When Robert McDonald completed the purchase of 116 acres in north San Marcos south of Yarrington Road in January 2015, he thought the site would be perfect for a business park and a few warehouses. The city’s land-use map disagreed.
It has been more than a year since McDonald purchased the property, and he said he expects that by March he will have cleared the last hurdle to allow the business park and warehouses to be built on the property. During the time it has taken him to get his project started, two prospective tenants at the site have backed out because of the slow-going process, he said.
“San Marcos wants to allow every single individual in the entire city limits to weigh in on your business,” McDonald said. “It just creates this cumbersome process that takes months and months to get anything done. It’s disappointing, but that’s what it is.”
The city’s process for making a change to the land-use map, which was renamed the “preferred scenario map” in the city’s 2013 comprehensive plan, calls for notification of all property owners near the tract under consideration. The Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council each hold public hearings related to the request, at which time residents can voice their opinion about the requested change.
McDonald said the process of getting the preferred scenario map amended and the land rezoned has highlighted the need for the city to re-examine its development regulations. Abigail Gillfillan, city of San Marcos Permit Center manager, said the city’s new land development code, which has been undergoing a rewrite for two years, will likely simplify the process.
But having land rezoned to allow for a use contrary to what is in the city’s comprehensive plan is no small matter, she said, and residents said as much during formation of the plan in 2012 and 2013.
In the three years before the new comprehensive plan and its process for making land-use amendments were adopted, San Marcos approved 51 land-use amendments, according to city records.
“During formation of the plan the community said, ‘We worked really hard on this vision of how we want to grow, and we don’t want to have to fight these battles [over zoning and land-use amendments] constantly like we feel like we are currently,’” Gillfillan said.
In the three years since the new plan and amendment process were adopted 11 amendments have been made.
The city will consider two requests for amendments to the preferred scenario map during the spring 2016 period, one of the two times each year the city considers such amendments.
The second, on 50.64 acres west of I-35 on Posey Road, is being sought by Gunnarson Outdoor Advertising to allow the erection of a billboard.
The requests will go before P&Z for a recommendation of approval or denial Feb. 23. City Council will make a final decision March 15.
The new land development code, dubbed Code SMTX, is the tool the city uses to execute its comprehensive master plan. The code will make it easier for development that is aligned with the city’s comprehensive plan to be approved, Gillfillan said. Where the current code guides development based on land use, Code SMTX will use intensity as a guidepost to determine where certain uses are allowable.
Gillfillan used a commercial zoning district as an example. Right now the city’s code for commercial zoning districts would allow identical commercial developments along RR 12, Hopkins Street, Thorpe Lane and I-35, even though each of those areas has a different character. The new code will ensure the appearance of a development is tailored to the area it is located in.
“We know that we would like for development to look different in those different places, based on our comprehensive plan,” Gillfillan said. “Right now we have this one-size-fits-all approach across our whole community.”
Although the new code will have zoning categories similar to the current code, the categories will be much more broad, Gillfillan said, making it likely that in a case such as McDonald’s, the process for beginning work on a project will be much quicker.
Gillfillan said she expects a draft of the new code to be completed by April. Public feedback and revisions will follow. She said she expects council to adopt the code in the fall.
During City Council’s Feb. 2 meeting, Council Member Lisa Prewitt asked if the PSA process would be improved under Code SMTX.
That will be up to City Council, Planning Director Shannon Mattingly said. Council will be able to vote on changes to the process when the take a final vote on the code, she said.
“We definitely hope this is the last [time we go through this process] before [the code] goes forward,” Mattingly said.