After protests, San Marcos will move forward with tax break for film studio as planned
The controversy over Hill Country Studios, a big film studio coming to San Marcos in 2025, came to a head at a City Council meeting on Tuesday night. The project has been criticized by many for its location on the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer.
On the table again was the $4.6 million tax break the city awarded to Hill Country Studios last month. After protests from the public, council members Alyssa Garza and Saul Gonzales brought the deal back to the council for reconsideration.
Both Garza and Gonzales voted in favor of the tax incentive last month. Garza said her motivation to bring the item back to council was partially because of an "outpour of community feedback and concern."
The move came after a grassroots movement called Protect the River formed to protest the development. The group organized a protest in front of City Hall last month, and encouraged supporters to contact the city directly to voice their opposition to the development.
Activists say developing on the recharge zone could negatively impact the Edwards Aquifer, and ultimately, the San Marcos River. More development (think concrete, buildings, roads) prevents rainwater water from seeping in through the ground and into the aquifer. That means less water would eventually get pushed out into natural springs and rivers.
But the deal will remain as is. After a lengthy discussion Tuesday night, none of the City Council members brought forth amendments to the deal.
Xandria Quichocho, an organizer with Protect the River, urged City Council to scrap the tax incentive altogether on Tuesday. They agreed that the film industry would be a unique addition to San Marcos, but said it could be created elsewhere in the city.
"What cannot be recreated is our springs and our river," they said.
The city's response to the opposition has largely leaned on the fact that the land slated for development is private property. Because the studio is being built within an existing housing development, the city can't effectively control or stop the development from being built.
The decision that was always on the table for the city was deciding whether or not to incentivize the project. Garza said she wanted to clear up confusion around that.
"There's a very obvious lack of public understanding regarding the process that goes into [Chapter 380 Agreements]," Garza said, "specifically in regards to how we balance environmental concerns and making responsible use of incentives."
Cities often employ economic development incentives, known as Chapter 380 Agreements, to make deals with companies that are willing to bring in well-paying jobs. In order to qualify for the tax break, Hill Country Studios has to fulfill their promise to create 44 full-time jobs by the time the project is complete.
Council Member Mark Gleason said the film studio's desire to build was "by right," and that he remained wholeheartedly in support of incentivizing the project.
"I'm optimistic that in 10 and 20 years we're going to say that this is something unique to us," he said at the meeting. "[It will] really bring something different to the economy here than just distribution, warehouse and light manufacturing."
Gleason also pointed to all the hotels, restaurants and businesses that could benefit from having a big filming project in San Marcos.
The city plans to hold another discussion in late August to address the protection of recharge zones moving forward.