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San Marcos is reconsidering economic incentives for film studio project after protest

A crowd holds signs protesting a planned film studio on the banks of the San Marcos River.
Patricia Lim
Demonstrators rally outside San Marcos City Hall in protest of a deal to give economic incentives to a film studio that would be built on the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.

The San Marcos City Council is holding a discussion tonight to address concerns about the environmental impact of a new development coming to San Marcos: an 820,000-square-foot film studio on the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer.

City Council already voted 6-1 last month to give the developer a tax break. Proponents of the project point to its economic benefits and its potential to diversify the local economy with a more creative industry.

But two council members who voted in favor of the deal decided to bring it back to council after a grassroots movement known as Protect the River formed in protest.

The group says its aim is "to protect the San Marcos River and the Edwards Aquifer Zone from further development and destruction." Its message spread across social media, and their Instagram account quickly gained thousands of followers in the days after it was created. The group has been encouraging followers on Instagram to contact City Council members and city staff directly to tell them they "oppose development in the environmentally sensitive recharge zone."

Recharge zones are pieces of land that can absorb rainwater and replenish the aquifer below, which is why many environmentalists oppose development on them. More development (think concrete, buildings, roads) prevents water from seeping in through the ground and into the aquifer. The Edwards Aquifer provides drinking water to a number of cities, but it's also the source of the San Marcos Springs, which feeds the San Marcos River.

Around 200 people protested the film studio's plans late last month, according to the San Marcos Daily Record. They demonstrated in front of City Hall to share stories and make posters that said "Agua es vida," or "Water is life." The group is organizing another protest outside City Hall during tonight's meeting, according to the Protect the River Instagram page.

"Last week we showed those who work at the City who we are, and that we will not be silent," the caption on the post reads. "This week we'll tell them directly ... Protect the River plans to be there, in the meeting, and making the other city council members understand what it means to us that they vote NO for providing a tax incentive for Hill Country Studios."

In an email response to some of the opponents' concerns, Assistant City Manager Joe Pantalion wrote that "saying 'NO' to the film studio does not stop development at this site." The land slated for the film studio is within La Cima, a large master-planned community, making it private property, he said.

Pantalion said the film studio is a "better environmental alternative" than the development previously approved for the location. It was originally zoned as "community commercial zoning," which is for large retail establishments and shopping centers.

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Watch the livestream here.

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Riane Roldan is the Hays County reporter for KUT, focusing on the costs and benefits of suburban growth. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @RianeRoldan.
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