COVER: Texas State University’s Student Recreation Center towers over dilapidated houses on Sessom Drive slated for possible redevelopment as the Campus Village student housing project. The San Marcos Planning & Zoning Commission on Jan. 13 will consider a request from a Michigan developer to amend the city’s comprehensive plan to allow for multi-family housing on the block. MERCURY PHOTO by BRAD ROLLINS
by BRAD ROLLINS
Nine months after its first request for a land use map change was soundly rejected by the San Marcos Planning & Zoning Commission, a student housing development company has drastically scaled down expectations for properties it has under contract at the corner of Sessom Drive and Academy Street, a literal stone’s throw away from Texas State University.
Last April, Rochester, Mich.-based Campus Village Communities asked for an amendment to the city’s comprehensive master plan — from an “Area of Stability” to “Medium Density” — that would have permitted considerably higher-intensity zoning on about 5.4 acres in the Alamo neighborhood. At the time, the company envisioned a three- or four-story building with as many as 500 bedrooms, Campus Village executive Greg Schaefer told the San Marcos Mercury before the vote. Planning commissioners rejected the amendment, 5-2, with even Brian Olson and Amy Stanfield — typically reliably pro-development voices — voting against the measure.
This time, Campus Village Communities has confined its request to about 2.8 acres, comprised of nine lots currently occupied by generally older, deteriorating rental houses. Moreover, the company is not requesting medium density land use but a classification one shade more flexible than the existing “preferred scenario,” a change from an “Area of Stability-Neighborhood Preservation” to an “Area of Stability-Redevelopment/Infill.” The most obvious difference between the two designations is that the latter allows mixed-use and MF-12 zoning, 12 units per acre, the lowest density category of apartments under city codes.
P&Z will consider the request during it regular meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m today at San Marcos City Hall, 630 E. Hopkins St. The city council will make the final determination on whether to grant Campus Village Communities’ application.
In a city staff analysis of the proposed amendment, city planner Sophia Nelson wrote that the developer’s amendment request is “generally consistent” with the comprehensive master plan. At its nearest point, Campus Village’s prospective property is less than 90 feet from the university’s Student Recreation Center and less than 540 feet from the six-floor, 612-bed Chautauqua and Gaillardia residence halls.
The proposed amendment “will allow for the development of the properties and help to create a transition from the mixed-use development that is currently entitled along Sessom Drive into the largely single-family neighborhood located to the north and west of the property,” Nelson wrote. “…Based on the location [across] from Texas State University and adjacent to a predominately single-family neighborhood, this is a logical location to consider redevelopment or infill development.”
Nelson’s analysis also noted concerns about the properties’ development suitability including its location primarily in the Sessom Creek watershed, the San Marcos River’s uppermost tributary. In addition, she said that “traffic is a concern to staff.” Police records indicate 20 traffic accidents within two blocks of the Sessom-Academy intersection during the last year, Nelson wrote.
The developers are likely to encounter entrenched and well-organized opposition from homeowners who years ago adopted Sessom Drive as an inflexible line in the sand separating the university from established single-family residential areas such as the Alamo, Ridgeway/Hillcrest, Holland Street and Holland Hills neighborhoods.
“Why must all the neighborhoods that have existed for decades be destroyed by dense student housing? The line must be drawn somewhere! We can live peacefully with most students renting homes … in our neighborhood but not the proposed dense development of Campus Village,” Alamo neighborhood resident Yvonne Eixmann, a Texas State business management lecturer, wrote commissioners on Jan. 5.
During late summer and early last fall — before the developer had downsized his intentions for the property — more than 400 people signed a petition circulated by neighborhood representatives opposing the Campus Village development.
Correction: Vote to deny developer’s request to amend comp master plan to allow apts at Sessom Dr and Academy St near #TXST was 8-1, not 7-1
— San Marcos Mercury (@themercurynews) January 14, 2015
.@CityofSanMarcos votes 7-1 to deny developer’s request to amend comp master plan to allow apts at Sessom Dr and Academy St near #TXST #SMTX
— San Marcos Mercury (@themercurynews) January 14, 2015
Campus Village | Case Map [pdf]
Campus Village | Planning Staff Analysis [pdf]
Campus Village | Resident Letters [pdf]
Comprehensive Plan “Preferred Scenario”-to-Zoning Translation Table [pdf]
Comprehensive Plan Land Use Intensity Matrix [pdf]Email | Print
Bad location. This could be a great neighborhood for university employees, and probably is. Maybe they don’t count.
Why do we feel the need to reward absentee slumlords with dramatically increased property values, through rezoning and reclassification?
The downtown infill is of far greater value to the city.
Who will pay for the improvements, to get these residents safely across that street? Taxpayers?
What about the increased traffic on that street, as the residents drive to jobs, bars, restaurants and grocery stores?
I appreciate your consistency on this. When P&Z/City Council were considering Casey’s Sessom project back in 2012 and 2013, how many times did we hear members of the “Not Here, Not Now, Not Ever” movement hold up Concho Commons as an example of the sort of development we need? I distinctly remember Jim Garber saying so with typical eloquence.
The vote against the Concho Commons height warrant was an exhibition of the new majority bloc flexing its muscle and not its brains. In doing so, they appeared to confirm their most rabid detractors’ accusations that they are, indeed, against all new development everywhere. I’ve twice listened to the council’s Concho Commons debate carefully and the only argument against the project I heard any council member articulate was Hughson saying it would act as a towering wall — literally and symbolically — between the city and the university. Everything else offered by the opposition was showmanship, strawmen, smoke and mirrors. I rarely find occasion to praise the mayor these days but I think he was appropriately assertive, in his own style, in pointing out the moving target.
So, I appreciate that you’ve established a position on multi-family in the vicinity of Texas State — in favor of redevelopment south of the university, opposed to it north of the university — and are predictable in the application of your stance.
As for this particular Sessom/Academy project, I continue to doubt that it’s reasonable to expect university-driven real estate development can — or should — be stopped at Sessom Drive in the longterm. At the same time, I acknowledge that I would be inclined to see things differently if I owned a home on the other side of Orchard Street from the proposed site or on Hillcrest Drive or wherever. I tend to think the amendment request being considered tonight, for an “Area of Stability-Redevelopment/Infill,” is likely workable depending on what Campus Village Communities actually plans to build. At the very least, it is a serious, reasonable request that should be afforded serious consideration guided by reason, not emotion.
Something else I thought I would point out: When P&Z considered Campus Village 1.0 last April, Hughson recused herself because of her employment by the university. Should this make it to council, I have every reason to think Hughson will recuse herself again in keeping with the standard she established for herself. Consequently, it seems possible at this point that Campus Village Communities’ request could be approved when all is said and done.
I think the university is putting up enough towering walls, that one more won’t make a difference. In a perfect world, they would have put their green space on the perimeter, and things like the performing arts building and adjacent garage, a little further in.
Pulling things in would have created an inviting common area between the city and the university, and would make it a lot easier to get around campus.
I don’t know if university-driven development can be stopped at Sessom, but in this case, I believe it should. The other Sessom location was better, in that it was closer to a viable pedestrian crossing, and offer the potential for a buffer. I say potential, because I still have never seen anyone attempt to determine an adequate buffer based on how sound travels; merely based on arbitrary guesses at what seems like enough space.
This location offers neither a good place to cross, nor any room for a buffer, adequate or otherwise.
If they approve it, they should just reclassify the whole neighborhood, and put the homeowners out of their misery. Nobody will want to live next to this, and everyone will be on edge, wondering which block will be next. I hate slippery slope arguments, but in this case, it may be valid. The slide may be agonizingly slow, though.
Forgot the formatting tricks.
Did Porterfield and Jones recuse themselves from similar votes?
I don’t recall Porterfield or Jones recusing themselves on votes related to real estate development near the university. I may be wrong but that I can’t think of any example.
Hughson — and I noticed this early on in her latest P&Z term — decided to steer way clear of anything that could give the appearance of the conflict of interest and, in doing so, went well beyond what I would assume the law requires. For example, she recused herself on any development that would be served by the Maxwell Water Supply Corp., of which she was a board director at the time. My guess is that she would not be legally required to recuse herself from a Campus Village vote, but I don’t know why she should now abandon the high ground she claimed while on P&Z.
(She explained at the Jan. 7 council meeting why she did vote on the Concho Commons height warrant: Because it was already entitled for 13 floors and the additional 2 floors would not seem to have a measurable effect on her employer one way or the other. Had the vote been on whether to entitle Concho Commons in its entirety, she said, “I would have a lot more to think about.”)
I’m not sure I would run for council, if I were going to have to abstain from the number of votes that will likely come up, which fit that criteria.
Do you know the status of Casey’s lawsuit? No doubt he will be watching this one closely.
I do not know what’s going on Casey’s lawsuit against the city. Probably a good time to check in.