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Rapid growth causing divisiveness in city

Guest Column
Sunday, July 7, 2019

It appears that San Marcos continues to make the news as a city divided. It’s rapid growth and need to meet a diversity of housing needs while maintaining it’s unique character and established neighborhoods has caused much divisiveness.

The majority of new construction is geared toward highrise, cookie-cutter “rent by the bedroom” buildings to address the alleged shortage of housing for TSU students. So, while our city struggles to provide affordable housing choices for the diverse needs of our population, not just students, developers remain fixated on these “rent by the bedroom” structures. Obviously, these benefit their bottom line and provide them with the most profit. However, while the non-taxing paying university, out of town, out of state developers are happily plundering our city’s resources, the citizens of San Marcos are bearing the cost of higher taxes, increased infrastructure costs required for these projects, more traffic and parking problems, an increase in crime and more structures whose design fits poorly with the overall character of our city. In return, our two most precious resources, our river and our historic neighborhoods, buildings and sites are constantly being threatened.

The Council’s vote to approve a 90-day demolition permit delay for buildings deemed historically significant or over 80 years of age at an emergency meeting recognized that while the City looks to a constructive future, we don’t want to lose our past. This is a temporary response for a lack of regulation on historic demolitions while an ordinance is being fully developed and tailored for San Marcos.

Unfortunately, there are developers who rushed to file their demolition permits the very morning the Council planned to vote on this temporary process to avoid having compliance. Two of these, David Lerman and Mark Berin attached a letter to their application. They stated they were forced to file because of the “Council’s pending consideration of this ordinance to restrict demolition of certain properties in the City”. This is a distortion of the truth as the purpose of this demolition delay process is applicable only to buildings over 80 years old with significant proven historic, architectural cultural and historic importance to our city. ( No fears, your doghouse is safe). They also claimed that the majority of people from different sectors of the city support their project with only a “ small group of activists who have used historic preservation as justification for the difficulties they have encountered for their project”. The fact they have been unable to obtain the necessary rezoning to construct this 5-6 story-building complex surrounded by established neighborhoods from either Planning and Zoning or the City Council is not mentioned. They have said that their property (Lindsey Hill) does not consist of historically significant buildings and their development plan includes preservation and repurposing two buildings; the gymnasium and auditorium. This does sound contradictory as if these buildings are not significant, why then are they saying they would be preserving them? Perhaps it has to do with the recent My Historic SMTX City of San Marcos survey that was just completed. This survey has given this property known as the Lamar School (Lindsey Hill) the highest preservation priority resource (pg 45). The reasons for this rating can be found on pg 28. The survey is available to read on line.

In a joint Planning and Zoning/City Council workshop held on Sept. 13, 2018, with these developers, City Staff presented their findings on the project as submitted by Lerman and Berin. It was apparent that this project had many major roadblocks of its own due to its design which would require a rezoning from an area of stability to an area of highest possible density. The project also conflicted with numerous existing City codes if approved without the developers making changes. Just some of these had to do with insufficient off street parking, inadequate parking, street width requirements, amount of impervious cover of the hillside, building materials, erosion control, access for emergency vehicles, land use, inconsistencies with the street scraping, building height and more. None of these had to do with historic preservation and were not the cause of the project’s failure to be approved. The developers refused to discuss any of these problems and stated their project stands “as is.” It is important that regardless of what they have claimed they are “going to do,” they have only provided renderings of their project and insufficient written clarification, a shortcoming pointed out to them. Transparency does not exist with broad generalities and vague promises. They want project approval despite the many problems presented to them. This developer, as others, is attempting to bully through our City’s approval process and using deceptive and disinformation strategies to convince us that they are the “victims” and the “underdog.” They blame others for their own miscalculation as to the desired outcome of their investment. If they were mislead into believing it would be a “slam dunk” for them to get around the rezoning process and building approval, that again is their problem. They are not above blackmailing the City by threatening to demolish what they now know are historic buildings if their PDD is rejected as in their letter they stated “they will pursue other development plans that may or may not include demolition of them” although they never actually said how or what they planned to do with them when they claimed they were going to preserve them. To be fair, they are not the only developer who has attempted to strong-arm our elected officials to get what they want.

The question is: Whose interests will be best served for our City in the coming future? Will we be guided by our City’s elected and appointed citizens and officials or give in to the threats and demands of developers who do not adhere to the tenets of being fair, just, honest, truthful and reasonable in their dealings with us. Remember, they do not live here but we do. The problems their projects create will be left for us to live with and try to fix.

San Marcos Record

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