City council candidates engaged in a lively conversation at The University Star’s annual debate Wednesday night at the LBJ Student Center.
Frank Arredondo and Scott Gregson, Place 5 city council candidates and Melissa Derrick and Shane Scott, Place 6 city council candidates, discussed issues ranging from city development strategy to student housing and economic growth.
Candidates spoke on the controversy surrounding the development of Cape’s Camp.
Cape’s Camp is a site on the northern bank of the San Marcos River. City council voted in January 2013 to sell the land to a developer to build The Woods, a resort-style student housing complex.
“I was against Cape’s Camp, and I spoke publically about it,” Gregson said. “I said we should make it a park, and 74 percent of citizens voted to make it a park. At the end of the day, we’ve made an incompatible use of the land.”
In January 2013 Daniel Guerrero, Ryan Thomason, Wayne Becak, Kim Porterfield and Shane Scott voted to allow Cape’s Camp development into an apartment complex.
Gregson said if the public will had been honored, Cape’s Camp could have been transformed into the “central park of Texas.”
“The Thornton family owned the property for years and it was their right to sell it,” Scott said. “The people that wanted to build the apartment complex wanted to build apartments for students.”
Arredondo said he did not support the council’s decision to turn Cape’s Camp into a student living area instead of a park.
Derrick said she believes the construction of The Woods worsened flood damage in Blanco Gardens, a neighborhood adjacent to the site, because the drainage system of the development was not yet complete.
However, Scott said hydrologists hired by the city agreed that flood damage would be the same whether or not The Woods’ drainage system was complete due to the severity of the event.
“It was a natural disaster,” Scott said. “It is very sad that it happened, but the city jumped in and provided food and shelter. Don’t use (the flood) to run for election.”
Arredondo said he wants to stop development on the banks of the San Marcos River in order to preserve the environment.
“Developments don’t go away,” Gregson said. “Once they are here, they are on the ground for generations. It’s important that we protect our environment and our past council did not do that.”
Derrick said she wants the opportunity to fight “pro-development at any cost.”
She is concerned that city officials are running sewage lines over the aquifer’s recharge zone in order to accommodate development.
Derrick was asked by an audience member where she felt student housing should be built.
Derrick said she wants city council to only place student housing in compatible locations. She said single-family residential neighborhoods are not compatible with student housing.
“We tried to add two more stories to a (student apartment complex), but they threw a fit about that,” Scott said. “Derrick doesn’t want to live next to students. I firmly support student housing.”
Scott said he had to move to Austin after graduating from Southwest Texas State due to the lack of jobs in San Marcos. If re-elected, Scott plans to “keep the ball rolling” when it comes to bringing new businesses to the city so students can stay in San Marcos after they graduate.
“What we need is jobs—good, paying jobs,” Arredondo said. “More jobs mean more homes, more sales in the community and we need to have more affordable housing.”
Arredondo said the fact that companies like Amazon and EPIC Piping have agreed to come to San Marcos will improve the quality of life for residents.
“We have a job to get you a job—a good-paying job,” Gregson said. “Not one that just pays a living wage, but one that pays more. We owe it to you.”
Gregson said companies can bring some relief to the poverty level in San Marcos, but building out of the city to accommodate population growth will stretch the budget beyond its means.
Scott said he has received a significant amount of funding from business owners who are afraid Derrick will put an end to growth.
“All the developers give him money and all my money comes from the citizens,” Derrick said.
At a recent College Democrats meeting, Derrick said she wanted to implement a $10 fee on tourists who wish to use the river. She said the fee would “attract the right kind of people.”
At the debate, Derrick said the reporter covering the College Democrats meeting misinformed readers and that she did not say everyone should pay $10 to use the river.
Derrick said the quotes were taken out of context and that the article had been retracted. The Sept. 16 University Star article remains on the website, according the site’s archives. The corrections made in the article had to do with a comment about gentrification.
The article includes a quote from Derrick saying, “We need to attract the right kind of people than just a free-for-all.”
Derrick said she wasn’t aware a reporter was in the room and said they took things out of context.
“I merely said I heard talk at the city of people saying maybe we should charge a tourist fee,” Derrick said referencing a group called the Eyes of San Marcos.“We’d like to attract the right kind of people, we don’t just want to get the overflow from New Braunfels where, ya know they have the can ban, but people can sit in the river here.”
“It’s free to everybody and it should always stay free,” Scott said. “I’ve never heard about people charging to use God’s river.”
He said, although Derrick said the people using the river are just college students who want to drink, the people who are on the river drinking are families with their children.
The debate ended after a heated back and forth session from Derrick and Scott. Early voting begins Oct. 23 and election night is Nov. 3.
*A correction was made to this article. The quote “Developments don’t go away. Once they are here, they are on the ground for generations. It’s important that we protect our environment and our past council did not do that,” was originally attributed to Frank T. Arredondo. It has since been corrected to be attributed to Scott Gregson.