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

May 28th, 2013
P&Z unanimously rejects Casey’s Sessom Drive plans

Roll call

► Motion to deny Sessom Drive Multi-Family Planned Development District
Travis Kelsey: YesBill Taylor: Yes
Angie Ramirez: YesChris Wood: Yes
Kenneth Ehlers: YesCorey Carothers: Yes
Curtis Seebeck: YesRandy Bryan: Yes
Carter Morris: Abstain


San Marcos Planning & Zoning Commission members on Tuesday unanimously rejected San Antonio developer Darren Casey’s vision for a landmark retail and residential complex across Sessom Drive from Texas State University.

With planning commissioner Carter Morris abstaining and absent from the dais, all eight of his colleagues voted to recommend denial of a planned development district that would have encompassed about ten of 14 acres Casey has had under contract for well over a year. The commission then voted, with commissioner Chris Wood dissenting, to deny Casey’s request that the city abandon a bundle of streets and undeveloped alleyways he needed to build his project.

“It doesn’t fit the master plan. To me, that’s the end of it. We have two different master plans and it doesn’t fit either one. So how can you support it?” planning commissioner Travis Kelsey said after moving to deny Casey’s PDD request.

Unless Casey pulls his requests from further consideration, the planned development district will still advance to the San Marcos City Council but its approval will now require a supermajority — six of seven council members — to override the planning commission’s negative recommendation.

In the run-up to Tuesday’s vote, commissioners said opponents had raised sufficient questions about additional auto traffic on an already overloaded Sessom Drive; the encroachment on nearby neighborhoods such as Ridgeway/Hillcrest; and the environmental impact on the San Marcos River, the headwaters of which are less than a mile away from the hilltop site.

Citing contradictory engineers’ reports from Casey’s representatives and from the San Marcos River Foundation, planning commissioner Curtis Seebeck said he was not going to risk giving his approval to a development that could cause environmental harm to Sessom Creek, the rivers’ uppermost tributary.

“I’ve been swimming in that river since I was a kid. I’m not willing to flip a coin and take a gamble on who’s right. I’m going to err on the side of caution,” Seebeck said.

Casey‘s supporters, including Winstead P.C. attorney Steve Drenner and former State Rep. Patrick M. Rose, told commissioners that their choice was not between the property as it exists now and Casey’s proposed showcase development but between Casey’s proposed showase and a 48-lot subdivision called Sessom Court comprised of tightly spaced single-family homes likely to become college rentals. The planning commission approved the preliminary plat for that project last March.

View San Marcos Development Map in a larger map

COVER: San Marcos Planning & Zoning commissioners listen to James Garber, a Texas State anthropology professor who has led opposition to Darren Casey’s plans for a high-end retail/residential complex on Sessom Drive, during their May 14 meeting. On May 28, the panel voted unanimously to recommend denial of a planned development district that would have allowed for the five-floor, Mediterranean-style complex. Planning commissioners pictured are, left to right, Chair Bill Taylor, Angie Ramirez, Randy Bryan, Travis Kelsey and Kenneth Ehlers. SAN MARCOS MERCURY PHOTO by JON SHAPLEY

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34 thoughts on “P&Z unanimously rejects Casey’s Sessom Drive plans

  1. Brad you picked the WRONG meeting to watch at home ~ Unanimous ~ and as i told you previously a ” yellow shirt” supporting the Casey project threw his shirt on the ground and said ” ya’ll are right” and then left the building ~

    Tears of joy and sadness that Jaimy Breihan wasn’t there when “hell froze over and pigs could fly” were overwhelming. Thanks to EVERYONE who had a hand in this effort ~ much love!!

  2. Whoo-hoo!!!!

    What an INCREDIBLE show of team work tonight. I just got done listening to every one of your comments…

    The rebel yell when the yellow shirt walked out was priceless. :)) The unanimous vote, truly beautiful. Thank you ALL so much. Your work is so appreciated.

  3. I wasn’t clear before, but that “thank you” is extended to the Planning Staff and P and Z board members too, for their careful analysis and discussion of everyone’s concerns.

  4. Charles, Casey’s crew was hard at work recruiting college students to wear “support rezoning” shirts (an obnoxious neon yellow) and show up at the last couple of meetings. I talked to some of them at the last meeting, they had NO idea what was going on, they were just there to support student housing in that spot.

  5. Hooray for common sense and local government that seems to be finally acting reasonably and responsibly. Thanks to all who fought for this and thanks to P and Z for doing the right thing!

  6. They’ll be back. The rebuff last night gives us a better opening position. It even buys some more time — but people start sleeping again when there’s more time. We have to stay awake. I predict that 2-3 years from now we’ll be confronted with a project that is much more modest than Casey’s, and it will be a difficult fight.

  7. It’s a victory for opponents of the proposed development, but I have a feeling it’s going to end up being a hollow victory based on Casey’s comments about what will go there instead.

    I would take his initial proposal over 48 “McHouses” any day. Anyone want to guess what *that* neighborhood will look like in 10 years? 48 lots on 14 acres is just over a quarter acre per lot, and that’s before roads, setbacks, etc. That’s *not* going to be an asset for San Marcos. It’ll end up being (unofficial) student housing anyway and it won’t be long before the neighbors find themselves living next to “Sagewood II” (or III if you consider the Retreat II).

    This would, however, serve as an effective “F-U” to the town – on par with what happened to the two-bitter all those years. But hey, we got what we wanted, right? Hopefully, we don’t get what we deserve….

  8. I suspect it will be a lot like the KB homes on Holland, which aren’t my favorite, but they seem to house a mix of students and families, and don’t generate thee complaints that Sagewood and The Retreat do.

  9. “We have two different master plans and it doesn’t fit either one.”

    At some point, the city has to conclude whether its master plans are worth anything. If not, then stop putting time and money into them. If so, then honor and follow them. It’s pretty simple, really.

    Much of what Dano says makes sense to me, but in the end, Darren Casey is in the business of betting on the potential profit that may come from buying and building on a particular patch of earth. He understands the risks, and that sometimes this is very much a long game, and he is patiently navigating the process. By trotting out the KB home development as the alternative to his student housing complex, he’s merely offering a gas-guzzling Chevy Suburban instead of a gas-swilling Hummer. There is no Prius on the table, and there never will be.

    It’s unfortunate that the Sessom Creek neighborhood will be developed at all, but it’s not surprising. The university is a growing beast that must be fed. So to Dano’s point, what kind of development would we rather have? And what would fit in either of the master plans? Would the traffic and environmental impact be worse with a KB home development up there? Is there a way for the city to assess this independently and credibly?

    Truthfully, the dense home development concept has me a little worried because rental homes usually decay faster than apartment complexes.

    Jesus. As much as I hate to say it, maybe this just boils down to building the thing that won’t rot quite as quickly as the other thing.

  10. The real question is will Casey even buy the property. See paragraph 2, “under contract” The project is a bust without the streets and alleys being vacated. Hurdle number 2. P&Z approval, hurdle 3. Holding costs, taxes etc, minimal, but hurdle 4.

    Casey doesn’t do single family developments, doesn’t mean he can’t, he just never has. Then there’s a pesky street issue again, in order to do single family, the street has to be put in.

    There is the omnipresent good will issue as well. Casey has p****d off the powers that be with his attitude of ‘I’ll show you’ No better way to get the building inspectors, and every other member of City staff mad than to cop that attitude.

    And where is Concho Commons? Per the website it was supposed to have started construction in 2011.

    Bottom line, I’d wager the contracts will be voided, and Casey will go on to another project. It’s time to cut the losses.

  11. This was not an easy decision for any of us. For those who may think we may have made the wrong decision based on the alternative development (subdivision), that should not be part of the decision making process. We are tasked with looking at and making a decision for the project on its own merits. What could possibly be built there as an alternative should not even be in the radar.

  12. Well said Mr. Seebeck. The threat should never have been on the table. Per the article, that threat was made by both Steve Drenner, Casey’s hired gun and Patrick Rose, president of Corridor Title. Is that correct?

  13. Also, I am not so sure that single family homes, IF they ever get built, is worse than the proposed development for that site. For one, they will not be able to cut 35′ off the top of the hill and fill in the low spot, basically flattening out the hill country like they would with the proposed MF. Also, 48 homes x 2 cars per home, equals 96 cars vs. 800. Trees will be required to be preserved where the MF would take them all out. Whether or not the environmental impact of SF vs MF is worse is arguable. In my opinion, the threat was a straw man argument at best.

  14. A lot of threats and scare tactics have been used by this developer and I am very thankful that Commissioner Seebeck didn’t appreciate them anymore than those opposed to the project.

    Curtis your view on this almost mirrors mine. More decisions will need to made on this property whether it’s Casey or the next guy in line (yes we have heard there are multiple back-up buyers), but our PZ is not charged with trying to decide between a proposed project on the table and an imaginary plan for which they have no details. They are charged to decide if what is placed before them for approval is good for this city and meets it’s codes and Master plan and this development did not.

    Many, many thanks to our Planning and Zoning Commission for last night’s decision. I hope that we will see such thoughtful deliberations and decisions being made in the future b/c it is our city’s future that is being shaped w/ each vote.

  15. Why are they only “thoughtful” when they agree with you? Why did staff play politics? Are we now doomed to rule by the vocal minority? Do we have alternate solutions to deal with the 1k cars we are sending to further regions of the city? Are unelected commissions really best suited to make decisions like this? Will the university buy the spot and put up something bigger, uglier, and untaxable? Do we have any real evidence it would damage the river, or are we paralyzed by fear?

  16. I’ll take a vocal minority over a silent majority any day of the week.

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

  17. Thanks, Curtis, for your insights. I’ve been on the fence on this one. Single-family developments can go wrong just as apartment complexes can become party towers. This is a college town, and that college sits right across the road from the site. So unless the homes are priced at $350K and above, you’re gonna get students in there, and probably more than two cars per home. Maybe Ted’s right and maybe it will be a mixture of families and students. I live in one of the historical districts and that’s precisely the mix here. Most student-occupied properties are pretty run down, but that’s largely a function of the economics of rental property ownership: put as little in as you have to, and take as much out as you can.

    I appreciate your reminder that you all were asked to vote on the development based on its own merits, and not to choose one development over another. It’s good for all of us to keep this in mind, myself included.

    Thanks for your service on the P&Z commission. I’ve spoken before you guys a couple times and I don’t envy you one bit.

    Finally, I’m glad folks keep asking about Concho Commons. That site’s starting to look like one of those scraped earth sections of south Chicago….bulldozed buildings, busted concrete, falling down cyclone fences. Surely that location screams out for a mixed-use development. What’s the deal? Is Casey waiting for the Never Ending University to take that land off his hands?

  18. Thank you to the folks that showed respect by calling me Mr. Seebeck but it is certainly not necessary at all. I don’t deserve any more respect than anyone else on this blog or in town so please, call me Curtis!

    Being a P&Z Commissioner is a fun, but tough job sometimes. I know that the decisions we are asked to make are not going to make everyone happy and a lot of times folks take it personal when things don’t go the way they want it. I have voted against projects proposed by people I consider friends and that is a tough thing to do. I think, however, that if you truly knew any of us up there, we are not the monsters as frequently portrayed by the posters here and only want what is best for the City of San Marcos withing the rules as set forth. The issue is, we do not all agree with what is best of San Marcos all of the time! It is really sad the stuff we get accused of frequently and frankly, it hurts sometimes. But that goes with the territory I guess!

    Anyway, thank you to the folks with the kind words in this thread. Please remember, however, that the next time we don’t agree with your position, that we are not the monsters you think we are! 🙂

  19. I personally want to thank the P&Z commissioners for seeing through Casey’s shenanigans. I had the “honor” of sitting next to him during the meeting last night, watching him enjoy his newspaper sports section, yawning and grunting during the time the lawyer representing the Sessom neighborhood spoke on our behalf. I am still wondering what’s in it for him. Has it become vindictive?

    This neighborhood is one of the last of its kind in San Marcos. If Casey wants to build single family cliff dwellings on the property, I know we will try to fight that, too. And to skeptical… step at a time. I repeat this quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

  20. Thank you, Curtis, for your comments here and for your vote last night. I believe growth, development and investment could be very good for San Marcos but not a huge project like this in an environmentally sensitive area bordered by a quiet single-family neighborhood. I would love to see Concho Commons get built. I would love to see businesses offering higher-paying jobs move into the city. I would love for an Indian restaurant to open up in town, but that’s purely for selfish reasons. 🙂 Something like this could be built in an area that can handle the traffic and the environmental impact of construction and not disturb families or go against the master plan, but the proposal to put it on that piece of land made no sense.

  21. What kind of neighbor would proudly say that the proposed development is for “young professionals” and then, when the laughter dies down, admit that it is and always has been designed for students?
    What kind of a person would promise not to manipulate boundaries and then, in the face of opposition, change the project’s boundaries and admit before the Parks Board that the changes were made for the very purpose of invalidating the rights of his neighbors?

    What kind of new neighbor says, “If you don’t allow me to build a student high rise with student bars and shops, I will instead build 45 shotgun shacks, fill them with transient renters, and damage the neighborhood and pollute the river even more”? Tell me, is it a good citizen and ethical businessman who would make such a threat to his neighbors? Is this a person who “cares about the river as much as anyone”? Is this a person you will welcome into your neighborhood?

  22. I second the motion for an Indian restaurant in San Marcos. I wish Darren Casey would build one of those.

  23. I’ve learned Curtis through my interactions with you guys that you are not monsters as you were saying….sometimes I think the anger is directed at the developer but since it is you guys we are talking to it can blur the lines do to say…that and of course all comments must be directed to the commission and not directly to the developer himself as I understand it….many people are relatively new to public speakin and may not always understand how it operates at the meetings….thank you again for your vote sir and looking at how “this” project would harm many aspects of our town

  24. As Curtis says, any single family project would not be cutting and filling that steep property to the extent a highrise would. Obviously, any project that is proposed for this site will have to be closely monitored as it passes through the Planning Dept. We can only hope that the city’s own Sessom Creek study will be comprehensive enough and finished soon enough to help us make decisions about how this land on the head of Sessom Creek should be treated.

  25. Curtis anyone who is really paying attention does not include you or Travis in any negetive banter (and newcomer Angie is a breath of fresh air). Ya’ll are sometimes the only thing that gives those of us who attempt to protect the environment and neighborhoods any hope at all, and I thank you so much for that. I and many, many others have nothing but the utmost respect for you.

  26. I did not support a zoning change without neighborhood acceptance. But. In the long term we need to get more student housing closer to the campus. We need to identify tracts like the post office or the old justice center and even some where it will be less palatable that would be good candidates for student housing and get those on the master plan as such. In a way we are too late as there are already too many apartments on Post Rd, Mill and Aquarena west of I-35 but if we can stop that trend we should.

  27. ok..ok…. slowly but surely you may be gaining my confidence back. do what is right for san marcos thanks

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