Hunter Road developer found to be working with expired permit

News Reporter
Endangered trees have been cut down to make way for construction.

City inspectors revealed the developers at 1803 Hunter Road were working with an expired permit after environmental activist Lisa Coppoletta inquired about the preservation of heritage trees at the site.

The work permit has been expired since 2008. The property, owned privately by Rio Marc Development Ltd. and Carson Properties, was issued a stop-work order notice Oct. 17 until the city could process a valid permit.

"If someone wants to place fill on a piece of property, you have to get a city permit," said Richard Reynosa, senior project engineer. "This property is also located in the city floodplain, so you need a flood permit as well."

The contractor was unaware the developer was working without a valid permit, Reynosa said.

"When you submit a site permit, you have to include a survey to identify trees nine inches or larger," Reynosa said.

The developers have yet to submit any plans to the city and are currently grading the site, Reynosa said.

"We're in the middle of a design rodeo where we're looking at the city code, and these are specific codes that are being violated and not being enforced," Coppoletta said.

Contractors were hauling dirt to fill the lot that lies in the floodplain, Coppoletta said. The tree roots were being compacted with the added concern of neighboring homes being flooded, she said.

"It should be a clue to the city to put in an ordinance with teeth to protect heritage trees and have stiff fines (for violating)," Coppoletta said 

The contractor would stop immediately if he were to be fined $15,000 a day for violating the ordinance, Coppoletta said.

"Most citizens are not going to invest two weeks of their time calling and emailing for the city to do their job," Coppoletta said. "Citizens shouldn't being do this. It's the city's job."

City officials are responding within the protocol of the code to act against the violations, Reynosa said. Any labor completed after the stop-work order was issued would entail a fine.

The contractors need to submit information concerning the protection of the trees to proceed with development, Reynosa said. However, on private property the owner has to make decisions about trees, he said.

"If you remove heritage trees, there's mitigation for it, but the code doesn't say, 'Thou shall not remove heritage trees,’" Reynosa said.

Conflict is present between people who want to develop and those who don't, Reynosa said.

"I think development is good in some ways and (is) going to help San Marcos, but I worry more for development just so they can get more money instead of trying to help the city," said Matthew Walden-Cole, a resident of San Marcos for 24 years.

Developers cleared the site, cut down trees and then proceeded to abandon it, Walden-Cole said.

"I'm just not entirely convinced that (developers), especially in this area, are fully aware of what they're doing," Walden-Cole said.