they both covet the property and are in a position to block their rival. I say they do have a conflict.

    As to the floodplain, I’m sure the buyer had a lengthly feasibility period during which to resolve concerns about curb cuts, floodplains, wetlands, endangered species, impervious cover, traffic impact, utilities, ad nauseum. That’s not our concern. Our concern should be as taxpayers and as directors of our council.

  25. Assuming the City is conflicted in denying the zoning, it is equally conflicted in granting it. The land remains unzoned, hence, again, no contract.

    As a taxpayer, the more land that is off the tax roll, the worse it is for the citizen/taxpayer. How is that property currently valued? I have not checked (again, no dog in the fight) but I rather doubt it is at market.

  26. You keep saying no contract. I suspect the truth is they have a contract with a right to terminate. Either way, it’s irrelevant. The point I’ve been arguing with you is the conflict. If the city grants the zoning they have set aside their interest and the conflict is moot. Not trying to sound like a lawyer but I don’t know how else to say it. It’s only a conflict if they play their trump card, deny the zoning and purchase the property. Not to say they can’t negotiate peace and harmony with the jilted first purchaser but that will be at taxpayer expense.

    Taking it off the tax rolls is only one part of the picture. Adding debt or swapping other valuable land (probably both) is a bigger concern to me. How badly do we need that high-ground? Isn’t the river frontage what we really want? How much will we end up paying and what will be the ultimate use of this property if it’s made into parkland? The city should allow the development and accept the free parkland.

  27. If the contract is CONTINGENT (wanting to sound like a lawyer) until the zoning change is obtained, there is no contract.

    And the Buyer isn’t going to spend the mid six figures on the engineering work they almost certainly allowed for until the zoning change is obtained.

    As for the conflict, it’s a double edged sword. If it’s a conflict to deny (for the City’s benefit) it is also a conflict to grant (to the City’s detriment)

  28. There you go MikeO. Everyone agrees there’s a conflict. I doubt that will deter this council from spending the big bucks on this whole tract when they could have the part they want for FREE.

  29. Current use of the biggest chunk of the property is as a hay field so presumably has an ag exemption and is not contributing much to the tax coffers. The 2nd parcel is zoned commercial but has a rental house on it.

    As for the floodplain issue – the entire property is in the 100-yr floodplain. About a quarter of it is in the floodway and cannot be used for structures. Additionally, because the river is designated as environmentally sensitive, there is another buffer zone starting at the edge of the floodway that cannot be developed. If developed as apartments or single family housing, all the structures will likely be placed right up next to River Rd to get the maximum density they can squeeze out of the lot.

    Several of the apartment complexes on the east section of Aquarena and the ones out near Grande/Butler are at least partially in the 100-yr floodplain so financing must be available.

  30. Financing may have been available; but the lenders have seriously tightened the requirements on loan. Lenders hate flood plains. The engineering costs are going to be very high.

    Bottom line, commercial real estate transactions blow up all the time. Lamar Plaza in Austin, with better players on both sides of the transaction just fell apart.

    MikeO, the Master Plan, while a wonderful tool, does not have the affect of law. Zoning does. And, unfortunately, the City doesn’t seem to take the Master Plan seriously.

  31. What a great idea! This will be fantastic for the surrounding neighborhood, and it might even relieve some of the crowding at the parks upriver. I’ll be interested to see what they do with the part that’s currently a hayfield. Will they just add shade trees and picnic tables or will there be sports facilities too? Either way, it looks good.

  32. Speaking of “protecting the river,” is there any word on the new tubing spot someone is trying to open, potentially illegally, at the site of the earlier “bulldozing for agricultural purposes?”

  33. The guys at Texas State Tubes had a big river cleanup event the other day, and they seem like a great addition to the area. It would be a shame, and not particularly business-friendly, if they had to compete with someone who had gained an unfair advantage, by ignoring all local regulations, with relative impunity.

    Not to mention the message this new “business” is already sending, about how they will care for the river.

  34. Ted I think the place you are thinking of is U-Toob Oasis. Out on 621. They were made to shut down. Had no permits and were given like 8 citations at 2000.00 per citation, i think. Their signs have been taken down.

  35. Yep. I didn’t want to promote the other news source, or the business, but that’s the one.

    The signs are down, reportedly, but for how long? I’d say it would probably takes a couple of good days for a toob business to take in enough to cover those citations.

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