CALL TO ACTION: Parks Master Plan

On Monday 11/1 at 3:00 PM, the city council will consider a resolution to adopt a proposed Parks, Recreation and Open Space master plan, which was recently made available on the city's home page. Download a copy of the plan here http://www.sanmarcostx.gov/news/Docs/10oct28_parksplan.pdf (12MB). Thanks to Sherwood Bishop for requesting the addition of missing natural areas (listed below)! We are also pleased to see that the plan emphasizes trails and includes a greenbelt map that generally reflects SMGA’s Loop & Check vision supported by language we provided.

However we have the following concerns and strongly encourage you to email the city council at cityhall@sanmarcostx.gov ASAP (before their meeting at 3PM on Monday afternoon) to request that approval of the plan be delayed to provide time for further discussion and resolution of the issues, many of which are listed below. Surely this parks and open space master plan, in development for the past year, will drive many important decisions and deserves a close look. We do not see any need to rush the plan through.
  • The greenbelt map on p. 89 (PDF p. 95) of the plan does not depict a connection between the Purgatory Creek and Ringtail Ridge natural areas and the map does not show connective corridors between waterway greenbelts. (We have requested that these connections be added to the maps.)
  • The complete connection between the San Marcos River and Purgatory Creek Park (along Purgatory Creek itself with possible link to Willow Creek near the Victory Gardens neighborhood) is not shown. The missing segment is depicted in the San Marcos Transportation Plan (SM Trans Master Plan, section 6, PDF pp. 118-119) and is likely to be one of the most heavily used along the loop.
  • Appendix C: Parkland Dedication recommends changes to requirements that developers dedicate acreage in new subdivisions for park land. According to the plan, "these recommendations allow the city to acquire slightly more park land than the existing ordinance, but also add development fees for improvements." This language suggests that developers would be required to dedicate parkland and help fund the improvements. But the language later in that section suggests that the developer can choose (without the currently required approval process of the Parks & Recreation Board, the Planning & Zoning Commission, and the City Council), to trade some of the park land requirement for credit toward the improvements, which actually weakens the overall requirement and functions more like a "fee-in-lieu." (Fees-in-lieu typically allow developers to negotiate payments that replace or reduce parkland dedication requirements.) Fees-in-lieu should only be used in exchange for land in situations where the land is unsuitable because of its characteristics or location, as indicated in the current master plan. Fees-in-lieu should not serve as a means to offset improvement fees. If a developer wishes to deviate from park land requirements, the developer should receive a recommendations from the Parks Board and the Planning & Zoning Commission and approval by the City Council. We would also highly recommend adding requirements that restrict what "fee-in-lieu" funds can be spent on (e.g., fee-in-lieu funds must be used to purchase parkland in other areas of the city). Without this restriction, increased use of fees-in-lieu, rather than parkland dedication, would result in less park land. Furthermore, if fee-in-lieu funds are used for Parks Department operations or facilities, construction, and maintenance, the City Council could decide that these increased fee-in-lieu funds would allow them to decrease the parks & recreation budget.
  • On pp. 63-64 (PDF p. 20) we suggest revising the environmental and connectivity goals to emphasize preservation of natural areas that address habitat, recharge, the river, and flooding.
  • Under Standards on p. 77 (PDF p. 83), we would like to see more details and benefits added to the explanations of natural resource protection and trail connectivity.
  • The Action Plan on p. 98 (PDF p. 104) should indicate that wilderness trail construction is about $2,000/mile and that $200,000/mile applies to 6' hike and bike trails.
  • It would be nice to see the plan updated with information about Ringtail Ridge (no longer “undeveloped” thanks to SMGA volunteers and the city) and Blanco Shoals (a new master plan needs to be created since the original one is in conflict with the donor’s stipulations).
    Barring the issues noted above and others that may surface as discussions continue, SMGA is supportive of the parks and open space master plan and the community input that was considered in its development. Here are highlights from the plan:
    • The parks and open space system will consist of parks, natural areas, and linear greenways that foster community gatherings, provide opportunities for active and passive recreation for area residents, and preserve significant natural and cultural resources.
    • The planning horizon is ten years, and covers the period from 2010 to 2020. The park master plan covers the San Marcos city limits and includes the extra territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) of the city.
    • During plan development, these top five needs were identified:
    1. Trails (connections to existing trails and rivers/creeks)
    2. Acquisition of parkland and development of facilities in the area of Ranch Road 12 and Craddock Ave
    3. Acquisition of parkland and development of facilities East of I35
    4. Athletic fields west of I35 along McCarty Lane
    5. Community park development west of I35 and near downtown
    • Input from the public and other stakeholders was obtained through stakeholder interviews and questionnaires, park user intercept surveying, and community informational meetings.
    • The plan includes San Marcos River corridor management recommendations developed in cooperation by the City of San Marcos Parks and Recreation Department, Texas State University’s River Systems Institute and the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program.
    • A list of parkland for future development includes:
    Blanco River Village, neighborhood, 20 acres
    Blanco Riverwalk greenbelt, greenbelt, 55 acres
    Cottonwodd Creek Park, greenbelt, 53 acres
    Crystal Creek greenbelt, greenbelt, 5 acres
    El Camino Real Neighborhood Park, neighborhood, 37 acres
    Mccarty Commons, greenbelt, 55 acres
    Paso Robles Parkland, greenbelt, 138 acres
    Purgatory Creek Pdd, greenbelt, 3 acres
    Retreat On Willow Springs, greenbelt, 37 acres
    • Through the community meetings and user surveys, the following five activities were consistently requested:
    1. Natural areas
    2. Hike / bike trails
    3. River access
    4. Soccer
    5. Tennis courts
    • “The overwhelming majority of those surveyed and those in attendance at public meetings felt that extensive consideration needed to go towards trail systems and balancing the protection of the San Marcos River with development…As one of the top priorities of the parks plan, the City should work to establish a program of growing a trail network rather than implementing it in bits and pieces. Coordination with other City departments and public agencies will be critical in providing a network that is useable throughout the ETJ.”
    • “Several greenbelts in San Marcos are under development, and investment in their advancement is a priority…In San Marcos, there are two types of greenbelts: those that follow waterways; and those that serve as connective corridors. Together they will create a network of greenbelts, which provides hike and bike opportunities to all parts of town and over long distances. Sometimes called a greenway, a greenbelt is characterized by having a high ratio between its edge and its acreage and therefore offers easy access for neighbors and visitors.”

    CALL TO ACTION: Support Expansion of Purgatory Creek Natural Area

    Join SMGA in support of the expansion of Purgatory Creek Natural Area by emailing your county commissioners to support using Hays County Parks Bond funds for this amazing 600-acre opportunity. The Trust for Public Land has put together a proposal that requests only $950,000 of the $3,200,000 remaining parks bond funds for this almost $9 million project (with much of the remaining money to come from an  application to U.S. Fish and Wildlife). Acquisition of this land will add 600 acres for recreation activities to San Marcos and Hays County, including hiking, biking, and camping in prime hill country property.

    Of all the projects vying for park bond funds, we feel this one gets the county the most bang for the buck and best reflects the bond for "parks, natural areas, open space, and related projects, and the preservation of water quality, aquifer recharge areas, and wildlife habitat" passed by county voters in 2007.

    If you have any questions, please contact us at alliance@smgreenbelt.org. Please email your commissioners today! Tell them you want your parks bond money spent on the expansion of Purgatory Creek Natural Area.

    Here is our letter of support for the Purgatory expansion:
    The San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance (SMGA) is proud to support the acquisition of over 600 acres of habitat and recharge area adjacent to the Purgatory Creek Natural Area. This project’s goals complement and expand our organization’s mission which is to create and conserve an interconnected system of parks and natural areas for our community and future generations. The preservation of this area, which would more than double the existing Purgatory Creek Natural Area would expand the habitat for endangered species, protect area in the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, and expand the passive recreation activities including hiking, camping, and picnicking. In addition, its connectivity to a larger hike and bike system make this a project that we are proud to support.

    The San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance has partnered with the City of San Marcos on the development of trails in almost 1,000 existing acres of natural areas. Our trail building techniques keep habitat and water recharge protection in mind at all times. SMGA will design and develop the trail in accordance to any habitat and archaeological restrictions, while keeping in mind the experience of the trail user. This project presents a real opportunity for SMGA to further garner appreciation of the natural world and show off the beauty and natural heritage of the area to all of the citizens of Hays County. The San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance offers its support for the acquisition of the 600 acres adjacent to the Purgatory Creek Natural Area and partnership for the trail development with the City of San Marcos.

    Family Picnic, Sunday 11/7 @ Prospect Park

    Join us Sunday, November 7 at 2 pm at the Learning Tree in Prospect Park / lower Purgatory. We'll provide trash bags, sunscreen, water, a few snacks, and bubbles. You bring your family and a snack picnic and enjoy a (hopefully!) beautiful, afternoon in the park. The learning tree photo shown here was taken by Lance Jones, May 2010.

    Enter from the Prospect entrance and walk to the end of the crushed granite trail to the Learning Tree. Or  enter from the Wonder World trailhead and follow the trail under Wonder World Drive and into lower Purgatory / Prospect Park to the large oak tree (aka Learning Tree).  Download a map for printing: the Learning Tree is at the western end of the orange trail shown on the map.

    Directions to Lower Purgatory / Prospect Park: From downtown San Marcos, take W Hopkins St. to N Bishop St. Turn west (uphill) on Bishop and left on Prospect St. Go 2.5 blocks to dead end. Park on street near kiosk to your right. Parking is limited, so consider carpooling, walking, or biking; a bike rack is available.

    Email alliance@smgreenbelt.org for more information.

    Silver Award Presented to G.O.T. 2B Green Day Organizers

    On October 24, six members of Girl Scout Troop 881 received the silver award for their G.O.T. 2B Green Day project which introduced Prospect Park to over 100 visitors one Saturday morning last May. The silver award is the highest honor to be earned by Cadette Girl Scouts ages 11-14 or grades 6-9. These girls continue to be true ambassadors of the San Marcos natural areas. We congratulate Lindsey Burton, Sabine Hahn, Hunter McMain, Katie Obst, Sara Jo Porterfield, and Elora Smith for their hard work and well-earned silver award. And we look forward to their great ideas for their gold award!

    Purgatory Cleaned Up


    Thanks to the Chi Omegas and 20 amazing volunteer leaders for joining SMGA on October 9 to clean up Purgatory Creek Natural Area on a beautiful Saturday morning. A few of the tasks accomplished:

    • Removed most of the tin from the learning tree
    • Removed the old learning tree kiosk roof
    • Trimmed tree near the compass
    • Raked & planted wildflowers seeds
    • Cleaned, dug out, painted the bollards
    • Picked up trash
    • Closed off the dead end trails
    • Collected osage seeds
    • Removed unnecessary silt fences
    • Moved cedar posts for use as waterbars
    Thank you to the Chi Omegas, Heather Powdrill with Keep San Marcos Beautiful, and SMGA volunteers Kristen Norberg, Bridgett Phillips & Sean Welch w/ Kason & Joaquim, Kenny Skrobanek & Christine, Adam Wagner w/ Annie & Lukas, Ann Wise, Tina Ybarra, Matt & family, and SMGA board members Todd Derkacz, Maggie Hutchins, and Charlie O'Neil.

    Fall Colors at Ringtail Ridge

    Just in time for our moonlight hike at Ringtail Ridge, the fall colors have arrived, Texas style. While working the trails this morning the soapberry leaves were turning color. Not as vibrant as in previous years but a discernible warm yellow hue. Flowers in bloom include buffalo gourd, mealy blue sage, frostweed, and the common sunflower. The cypress tree planted last Spring was watered as the pond has been reduced to a mud pit.

    Update on Local Developments from SMRF

    Thanks to SMRF for keeping us up to date on local developments.

    10/19:
    BUIE TRACT:  Another item on the agenda: the rezoning of a small piece of the Buie Tract land is up for a decision, but everyone already knows how the current majority on Council will vote on that. This was the piece that was pulled by the developer so that the neighbors' petition could not reach the threshold of requiring a supermajority, which would have killed the rezoning.   This does not mean that the battle is over.   The missing items in the geological assessment are still on all the fault maps and other kinds of maps for Hays County, so we will continue to make that hard to ignore, as these tall apartment and commercial buildings are being proposed to be built on top of some of these missing faults and caves.  The other mystery that we continue to pursue is how the bulldozing was allowed to happen several years ago, with stakes lined up where the Craddock extension was planned by the city.   This bulldozing went on with no permits obtained by the landowners at the time, no biological opinion from USFWS, etc.  We continue to dig on this issue.

    Related stories in SMLN:
    http://www.newstreamz.com/2010/10/07/pz-approves-rezoning-of-buie-tract-parcel/ 
    http://www.newstreamz.com/2010/10/21/buie-tract-wins-final-zoning-approval-in-4-3-vote/

    PASO ROBLES:   This subdivision is mentioned in the agenda as possibly coming back for reconsideration, but someone who voted for it last time would have to bring it back for a vote, and the current majority group of council people who voted for it are not going to do that.  But again, this does not mean that this battle is over either.  There are many ways that the issue of watering over the recharge zone with wastewater could continue to be worked on, and SMRF will be doing all we can.  Citizens surrounding that area need to keep up the good work of talking to Council members, writing them too, and hope that there will be a more sensible set of decisions made in the future on this tract.  cityhall@sanmarcostx.gov

    Related story in SMLN: http://www.newstreamz.com/2010/10/06/city-council-hires-nuse-approves-paso-robles-deal/

    PASO ROBLES:  Paso Robles was on the agenda and unfortunately much incorrect info was given during this long agenda item.  It appears that some Councilmembers still do not understand the water pollution consequences of watering in that location with wastewater.  Nor do they seem to comprehend that the drinking water wells around that location do not have treatment plants to remove the chemicals that infiltrate the aquifer from the wastewater irrigation and the operation of the golf course. Worst of all, we learned that the city taxpayers are going to pay for whatever baseline testing might be done, and there is nothing agreed on that makes the developer pay for cleanup if pollution is found.  The rezoning was approved, 5-2, with Councilmen Thomaides and Bose against.  Narvaiz, Porterfield, Terry, Thomason and Jones voted for approval.

    10/4:
    WINDEMERE: The developers DID get approval last week of the entrance road in the Sink Creek floodplain, so they can build 75 homes.   Planning commission members obviously had qualms about the flooding expected there, over that roadway, but incorrectly felt that they had to allow the variance.  We will be watching for the watershed plan filed for this area and intervening if necessary.  We also learned that the city is drilling six test holes in the Spring Lake preserve to determine whether they can place a wastewater line in this preserve, the same huge line that has caused such problems with sinking soil along Lime Kiln Rd.  This wastewater line will serve the University, the city has stated, the part of San Marcos that is around Sagewood and Craddock, and of course, Windemere.   They have not proposed to do any special second lining or other measures to alert emergency workers when leaks happen in this line, which will drain straight to Sink Creek and thus Spring Lake. ( If you read the paper any given week, there are notices about leaks in sewer lines in cities all over central Texas.  TCEQ requires these notices to be published.  It just points out that sewer lines leak fairly often.) San Marcos will need these extra measures to protect the river if we want to keep swimming in it in the future.  The time to implement these is when you build the line, not later when you have to dig it up again.  Or perhaps we should just find a different location for such lines to start with.  At any rate, if you wish to tell council your opinions on this variance to allow the entrance road to Windemere, which would allow them to develop the banks of Sink Creek just before it goes into Spring Lake, you can email cityhall@sanmarcostx.gov or come to the Council meeting to speak this Tuesday, Oct. 5, 7 p.m. or a little before then if you wish to sign up to speak.  

    BLANCO VISTA: The Blanco Vista homeowners turned out in force last week and certainly got the attention of Planning commission members.  The item was postponed so the developer could work with the residents on exactly where the 900 new apartments might be placed in their single family community.  This is the same developer that plans to build Paso Robles.  The concerns of this group were very similar to issues brought up about the apartments of the Buie Tract.  It will be interesting to see how it turns out. This item has been postponed until December.  Newstreamz.com has had interesting articles on this and on the 3 developments on the recharge zone.

    Linear Parks: Business Investment in San Antonio

    Colin McDonald, San Antonio Express-News, 10/07/2010:
    For Mayor Juli├ín Castro, protecting the Edwards Aquifer and expanding the city's network of linear parks are a business investment and the reason he wants voters to support Proposition 1 and 2. “The economic vitality of San Antonio is tied to the quantity and quality of our water supply,” he said Wednesday at a news conference to promote the propositions...

    If passed, Proposition 1 and Proposition 2 would continue an existing 1/8-cent sales tax that first was approved by voters in 2000 and reapproved in 2005:
    • About $90 million of the revenue would buy land and development rights over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. So far, 96,000 acres have been protected.
    • Under Proposition 2, about $45 million of the sales tax proceeds would continue the construction of linear parks across the city. To date, 47 miles of trails have been built, are under construction or being designed.
    View map and story at http://www.mysanantonio.com/livinggreensa/sales_tax_extension_is_pushedto_boost_aquifer_linear_parks_104462584.html

    Joy in the Tap Water?

    Dan Buettner, Parade Magazine, 10/03/2010:
    What are the happiest spots on Earth—and what secrets can we glean from them? One utopia [Dan Buettner's] travels took him to is San Luis Obispo, near California’s Central Coast, where joy seems to be in the tap water.
    Dan includes boost biking and walking and create a greenbelt in his list of community attributes that increase satisfaction. Read more at http://www.parade.com/news/2010/10/03-youll-wish-you-were-here.html

    Dragonfly Magic in Prospect Park

    The dragonfly photo to the right was taken Sunday, September 26, late morning, at Prospect Park. I was rushing through, having decided on a whim to make a quick visit. As soon as I stepped onto the stone that borders the pond, I saw a dragonfly hovering with its tail down toward the water. I assumed it was a female laying eggs and took a picture. It wasn’t until I checked the display screen on my camera that I saw the second dragonfly. Then I understood that the first dragonfly I had seen must be the male “contact guard,” keeping an eye on the female while she laid her eggs.

    I had only learned about this practice recently, but had yet to observe it, at least not in the egg-laying process. Male dragonflies remove from the female any sperm previously deposited by another male. While some females lay their eggs alone, others are guarded by the male to ensure another male doesn’t intervene and switch out his sperm. Some may simply hover nearby, while others actually attach themselves to the female, as seen in the photo above. More about dragonfly reproduction

    I don’t know which species the dragonflies are; maybe someone else can tell me. I love the way their golden wings are reflected in the water. In the photo, a little golden rainbow can be seen arcing over the water toward the egg site, as if to bless or vitalize this new birth.

    It was hard for me to believe such a quick visit could be so mesmerizing. I felt a deep sense of blessing to be living in a place where devoted guardians maintain sanctuaries of nature, enchantment is still possible, and everyday magic can be perceived by anyone who takes a little time to look.

    Gena Fleming, SMGA Natural Area Monitor

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