City Council Denies Expansion Of Seven Year Old San Marcos Business

Melissa Jewett, Publisher

Last night the San Marcos City Council took up a request for an appeal brought by Cathy Dillon, a part-owner of Crystal River Inn, on a Conditional Use Permit given by San Marcos Planning & Zoning Commission to Gumby’s Pizza.

The CUP would allow the family-owned business to serve/sell mixed beverages/alcohol at their new location at Hopkins. The new location, which is near Zelicks and the little HEB, is considered a T5-zone according to the city’s SmartCode.

Most everyday people don’t know what “SmartCode” or “T5 Zoning” really means. So, let’s start there, and I will try hard not to bore anyone.

SmartCode is a way to set zoning ordinances that will be unified throughout your city or town, big or small. It was designed to guarantee that developers, builders, and municipalities were on the same page. It also puts into place where to build apartments, residential, commercial, and manufacturing, but it gives you the tools to accomplish it.

Picture it this way; SmartCode is the skeleton, a foundation. It says here is a well-defined foundation, and here are some ideas on how you make a smooth transition from open rural land to a city center, now it is up to you on what to zone what.

Last night Councilwoman Hughson stated, “With the SmartCode, I’m not so sure it’s all that smart.”

I don’t believe that is necessarily true. Keeping all parties adhering to that same standards and design can be a good thing when looking at specific areas of a city. City Council tasked some very hefty design features on the new HEB with the SmartCode.

SmartCode is the foundation that you build upon, and the “T” Zones set out the rules and helps you, as a municipality, transition between rural and urban-like Gumby’s new location being zoned as SmartCode T5.

To try to explain what the “T1 – T5” is quick, the T stands for Transect, and the numbers are different levels of zoning.

Transect contains other features; it creates a framework to control and promote specific growth in specific areas. It intends to increase pedestrian life, local safety, and community identity, and it provides tools to protect and restore natural environments. A transect is a breakdown of city center houses out to country houses. Source/Reference: http://www.newurbannews.com/transect.html

In its own right, SmartCode and T-Zones, when applied correctly, create their own “buffer zones” and gives a city and community a smooth transition from rural to urban.

According to the city’s Code of Ordinances, T5 is explained as:

T-5 Urban Center Zones consists of a higher-density mixed-use building that accommodates retail, offices, rowhouses, and apartments. It has a tight network of streets, wide sidewalks, regularly spaced street tree planting, and buildings set close to the sidewalks.  

  • General Character: Shops mixed with Townhouses, larger Apartment houses, Offices, workplace, and Civic buildings; predominantly attached buildings; trees within the public right-of-way; substantial pedestrian activity.
  • Building Placement: Shallow Setbacks or none; buildings oriented to street defining a street wall
  • Typical Building Height: 2-to-5 Stories with some variation.

It is surrounded by the “little HEB,” Tantra Coffeehouse (who also has a liquor license), Zelicks, and Twin Liquors on the corner of Moore St. All circle Gumby’s new location by no more than 577 feet. (HEB 187 ft., Tantra 328 ft., Zelicks 331 ft. and Twin Liquors 577 ft. source Google Maps.)

Now keep in mind that Gumby’s is family-owned by two brothers and their father and has spent the last seven years at one location is a responsible tax-paying business and a good city steward as a family business.

They are a restaurant, always have been and always will be, and should never be considered a bar as this is not what it is or plans on becoming. They are a family pizza parlor, plain and simple.

I’m not sure that I have ever been in a pizza parlor that didn’t at least serve beer and wine if they have in-house dining.

Some council members realized granting the CUP would come with items Gumby’s had agreed to; 

  1. Stop serving alcohol at midnight Monday – Friday and 1 a.m. on Saturday,
  2. No amplified or outdoor music or speakers make their outdoor eating section smaller than initially planned and additional items.

Councilwoman Hughson, who stated, “Will you pledge now that regardless of whether you get the CUP or not – that there will NOT be any outdoor music or amplified music to be heard beyond the property?”

Hughson asked if Gumby’s would honor the CUP agreement even if the council did not grant the business the CUP itself.

Forrest Higdon stated, “We will adhere to the city sound ordinance 110 percent.”

Hughson pushed further; “So your answer is no?”

Higdon said Gumby’s would abide by all city ordinances.

But Councilwoman Hughson pushed even further and asked, “What can you tell me, and what can you pledge right here and right now on video that will help me not to be concerned about this particular business?”

Gumby’s business owners, employees, friends, community organizations, and acquaintances sat through the grueling 2 – 3 hours and listened to other comments and questions from most of the other council members.

Council Member Prewitt commented that Gumby’s should have applied for the CUP before buying the building.

Councilwoman Derrick stated that this was the “wrong time and wrong place in San Marcos.”

And don’t think politics didn’t have a place at the table. Council members should have discussed things without worrying about their political future, but that didn’t happen with Prewitt or Hughson.

Councilmember Prewitt made a particular point that when “SmartCode” passed, she wasn’t on the council at that point… in turn saying, Please, don’t hold this against me…I’m innocent here.

Councilmember Hughson piggybacked on Prewitt’s comment and stated she wasn’t on the city council at the time either.

I do believe the most intelligent comments came from Mayor Thomaides at last night’s meeting.

“This is an awful place to be in,” Thomaides said. “I feel like you have a successful business and would like to see you stay in this building. I have seen this building empty for the better part of 25 years. Since I moved here, this building has been empty. It’s been an eyesore and a blight in our downtown, and I think the investment you are planning on making it a good one. It’s good for this block.”

However, in Cathy Dillon’s opening remarks, she said, “This is the gateway to our Historic District.”

So, a building that has been in many of our minds as vacant and blighted is better than a family pizza restaurant serving alcohol at the historic district’s gateway?

Thomaides commented that the city council made these rules. The council members said T5 in this location and conversations about buffer zones had never come up until now.

“We have said over and over,” Thomaides said. “This is where we want this type of growth. We want what we want – but it’s not perfect. I just don’t think it’s fair to a good, responsible business.”

When the final vote came down last night, the Mayor and Councilman Gregson voted to deny Dillon her appeal.

But council members Hughson, Prewitt, Derrick, Gonzales, and Mihalkanin voted to overturn the planning and zoning approval for a family-owned, operated, and frequented pizza restaurant to serve beer, wine, and mix alcoholic beverages.

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6 Comments

  1. It’s nice to see some fact based reporting! Way to go local news. Cathy dillon and her autocratic ways have run their course. How she is able to tell multiple council members what to do is beyond my understanding. It was disheartening to watch dias member after member fall prey to rhetoric and fear. Instead of being fair and using their heads, they threw the rules out the window and said they didn’t have to follow policies they didn’t help create… If this was true our city would never go anywhere. It looks like the ladies of the council have decided to end their time on the dias early. I know I don’t need them chasing away good businesses from our town.

  2. I feel sorry for Gumbys. I have never eaten there, but my children have and they loved it. The main question, is it okay for the Crystal River Inn to host receptions and/or weddings behind their inn? Most events of this nature involve music and alcohol. No matter what the T5 zoning says, it really boils down to what our City Council elected office holders vote. From the info provided in this article, T5 ordinance does not say anything about alcohol. Therefore the council can vote down items of this nature. Personally, I think TABC should be the one making this decision. However, Gumby’s should continue putting their restaurant in this location. They can let customers bring in their own beer and wine. Yes, they also have the same rights as Zelicks and Tantra concerning music.

    My respect for Hughson and Derrick and Prewitt are definitely dwindling from this vote and also from the ones that participated in the HEB walkout fiasco, not to mention Cape’s Damn removal.

    These type of votes should be taken to the public to vote on instead of our council.

  3. This seems politics gone awry. An old home converted into an inn is blocking a pizza restaurant from the same block? Because it is going to ruin the neighborhood? I feel sad that calmer heads have not prevailed. I trust our wise elected officials will do right by the BISM businesses. Kathy Dillon was present when smart code was developed. The city provided many workshops for the historic district, in the historic district for education and group decision making. Please participate in the workshops the city is holding now concerning SMTX Code.

  4. Gumby’s was not denied expansion. They already own the new building and have begun remodeling. They were denied a liquor permit.

  5. I think the council made the right decision, and I was the only member of the Planning and Zoning Commission to vote against the CUP, so I’m pleased with the decision. My thinking is that Gumby’s isn’t such a locally owned business. Mr. Higdon senior doesn’t live here, though members of his family operate this franchise. Just because you have the zoning for a business doesn’t mean you automatically should be given a liquor permit until 2 a.m., which is what they wanted. And remember this is in the same block with not only Crystal River Inn, a long-established San Marcos business, but also a sorority house and an alcohol recovery center, which offers day and evening rehab classes. This just wasn’t the right place. I appreciate the votes of Council members Prewitt, Hughson, Gonzales, Mihalkanin and Derrick.

    1. Wait… So you can commit open libel as a PnZ member and insinuate that they aren’t local? trying to hurt their business and revenues utilizing your position of power within the community? Does a member of your family not live in town? does that make you not a local all of a sudden? When does your ability to lie stop? Why are you still lying about the sorority? They are very happy we are moving in. All three, the housing corp, student president and Chapter Advisor spoke on our behalf. It seems to me you do an absolute horrid job of listening when you are at the meetings.

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