San Marcos City Council passes Code SMTX on first of two readings

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Nearly four years into discussions on the city of San Marcos’s land development code overhaul, council members on Tuesday took a tentative first step toward adopting Code SMTX.

City Council members voted 5-0-2—with council members Ed Mihalkanin and Jane Hughson abstaining—to pass Code SMTX on the first of two readings after a two-and-a-half hour discussion.

The vote comes with a slew of proposed amendments on everything from more restrictions on accessory dwelling units to changing the name of certain of zoning districts.

“I trust that we’re going to get this worked out before we get this voted on [second reading],” Council Member Melissa Derrick said prior to the vote.

Neighborhood Districts 

At the heart of some council members’ and citizens’ apprehension in passing Code SMTX is the Neighborhood Districts, a suite of new zoning regulations that city staff say will replace the current options for medium and high-density residential neighborhood commercial development in existing neighborhood areas.

According to the Code SMTX final draft, Neighborhood Districts are intended for infill or redevelopment in areas that have a mix of existing residential and commercial buildings, such as in the Willow Creek neighborhood or northwest of Texas State University.

Under the proposed new regulations, there are limits on the number of attached units allowed, more parking standards, more appropriate height limits and more options for small, narrow lots and large or irregular lots.

For now, there are five proposed zoning designations within Neighborhood Districts that range from accommodating single-family detached houses and encouraging home ownership to creating a pedestrian-oriented mixed-use corridor near a primarily residential area. They come with a range of allowable building types depending on the zoning designation. But the building types, amount of zoning designations and the Neighborhood Districts name itself could change based on some council members’ proposed amendments.

Residents and council members have raised concerns about their neighborhoods not being protected and preserved, prompting some to call for Neighborhood Character Studies—aimed at ensuring that “each neighborhood maintains its existing character and follows development and redevelopment patterns desired by the residents”, according to the draft code—to be conducted before Code SMTX is adopted. City staff has reccomended Neighborhood Character Studies be performed after Code SMTX’s approval.

Some council members want to define Neighborhood Character Studies further before adopting the code, and a March 6 City Council work session aims to do that.

“We have to deliver some predictability and we have to gain the trust back in the community,” Council member Lisa Prewitt said. “I don’t think [Neighborhood Character Studies] are going to take that long once we define what they are.”

In an effort to quell concerns about protecting existing neighborhoods further from incompatible development, city staff has suggested prohibiting developers from requesting any zoning change above the least-dense Neighborhood District zoning—ND3—if the majority of properties surrounding the proposed rezoning are single-family homes.

Council members spent a lot of time on the so-called single-family buffer, with Derrick expressing interest in tying the completion of Neighborhood Character Studies to a developer’s ability to request a rezoning in the majority of the Neighborhood Districts.

Rezoning process 

Under the proposed code, all developers requesting a rezoning to a Neighborhood District would have to submit a regulating plan that outlines specifics on what and where they plan to build, from building type and parkland to street network and construction schedule. Council members have also requested more clarification on what a regulating plan is.

In addition, the notification to properties surrounding the rezoning request increases from 200 feet to 400 feet, and the amount of time between the notifications to surrounding properties and the first Planning and Zoning Commission meeting in which the request will be taken up increases from 11 days to 14 days.

Under the proposed code, developers submitting a rezoning request must also meet with surrounding neighbors and present their plan for development.

Council members are slated to vote on the second reading for Code SMTX’s adoption on March 20.

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Marie Albiges
Marie Albiges was the editor for the San Marcos, Buda and Kyle edition of Community Impact Newspaper. She covered San Marcos City Council, San Marcos CISD and Hays County Commissioners Court. Marie previously reported for the Central Austin edition. Marie moved to Austin from Williamsburg, Va. in 2016 and was born in France. She has since moved on from Community Impact in May 2018.
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