An affirmative vote by a supermajority of San Marcos City Council will no longer be required to approve the controversial rezoning and voluntary annexation of nearly 1,000 acres of land along SH 80 and FM 1984, a proposal the council will make a final decision on at the end of the month.
The change comes after the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission on Jan. 8 reconsidered and reversed its recommendation to the council regarding the proposal.
The commission voted 8-1—with Commissioner Maxfield Baker casting the sole dissenting vote—to recommend the approval of the voluntary annexation and rezoning of the 934-acre, six-tract property slated for the development of the San Marcos Smart Terminal, which is set to be an industrial rail park and manufacturing facility.
“I know that none of us want to vote against good jobs,” Baker said. “But when we consider that we consistently are wanting to protect the neighborhoods that are already there, we want to make sure the preferred scenario map is implemented the way our citizens said that they wanted it to be, then we need to make sure that we vote the right way on this project. And that means we take all of these things into consideration.”
The commission originally voted 5-4 to recommend denying the proposal, with commissioners Baker, Jim Garber, Matthew Haverland, Angie Ramirez and Betseygail Rand saying at the Dec. 11 meeting they did not feel they were provided with enough information to vote in favor of approving the proposal.
“After that time, the staff went back and got more information from the developer, worked with the director of engineering to look at a lot of questions that were asked regarding the floodplain, met with county officials to learn more about roadway improvements that were being looked at,” said Shannon Mattingly, director of planning and development services.
Mattingly said Assistant City Manager Steve Parker met with Garber to discuss the additional information that was not available at the commission’s Dec. 11 meeting.
One of the concerns discussed Dec. 11 was that heavy industrial zoning—the type of zoning being sought by the developer—allows a maximum of 80 percent impervious cover; the commissioners were concerned about whether or not the 934 acres were in the floodplain and how the amount of impervious cover would affect flooding in the area.
Commissioners were not provided with a floodplain map of the property by city planning staff at the Dec. 11 meeting.
“So that was why there was a letter that came from the city manager’s office asking that we look at putting it back on the agenda and let you consider to hear the additional information in a public hearing format,” she said.
If the commission had again recommended against approving the rezoning and annexation, a supermajority of City Council members would have been required in order for the motion to pass.
However, now that the planning and zoning commission has changed its decision, the proposal will be approved if a simple majority of council members vote in favor of it.
Commissioner Ramirez said she hoped that the option to reconsider the decision was not brought before the commission again simply because City Council may not have the support of a supermajority.
Former planning and zoning commissioner and current San Marcos resident John Meeks echoed the same concern.
“I want to thank you for denying the rezoning request in your meeting on Dec. 11 and putting the responsibility of this decision on the dais of City Council,” Meeks said. “Now, as requested by the city manager, the approval of the request has boomeranged back onto your responsibility. That’s very interesting.”
Meeks said that after reviewing the Dec. 11 public hearing several times, he believes that the city planning department did local residents, the developers and the commissioners a disservice by not providing enough information for the commissioners to consider along with their final recommendation.
“The citizenry cannot expect you to uphold your oath of office with the inadequate, inaccurate or insufficient information that was provided by city staff,” he said. “I therefore applaud your courage in denying this request [Dec. 11] and protecting our interests.”
However, Meeks said that now that more information is available, he believes the commission should recommend approval of the annexation and rezoning because of the economic opportunity the Smart Terminal could bring to the area—provided the development creates jobs that pay reasonably well and the city promises to enforce land development codes that would prevent additional flooding.
Smart Terminal developer Mike Schroeder said at the Dec. 12 City Council public hearing that in addition to innovative manufacturing facilities, the Smart Terminal will allow a trucking business that currently trucks 15 million miles a year in and out of San Marcos to convert to rail.
“And the value to that is almost $300 million to our country over the next 10 years,” Schroeder said. “So yes, it’s on 900 acres, and it’s going to be somewhat dense because that’s what heavy industrial is—but what heavy industrial does is it pays for everything else in the city. It’s a revenue generator like no other.”
Sandra Martinez, a resident of Blanco River Village, a neighborhood adjacent to the property in question, said she does not want a heavy industrial property so close to her home, and she is concerned that it may worsen flooding in the area.
“Unfortunately we just found out about this this week, so we haven’t had a whole lot of time to prepare,” Martinez said. “I think [934 acres is] an awful lot of area to rezone at one time.”
Commissioner Lee Porterfield said he believes the Smart Terminal could be a watershed moment for economic development in San Marcos that the community is still talking about in 35 to 40 years.
“As far as the downstream and flooding, I don’t think that there’s another community that’s more focused with the regulations and what we look at,” Porterfield said in regard to the city’s land development code that requires new developments not to worsen flooding in the area. “I mean, I don’t know of another community—I mean maybe they talk a good game—but San Marcos, Texas, does make developers do these items.”