Bait & Switch: San Marcos Council swaps park land for apts

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Planned development on riverfront riles some San Marcos residents
By Ciara O'Rourke
American-Statesman Staff
Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013

SAN MARCOS — Three-quarters of the San Marcos residents who voted in the November election supported the city acquiring about 70 acres of riverfront property east of Interstate 35 historically known as Cape’s Camp and Thompson’s Island for a public park.

Parkland is still planned on the property, but under circumstances that have some residents planning to try to recall several council members who have backed developing more than half of the land for student housing instead.

The council voted 5-2 Monday in favor of a zoning change for a 306-unit, 1,000-bedroom student housing project called the Woodlands of San Marcos on 45 acres of the riverfront property.
About 20 of the 45 acres, including Thompson’s Island, would be dedicated to the city for parkland under the proposal, which the council is expected to reconsider Tuesday.

Council Member Ryan Thomason, who voted for the proposal, said he did so more for the parkland dedication than for the development, though he said that will provide more housing near other apartment complexes for a growing university.

On Monday, the council also amended the development agreement to give the city the right of first refusal for one year to buy an additional 31 acres south of the San Marcos River and to require that the property owner provide private bus service to take residents to Texas State University if the university shuttle service doesn’t extend to the apartments.

An estimated 200 residents packed into that meeting, where four spoke in favor of the proposal, city spokeswoman Melissa Millecam said. About 60 people told the council they opposed it, she said.

Former City Council candidate Lisa Marie Coppoletta said she and about 50 other residents are preparing to try to recall those who voted for it: Mayor DanielGuerrero and Council Members Thomason, Shane Scott, Kim Porterfield and Wayne Becak.

Council Members John Thomaides and Jude Prather voted against the plan.

Coppoletta said she and other residents planned to meet over the weekend to organize their recall effort, which she said will start with registering voters.

San Marcos residents can recall any elected official by filing a petition with the city clerk demanding that person’s removal signed by at least 10 percent of registered voters, according to the city charter. About 29,600 residents were registered to vote in the Nov. 6 election, according to Hays County records.

If the petition is successful, the council must hold a recall election, the charter says.
“Overwhelmingly, the voters voted for a proposition to protect this property,” Coppoletta said. “And the City Council has gone against that.”

But Thomason said that the property isn’t for sale and that the city would have to use eminent domain to pursue it for parkland — a move the majority of voters said they didn’t want.
“And second, we are nowhere close to having the money it would take to buy it,” he said.
One of the biggest misconceptions, he said, has been that the city has had a simple choice: apartment or park.

The council put three nonbinding propositions on the November ballot to gauge residents’ interest in the city securing about 70 acres of the riverfront property to be used as public parkland. About 75 percent of nearly 14,000 voters supported the city acquiring the land, but about 51 percent opposed it if it meant using eminent domain. About 65 percent opposed it if it meant raising property taxes.

Coppoletta declined to say when she hoped a recall election would happen, but because the charter says no recall petitions can be filed against a council member within six months of taking office, she said they would first focus on Porterfield and Becak.

Though their opponents criticized decisions on development that they made behind the dais, Guerrero, Scott and Thomason were all overwhelmingly re-elected in November.

Proposed developments and zoning changes have galvanized the community for months, with supporters urging the city to plan for its growing population and opponents raising concerns about river pollution and multifamily housing infringing on single-family neighborhoods.

Lisa Prewitt, a resident who has opposed the Woodlands, among other proposed developments, called the council’s preliminary approval irresponsible in part due to past flooding in the area and because it places an apartment complex on the San Marcos River, cherished by many residents.
After the proposed development plan passed last week, Prewitt was dejected.

“I don’t know what we’re going to be able to do in San Marcos to preserve this beautiful town,” she said. “It was an incredibly disappointing night for the community. Big time.”

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