Controversy over student housing developments has been a driving issue in this year’s city council elections and it shows in recent campaign finance reports.
Incumbents Ryan Thomason and Shane Scott have embraced donations from realtors and developers, while challengers Melissa Derrick and Greg Frank have received significant donations from those opposed to large student housing developments next to neighborhoods.
About a third of Place 5 write-in candidate Melissa Derrick’s $3,680 in contributions came from individuals who have been vocally opposed to large student housing developments near neighborhoods. At least six of Derrick’s 14 donors have clear ties to the opposition of multi-family housing projects.
Among Derrick’s top contributors was Jaimy Breihan, a resident who voiced concerns about the Sessom Creek development in a city council meeting last winter. The development would have brought 420 apartment units to the area across the street from the newly constructed North Campus Housing Complex.
Breihan frequently posts on the Protect San Marcos website, a group that describes itself as “dedicated to preserving the unique family neighborhoods and natural beauty of San Marcos.” Breihan has given $790 to Derrick’s campaign.
Another top donor is Nancy Moore, who donated $450 and was outspoken about her stance against the development at a Planning and Zoning meeting.
“Several of my donors were highly involved in the Sessom Creek controversy,” Derrick said. “For the last year, a lot of us have been speaking out at city council and the Planning and Zoning Commission. They know I know what’s best for San Marcos.”
The San Marcos Neighborhood Political Action Committee, committed to stopping the rezoning of single-family neighborhoods to multi-family housing, donated $250 to Derrick’s campaign and $1,000 to Greg Frank, making the PAC Frank’s top donor.
Greg Frank, Place 6 challenger, lists at least six donors who have been vocally opposed to zoning changes out of 22 total. He took in about a quarter of his $6,842 in donations from that group.
Lisa Prewitt, who expressed her opposition to rezoning single-family neighborhoods in a Planning and Zoning meeting, donated $400 to Frank’s campaign. The contribution made Prewitt his third top donor after Carol Frank with $500.
Place 5 incumbent Ryan Thomason brought in a total of $1,680 with about $1,400 of that coming from developers or realtors. At least eight of Thomason’s 12 campaign donors are connected to development.
His top donors are the Texas Association of Realtors PAC, which gave him $500, and the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin, which donated $250.
Thomason said as a real estate broker, it makes sense his personal and professional relationships with people in that field led them to donate to the campaign.
Thomason said involvement in real estate does not necessarily correlate with the way he has voted in the past, nor is it indicative of the way he would vote in the future. Thomason voted for the Sessom Creek development, but against two other recent controversial developments—The Retreat and Hillside Ranch II.
“Most of the development community that I’m close to agrees that, just because you’re in real estate or construction, you’re not for everything,” Thomason said. “You understand that there needs to be a balance. You try to find a mix of everything.”
Derrick said she believes Thomason’s donors show his disregard for the concerns of San Marcos residents.
“I think my record speaks for itself. I am for and funded by the people, and he is for and funded by developers,” Derrick said.
Shane Scott, Place 6 incumbent, received $3,950 in campaign donations, about 40 percent of which came from realtors or developers. At least five of Shane Scott’s 12 donors are involved in development.
Scott, also drew donations from the San Marcos Professional Firefighter’s Association. With $1,000 donated, the firefighter association was his top contributor. The Homebuilders Association of Greater Austin was Scott’s next-highest donor, giving $250 to his campaign.
Scott voted against the Sessom Creek development, but in favor of The Retreat.
He said lack of developers among Frank’s donors and significant presence of those opposed to multi-family developments near neighborhoods indicates he is a “puppet” of that special interest group.
“We can have growth and still maintain the charm of our city,” Scott said. “I imagine people want to support somebody who is not influenced by special interest groups and has a range of individuals (contributing).”
Frank did not return multiple calls for comment.