Grassroots activist group pushes back on plans for San Marcos film studio

The plan for an 820,000 square feet, 75-acre film studio in San Marcos is underway, but some members of the community are voicing concerns.

The project has been in the works for a couple of years, according to the Greater San Marcos Partnership. Earlier this month, city council members approved property tax rebates for the facility, which is being developed by Hill Country Group, LLC. 

On Tuesday, a grassroots activist group called "Protect the River" gathered in front of San Marcos City Hall in protest. 

"It’s the combination of all the potential effects," said Xandria Quichocho, one of the organizers for Protect the River. 

A major concern for the group is the potential consequences for the environment. Quichocho said it is both the direct impact and the precedent it sets that are concerning.

"If we don’t do something about it now, we’re just going to keep developing and continue to tear away at this part of nature," said Quichocho, who also said they felt like the public wasn't properly informed about the project until it was already underway.

The film studio site is located in the La Cima development which sits on the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. The aquifer ultimately feeds into the San Marcos River.

Jessica Inacio, senior director of business attraction for the Greater San Marcos Partnership, noted the recharge zone has always been zoned for commercial development.

"Whenever we’re doing any sort of development agreement or incentive agreement the environmental impact is always a part of the conversation and the negotiations with city council take place long before it comes on the city council agenda," she said.

Inacio believes it will benefit the community "at every level." 

"Beyond just the property taxes…there is also a lot of opportunity for collaboration with all of our academic institutions," she said.  

She said the developer is collaborating to develop a film program at Texas State. Additionally, the project is expected to bring in more than a thousand jobs. 

"They’re really committed to working with small businesses," said Inacio. "There are going to be more feet on the street, walking, shopping in the boutiques, eating at our restaurants, and they’ll be contracting out with restaurants."

But that is part of what concerns some local residents who love San Marcos for its small-town feel.

"Those kinds of things are going to change if we bring in this massive studio because people are going to be moving in," said Quichocho. "Housing prices are going to go up as if they aren’t already going up."

Community activist Lisa Marie Coppoletta showed up to Tuesday’s rally with a differing perspective.

"As someone who’s battled these developers for three decades of my life, this is actually a good deal for the aquifer and for the citizens as far as economic development," she said. "The developer, from what I can tell from my research, is going above and beyond the requirements of the aquifer." 

The proposed construction start date is April 2023 with expected completion in August 2025. 

San Marcos City Manager Joe Pantalion provided the following statement to FOX 7:

"The film studio represents a better option for protecting the Edwards Aquifer. It will have less development and better runoff controls than what was already approved for this site. It is part of a larger master plan that has already set aside over 2,000 acres of open space and habitat preserves and will have the equivalent of 19% impervious cover overall."

Impervious cover is any kind of man-made surface that doesn’t absorb rainfall.

According to the City of San Marcos, impervious cover limits were set under the 2013 La Cima Development Agreement in order to protect the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. The area is restricted to an average of 19% impervious cover. The City Code allows for 20%.