City seeks public comment on first general plan

Aug. 13, 2015Houston Chronicle

City planners and community groups are nearing the completion Houston’s first “general plan,” intended as a guiding document to shape the city’s decisions in the decades ahead.

A 30-person steering committee has spent the last year narrowing the heart of the Plan Houston document down to a dozen core strategies, ranging from “spend money wisely” and “grow responsibly” to “champion learning” and “foster an affordable city.”

The draft the city now is taking comments on breaks each of these down into an assessment of where that goal stands today and actions that could help the city better meet that goal.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the draft Aug. 20, at 2:30 p.m. in the City Hall Annex. Citizens also may visit this website for more information.

The idea is for the document to pass the commission and then City Council.

“It is remarkable to me that the city has actually never written down what our goals are as a community and we’ve never written down what we see as the ways to get there,” said Pat Walsh, director of the Planning and Development Department. “This is a first step at just laying some groundwork, an overall framework for figuring out where we want to go and what are the steps we should do to achieve that?”

At a recent informal hearing on the plan, some council members questioned whether it is too vague, with Councilwoman Ellen Cohen calling the concepts in the document “extraordinarily amorphous.”

“One word that would sum it up is, ‘How?'” said Councilman Jerry Davis. “I can’t support something I don’t understand. This is theory and wishes.”

Councilman Larry Green called for a clearer list of actions items and the order in which they will be pursued.

“It’s not that we don’t think that this is a much-needed tool,” he said. “The challenge is with regard to priorities and who gets what.”

Walsh largely agreed with the criticisms, and said he is proud of the work that has been done in the amount of time allotted by the expiration of Mayor Annise Parker’s term at the end of the year.

Walsh said the documents provides some specifics, but largely lays what he said is a useful framework on which other, more specific plans, can be built.

“The first opportunities were to take the existing plans and policies that were already done over the last 10 to 15 years … that in many cases are sitting on shelves, pull them off, try and coordinate and put them together so we can make use of the resources the city has already expended,” said Mark Kilkenny, a developer who chairs the Planning Commission.

Residents can peruse the draft plan by clicking this link.