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A good development but in the wrong place

Letter to the Editor
Sunday, September 9, 2018

Editor,

The Lindsey Hill debate has riveted me from the beginning. The biggest reason I will explain shortly, but for openers I am one of those who think that the town’s long term best interest lies in obtaining that central, visible land for a public park, an art and sculpture garden, and a historic auditorium. Why not, darn it??? The original “west end” of town has no park. It needs and deserves a real one, a large one, as infill increases our population density and all possible open land is swallowed up.

But being realistic, unless some heaven-sent person passionate about the current beloved flavor of San Marcos contributes all the big bucks necessary to give us that park and thereby defend our historic legacy from the coming siege, I don’t know anyone who objects to putting housing there instead. The sticking point is what shape that housing should take. There seem to be 2 basic schools of thought.

Side One wants DOWNTOWN DENSITY ALLOWED so that the developers can proceed with a massive multistory 210 unit apartment/condo complex, plus retail, plus 4-story parking garage, built in a peaceful neighborhood made up of single family housing with small MF units scattered about. Their thought is “Lamar is old and ugly and abandoned. This town deserves something pretty and progressive and new and taxable and their inspiration photos of Cherry Hill New Jersey are beautiful and besides, these investors paid for this land so they should have the right to build what they choose.” Fair enough, those are valid points. Here’s the other viewpoint.

Side Two believes DOWNTOWN DENSITY BELONGS DOWNTOWN, not out in the neighborhoods. Housing on the Lamar land? Sure! But why so dense? Why so huge? Profits matter and I’m as big a capitalist as they come, but do we really owe these owners millions upon millions at the expense of our beloved historic district? It was their choice to buy that overpriced land but their proposed high rise (4 stories on top of a two-story hill) will change everything about the character of its surroundings. We believe the city should require preservation not only of a bit of Lamar’s very significant history, but also that it be developed w the type of housing it is surrounded by: SMALL!! (single family condos as well as “missing middle housing” sizes and a mixture of affordability types). Side Two also believes fervently that retail sprouting up in any residential neighborhood changes things forever, because restaurants, bars, noise, crowding, light pollution, and traffic will absolutely follow. In this case, you can count too on flooding.

I am co-owner of a 35-year old bed and breakfast inn with small apartments (at 326 West Hopkins) which in recent years has lived the nightmare of being engulfed by a monolithic apartment complex (which has caused us to flood 9 times since its construction!) and a new late-nite restaurant/ bar scene on our block. The Inn is in a commercial district, a place where multiple uses are by definition allowed, but the noise, the crowding, the cars and the sleep deprivation has still been a nightmare I did not anticipate when we DIDN’T fight the apartments or the first bar. (We fought the second one like banshees.)

Please listen to someone who has lived through what Side One thinks they want. Do people in the residential area around Lamar really want to lure commercial and a high rise with 500-1000 new neighbors and cars right into their midst? Those wonderful and well-meaning neighbors who support this development sound just like I sounded before the hammer fell. “This planned development is so much better than these ugly abandoned buildings! And these fellows are so nice!” In our case it was an abandoned service station packed with UHaul trailers.

Please be careful what you wish for. Allow DOWNTOWN DENSITY (big apartment buildings and retail) on the west side of RR12, just one block from residential streets that are lined with iconic treasures, and our irreplaceable historic district will soon look like the top of a checkerboard or a domino table. With the RR12 dividing line breached, there will be no stopping a development tsunami.

Commercial is commercial and residential should stay residential. Leave DOWNTOWN DENSITY DOWNTOWN. Lindsey Hill as currently proposed is a tempting, desirable multipurpose development in catastrophically the wrong place.

Cathy Dillon

San Marcos