City council denies new student housing

Ziek Sanchez

San Marcos City Council members unanimously denied developer Gilbane Development Company a conditional use permit for the development of student housing.

Without being permitted a CUP, Gilbane management are unable to move forward with the project.

The Gilbane Development Company proposed student housing, 75 Sylvan Street Project, was set to be a five-story housing development alongside block 100 of South Guadalupe Street between West San Antonio Street and West MLK Drive.

Plans for the complex aimed for 171 units, equaling 541 bedrooms. Gilbane Development planned to incorporate local businesses like The Buzz Mill and Blue Moon Optical into the building.

Before reaching City Council Oct. 1, the developer made a request to the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission to obtain a CUP for purpose built student housing earlier in 2019. The request was denied by Planning and Zoning with a seven-to-one vote May 28, 2019.

Prior to the Planning and Zoning Commission vote on the initial CUP request at a public hearing, developer representatives said how the project would be beneficial to San Marcos. The complex would result in a job increase, student support for local businesses, improvement in the downtown streetscape and set a higher quality standard for downtown.

However, plans and ideas proposed by Gilbane were met with public opposition. Concerns were comprised of potential inadequate fire safety protocols, preservation of downtown character and its historical value and predatory business schemes taking advantage of students. Such concerns ultimately led to the Planning and Zoning Commission denying the developer a CUP.

Gilbane management does not own other properties in San Marcos.

Ann Ramirez, five-year San Marcos resident, said the city is growing fast and becoming increasingly student-oriented.

“Over the relatively short time I have lived here, it seems like the city is filled with more students and student housing every year,” Ramirez said. “I don’t think adding a complex would make it any more comfortable to find parking and spend time in downtown.”

When the CUP request was first brought to City Council July 2019, council members decided to postpone the vote to establish a committee to negotiate a deal with Gilbane.

The committee consisted of Mayor Jane Hughson and council members Mellisa Derrick and Joca Marquez. The group met with the developer once and discussed the complex serving as a low-income housing tax credit project and making the development an affordable, traditional, multi-family project.

Succeeding the meeting, the 75 Sylvan Project representatives walked away from negotiations.

Following the failure to reach a compromise, City Council members chose to deny the developer’s request unanimously. No project representative was present to speak to City Council the day of the vote.

Council member Joca Marquez said the council’s job is to protect citizens from companies failing to negotiate with the city and its subjects.

“It’s very telling when a company is not willing to work with the city; they are not in the business of helping students or the city itself,” Marquez said. “It gives the impression these types of companies are only in the business of making money.”

Thomas K. Rhodes, commercial real estate representative for the Sylvan Street project, said the developer is no longer actively engaged with San Marcos.

“Although the CUP was denied, the developer still holds the permits necessary to move forward with developing multi-family development and could do so if they wish,” Rhodes said.

The property zone remains a C5D area, meaning the location allows for multi-family housing to be established. If Gilbane Development chooses to move forward with the complex, the company would have to prove to San Marcos council members they are not meeting conditions for student housing.

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