December 23, 2011
Danger ahead: Sessom development, others threaten city
My name is Jay Hiebert and I moved with my parents to San Marcos in 1971, when I was 11 years old. I have lived and travelled the world over returning six years ago to San Marcos. But whenever asked where home was, I always responded San Marcos, Texas, with its ice cold spring lake and crystal clear river. Today, the city that I call home is under attack like never before with the risk that the ice cold spring lake and crystal clear river be polluted and destroyed by the proposed Texas State University North Campus project by the Casey Development Group, Carter John Morris and the Randall Morris Reality group.
“Figures Lie and Liars Figure,” a quip attributed to Mark Twain, popped into mind when I read the projected annual financial impact of $750,000 from the Texas State University North Campus development project for the city of San Marcos. As someone who has worked with numbers in my professional career, I call on City Council to exercise extreme care in their due diligence analysis of this proposal and opportunity.
One of the major concerns of the citizens is that Casey Development will flip this property to Texas State University, and the built in revenue assumptions totally evaporate, as Texas State would remove this taxable property from the city of San Marcos tax rolls. However, even before this could occur, the revenue assumptions are suspect upon deeper analysis. It is believed the city would have to upgrade the water systems, the sewage systems as well as the storm water drainage culverts between the top of Sessoms Creek and the San Marcos River below.
The Traffic Impact Analysis submitted by Casey Development and prepared by Kimley-Horn has several material weaknesses in its design and interpretation, as it presents total peak hour traffic generation of only 502 peak hour trips (table 3, page 11). The traffic impact is significantly understated due the erroneous assumptions built into the report. These errors arise from the timing of the traffic study, the reference source and the reduction factors applied.
Kimley-Horn conducted a field reconnaissance of existing traffic patterns on Tuesday morning November 1, 2011. Is a field reconnaissance report, spending 4 hours counting cars, sufficient to support a proposed $63 million investment? While a typical Tuesday morning is typical day for this type of analysis, this Tuesday, following Halloween night, results in a significant understatement of traffic in the morning hours. I make this assertion as an adjunct instructor at Texas State University with an 8 a.m. class on this day, and I recall approximately half of my class failing to appear. Thus, I would project that the traffic on Sessoms was also reduced by this same factor. Additionally, the National Weather Service reported fog on this morning.
Kimley-Horn used the Institute of Transportation Engineers, Trip Generation Manual, 8th edition, calculates that the number of incremental peak traffic trips resulting from the addition of more than 1,000 residents in Texas State University North Campus Complex to be only 502 trips. Whereas the Texas Transportation Institute uses a trip generation factor of over six trips per day per car. As this complex is planned to be high end, it is with certainty that every single resident will own their own automobile. This would result in more than 6,000 incremental and probably peak trips per day. This is an astounding difference of almost 5,500 trips per day or a more than 1,000 percent difference between what the project engineers project and the Texas Transportation Institute projects. This discrepancy alone should cause the City Council to vote against this project in its current form.
Lastly, I challenge the assumption of trip reduction factors both from the ITE Trip Generation Manual as well as the additional trip reduction factor of 25 percent per instruction of the city of San Marcos’s traffic department. Again, as an adjunct instructor with a scientific survey of one, students do not walk, ride bikes or take the bus, whenever they have the slightest opportunity to drive their own automobile. One of the greatest retention issues at Texas State University centers on the ability of the Texas State University students to park their cars.
An additional point, one much harder to understand is the inclusion or exclusion of planned growth in the TIA assumptions. As of Dec. 12, there are a total of 30 proposed apartment complexes spread throughout San Marcos with a total count of 14,910 beds, of which 5,621 of these beds are bounded by Sessoms, Franklin, Craddock and LBJ streets. All incremental traffic from said beds would flow down either Sessoms or LBJ and ending up at the intersection of Aquarena Springs Drive and Sessoms.
The City Traffic Department has not studied this in a systematic manner as can be evidenced by the city of San Marcos’ Environment and Engineering Center’s has not updated its permit tables since 2008 and its Development Map since January 2009. Thus, I call upon City Council to vote against the Casey Development’s proposed Texas State University North Campus project and to consider a citywide moratorium on all changes in zoning until the City Engineering Department can complete a comprehensive study of the impacts of said developments upon the city infrastructure and quality of life.
In closing, I would like to refer to Chapter 4 of the City of San Marcos’ Horizons Development Plan. “A key element in the Future Land Use Plan is the discouragement of development in the environmentally sensitive areas in San Marcos, such as along the San Marcos River, Blanco River, creeks and the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone.” This is further supported by policy LU-2-3: the city shall strive on a continuing basis to purchase or otherwise set aside as much land as possible along the San Marcos River, Blanco River and creeks, especially that area within the 100 year flood plain and develop that land as contiguous greenbelts.
Jay Hiebert is a resident of San Marcos.