Apr 15

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San Marcos: Changes to Land Development Codes, SmartCode, Parks Plans

Warning to Business and Property Owners in San Marcos and 3 mile ETJ

Last year, without the consent of the voters, the San Marcos City Council adopted a special type of zoning called “SmartCode”.

The City of San Marcos will hold a public meeting on April 18th, which is the third in a series of public meetings to “review draft standards to be implemented for the San Marcos SmartCode”.

This affected area is property within the city of San Marcos and the three mile ETJ surrounding the city.

According to the announcement, “the LDC [Land Development Code] and the San Marcos SmartCode are being revised to provide clear and consistent language, to promote an attractive visual environment and to support good planning practice within our city”

This sounds innocuous.  Clear and consistent language in city ordinances seems a good idea,  and who among us wouldn’t want to support an attractive visual environment in our city, and encourage good planning practices?

What this announcement doesn’t say, and the city has never told us is that SmartCode was developed by the American Planning Association to meet sustainability guidelines developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

It also doesn’t mention that the SmartCode comes complete with a set of pre-written ordinances for adoption by our city council.  These ordinances are too complex for regular people like us or our city council members to understand, so an expert consultant was hired to handle all the details on the ordinances that our council passed.  Our council members probably never even read these ordinances before they passed them into law..

Fortunately for us, citizens and elected officials in cities that are further along this path are producing videos and writing booklets to educate us on SmartCode, how it is being made law without our consent, and the destructive impact it has had on the communities where it is implemented.

Two such individuals are a city councilman / county supervisor, and a professional commercial real estate appraiser who specializes in eminent domain valuation.

The Councilman has written a booklet to educate the public on what we need to know about “redevelopment” to protect our property rights and limit public debt from redevelopment.  It is specific to California, but still provides a lot of useful information.

The appraiser has a videotaped presentation.  Both resources are available free online.  Scroll to the bottom of this article for the links.

I reviewed the booklet and presentation this evening, and what I learned is this:

After SmartCode is adopted by a city,  “redevelopment” follows.

The “smart codes” are used to control how many homes and businesses can exist in a city, where they are allowed to exist, and what type of home or business they must be.

Redevelopment is the process by which existing homes, businesses, etc that are not in the “approved” areas are demolished and replaced by things that the Smart Codes and Redevelopment Plan will allow to exist in those areas.

Two important things distinguish Smart Codes from traditional zoning:  First, within certain SmartCode ‘zones’, the city uses taxpayer money to pay for expenses that a developer would normally be required to pay for if the development was taking place outside the SmartCode zone.

In other cities that adopted SmartCode, examples of these expenses have included construction of roads, sewage and water trunks within the development.

The second thing that distinguishes SmartCode is that it imposes far more restrictive regulations on property owners in order to control what the property owner can do on their private property.  In other cities, this has had the effect of devaluing certain properties, frequently without compensating the property owner for this loss of value. This is called “regulatory taking”.

By contrast, a city that takes property by imminent domain is required by law to compensate the owner.

At the meeting on April 18th, we will likely be presented with imagery that shows how beautiful our city will be once SmartCode is implemented.  We will also be presented with a number of very limited options on which to provide input.

As in previous public meetings, none of the options presented to us will allow us to say we don’t want SmartCode in our city, or to say that we want to be able to vote in a referendum to determine if SmartCode should be implemented in San Marcos.


Lenee Lovejoy

Editor, Watch On Gov


(512) 787-1232

Rosa Koire, ASA, commercial real estate appraiser specializing in eminent domain valuation:  “How Your Town is Implementing Agenda 21″

Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform (MORR), “Redevelopment: the unknown government”

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