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Dec 302011
 

December 23, 2011
Danger ahead: Sessom development, others threaten city
Jay Hiebert

— Editor,

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.

Dec 302011
 

For those of you just joining us, you may be wondering what all of the fuss is about. Here is a recap:

A proposed development by Darren Casey of Casey Development, Ltd. will build a 1,008-bed apartment complex with retail space on the first floor over 14 acres of land that currently sits on top of Sessom Creek.


View San Marcos Development Map in a larger map. Map created by San Marcos Mercury.

Environmental Concerns

Sessom Creek flows directly into the headwaters of the San Marcos River and is just outside of the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. In the image below you can see the proposed  development in red with the creek running right through the middle. The developer has designated this portion of the land as park land since the creek runs through a steep canyon and cannot be built upon. The blue line surrounds the watershed area of the creek and the green line surrounds the boundary of the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone in San Marcos.

Overhead view of development inside the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone

The San Marcos River foundation commissioned an engineer to assess the environmental impact that this development would create. In her report Dr. Lauren Ross concluded that “[b]ecause of the size of the development, its high impervious cover, and its location in a sensitive headwaters area, and its location on and adjacent to steeply-sloping land, the potential likelihood of erosion, flooding and water quality degradation is correspondingly high.” You can download the full report here.

And…

In addition to environmental concerns, many residents are concerned about the increase to traffic on an already overburdened Sessom Rd. It is already nearly impossible to drive on Sessom between 8am-6pm on most days. Now imagine adding 4,000+ more cars going in and out of this apartment complex every day (assuming 1,000 residents making 2 round-trips per day). That’s not including traffic to the proposed retail shops, assuming they ever become occupied.

People are also worried that the ever increasing number of multi-family housing in our neighborhoods are threatening the last few single-family neighborhoods we have left in our city.

So, What’s Happened So Far?

Before this development can proceed, the land must be rezoned from single-family to multi-family. As we mentioned here, the San Marcos Planning and Zoning commission were deadlocked in their vote to approve the rezoning. Since they were not able to send any recommendation to the city council, the council is not allowed to consider the motion themselves. So, back we go to P & Z. The next scheduled meeting for the P & Z is on January 10, 2012. The agenda has not been posted, but we will keep our eyes peeled for it.

Update 1/13/12: The P & Z voted 5-2 to approve the rezoning and development of the Sessom Creek land. Next up is the City Council vote on 1/17/12. The city council will need a supermajority vote of 6-1 in order to approve the motions.

Update 1/17/12:

The City Council tonight voted 4-3 against approving the Sessom Creek development! Council members Thomason, Prather, and Becak voted in favor of the rezoning, while Thomaides, Scott, Porterfield and Mayor Guerrero voted against. More info can be found on statesman.com.

Here’s an article from the San Marcos Mercury about the vote: http://smmercury.com/52807/hundreds-pack-city-hall-to-fight-rezoning/

After the motion to approve failed, Council member John Thomaides made a motion to deny, which would have stopped the project for one year. However, no one else would second the motion and the developer subsequently withdrew the rezoning request. So, they may bring up a modified request in the near future.

So what happens next? It’s unclear for now, but we’ll update this place when we know more.

More Information

The San Marcos Mercury has done a great job of covering this issue so far. Here are some links to their articles on the subject:

http://smmercury.com/50922/upscale-destination-development-headed-for-pz-vote/

http://smmercury.com/51664/facing-angry-citizens-pz-punts-on-casey-project/

http://smmercury.com/51684/verbatim-pz-commissioners-on-the-casey-project/

 Posted by at 3:32 pm
Dec 142011
 

We want to share a letter from a San Marcos resident that was sent to the P&Z commissioners about the Sessom creek development. We encourage everybody to send an email to the city council expressing your opinion on the matter, especially if you can’t make it to city hall tonight, or don’t feel comfortable speaking in public. Email addresses for each member of the council can be found on the city’s website, and we’ll provide a list at the bottom of this post as well.

Here is a letter from San Marcos resident Frances Breihan:

December 13, 2011

 

TO:  P&Z Commissioners,

 

RE:  North Campus Housing Development – Sessom Canyon Project 

 

I am Frances Breihan, a resident at 111 W. Hillcrest for all but 20 years of my life.  I will not address the environmental issues with this project  as they have been presented.

 

Ted and I have raised our four children at our present location, and had planned to leave our home to one of them.  Nearing retirement, we evaluated our situation and decided to remain in our home rather than change our location.  We built a beautiful memorial for our daughter, Dawn and built a lovely back deck – thinking that our retirement years would be pleasantly spent in this peaceful setting.

 

Unfortunately, our view would be drastically changed and the peaceful place we have created would be changed forever.

 

San Marcos has been flooded with apartment complexes – many as yet are not filled.  The Old Baptist Church was touted as a “real deal” for jobs and business opportunities.  It was a joke – we have been hoodwinked once again by developers.

 

I know that I speak for our neighbors when I inform you, who hold our future in your hands – do not push us out.  Do not change the zoning.  Do not discount us in favor of developers.

 

Please, please do not sell us out to the developers who laugh all the way to the bank while we, citizens are left to ponder what the future holds for us.

 

Sincerely,
Frances Breihan

 

Again, we encourage everybody to send an email to each city council member expressing their personal feelings on the proposed development on Sessom Creek. If you CC protectsmtx@protectsmtx.org, we will reprint your letter here. Let your voice be heard, San Marcos!

City Council Members

City Council – Mayor_Council_Info@sanmarcostx.gov

Mayor – Daniel Guerrero, dguerrero@sanmarcostx.gov

Place 1 – Kim Porterfield, kporterfield@sanmarcostx.gov

Place 2 – Jude Prather, jprather@sanmarcostx.gov

Place 3 – Fred Terry, fterry@sanmarcostx.gov

Place 4 – Wayne Becak, wbecak@sanmarcostx.gov

Place 5 – Ryan Thomasson, rthomason@sanmarcostx.gov

Place 6 – Shane Scott, sscott@sanmarcostx.gov

Dec 142011
 

Tonight, the city council will hold a public hearing about the proposed Sessom Creek development. Last night there were over a hundred people crowded into city hall waiting to speak out against this project, but only 10 were allowed to speak due to the short time allotted for citizen comments.

At the public hearing tonight, everyone will have a chance to speak. We need as many people as possible to speak against the project. The developers will likely have dozens of their friends speaking in favor of it. You can sign up to speak by going down to city hall any time before 5:45PM today. If you don’t sign up beforehand, however, they will still let you speak. According to the agenda, the public hearing will start at 7PM.

Please get the word out to all of your friends and neighbors! We had a huge showing last night, but tonight is even more important! Tell the council to deny this project. If they can’t deny it, then they need to postpone further discussion until after the New Year. We still need more time to study the environmental impact that this development will have on our river. Also, we elected a new city council member last night, who will not be sworn in until next week. A vote of this importance should not be made without the input from someone who represents the voters of San Marcos.

City Council Meeting

Wednesday, 12/14 6PM

San Marcos City Hall

City Council Chambers

630 E. Hopkins

San Marcos, Texas 78666

 Posted by at 1:14 pm
Dec 142011
 

Tonight, the City of San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission voted on a motion to approve the proposed development on the land over Sessom creek. The motion failed with a 4-4 vote. Commissioners Bill Taylor, Bucky Couch, Chris Wood, and Kenneth Ehlers voted in favor of the development. Sherwood Bishop, Curtis Seebeck, Randy Bryan, and Travis Kelsey voted against. A motion to deny also failed, and a motion to postpone the proposals until January failed as well.

So, now the proposal goes to the city council with no recommendation from the P&Z commission. This will happen tomorrow, Wednesday 12/14 at 6PM at city hall. Everyone and anyone who is concerned with the impact this development will have on our city needs to show up at the council meeting and voice their opinions. There will be a public hearing and everyone will be allowed 3 minutes to speak their mind. The developers will definitely be there, and they will bring as many of their friends along to speak in favor of the project.

Let’s all go up there tomorrow night and let our elected officials know that we want this project to be denied. If it can’t be denied, then it should at least be tabled until January. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the environmental impact, traffic impact, quality of life to our neighborhoods, etc. 24 hours will not be enough time to address them.

See you there, San Marcos!

City Council meeting

Wednesday, 12/14 6PM

San Marcos City Hall

City Council Chambers

630 E. Hopkins

San Marcos, Texas 78666

 Posted by at 12:20 am
Dec 102011
 

Come watch “The Unforeseen” with us at Grin’s on Monday 12/12 at 7PM. This documentary tells the story of a community in Austin who tried to stop rampant development near Barton Springs in the 1990s. There are many parallels between what happened there and what is happening in San Marcos today. So, come out and enjoy a free movie with friends and neighbors on Monday evening. Then, go out and vote on Tuesday!

“The Unforeseen” — A soulful documentary of Austin’s struggle to protect their springs from the environmental effects of land development

Monday, December 12, 2011 7pm

Grin’s Restaurant 802 N. LBJ

The picture above taken at Sessom Canyon — The “Lost World”

 Posted by at 8:13 pm