After citing a need to better inform San Marcos citizens of proposed changes, the San Marcos City Council postponed the adoption of Vision SMTX++—its comprehensive plan—Nov. 6.

The council postponed the vote on the plan—which details various goals and objectives of the city, as well as preferred concepts of residential and commercial development—until at least Jan. 16.

The new plan looks to update and expand the city’s zoning districts and categories from five to 10. Those zoning types dictate what type and density of development can occur.

The existing comprehensive plan was adopted in 2013, titled Vision San Marcos: A River Runs Through Us. The primary updates to the plan involve the introduction of place types to zoning and the intensity level of development within that place type to guide future development as well as infill development.

Two-minute impact

Every five years, the city’s comprehensive plan is supposed to be re-evaluated and updated as needed. The new 150-page plan looks to update and expand its zoning districts, and serves as the “vision for equitable and compatible growth.”

The plan will serve as the blueprint and guide for future development throughout the city. The plan calls for area centers that will guide any proposed mixed-use, community and neighborhood developments in the city’s future, according to city documents.

The primary updates to the plan involve the introduction of place types to zoning.

Place types are meant to provide guidance on various aspects of zoning, including:
  • Building forms
  • Street layout
  • Open space
Along with many other aspects to define “a set of places that are unique and authentic to the community” according to the planning document.

A total of 10 place types are being considered. One of those—Neighborhood Low-Existing—would prohibit multifamily development within these areas. That designation would apply to historically single-family housing areas.

Increasing development types

The city’s new Vision SMTX++ comprehensive plan introduces place types, which are meant to assess land use and zoning guidelines more holistically.

These neighborhood types are some of the 10 place types being considered, with Low-Existing and Low-New being the newest revisions. Each place type allows for various land uses.

How we got here

At issue is whether density will be promoted in established neighborhoods or only in newer, outlying developments.

The revisions as currently written in the Vision SMTX++ comprehensive plan would prevent increased density in existing neighborhoods that do not currently have that level of density, according to the published revisions by city staff. Under the plan, any neighborhood deemed Neighborhood Low-Existing would not allow for “missing middle” housing, such as townhomes, cottages, accessory dwelling units or anything that doesn’t fit within what that area already allows.

Opponents say that would make housing less affordable for renters and homeowners alike as well as encourage sprawl and development outside the city’s central core.

Did you know?

The city charter outlines that plans such as these need to be adopted and used as guidelines for growth, development and other factors. Comprehensive plans outline the direction a city will go in terms of prioritizing:
  • Development
  • Capital improvement projects (such as sewer/stormwater, road construction, other infrastructure
  • Implementing other citywide plans (such as for greenways, arts, transit, etc.)
  • Area-specific plans for the airport, downtown, and neighborhood plans
  • Annexation of and requirements for extraterritorial jurisdiction developments
The breakdown

The updates in the Vision SMTX++ plan that are causing pause have to do with where “missing middle” housing can be built in the city. “Missing middle” housing refers to types of housing that fall between apartments and single-family homes, said Casey Lee, government affairs coordinator for the Four Rivers Association of Realtors.

The updated plan would virtually prevent that type of housing from any neighborhood designated as low density and as already existing with predominately single-family construction.

Mayor Jane Hughson said she is concerned that adding denser development into established neighborhoods would be problematic.

“As long as people know when they buy their home what’s going to be surrounding them, that’s fine,” Hughson said.

Lee said pushing development away from older areas cause a number of issues.

“If you put new developments only on the outside on the edges of the city and that’s the only place you’re willing to increase any kind of density, you’re going to increase the traffic issues that we already have,” Lee said.

In their own words

“San Marcos needs a variety of housing options to be an affordable place to live, work and play. [This plan] actively discourages those options.”

— Stephanie Ryan, Four Rivers Association of Realtors, 2023 President

“We wanted to protect existing neighborhoods. ... As long as people know when they buy their home what’s going to be surrounding them.”

— Jane Hughson, San Marcos Mayor

Next Steps

The city council formed a committee of Mayor Jane Hughson and Council Members Alyssa Garza and Shane Scott to seek more community input prior to mid-January, when the body is expected to bring the plan up for another vote once more.

“We’ve devoted so much time, effort and energy and money to this, but there still seems to be a fundamental lack of community awareness and opportunity for input,” Garza said.

If the plan doesn’t pass, the city’s comprehensive plan goes back to the drawing board for revisions and community consensus at a later date.