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Trae

Unincorporated areas to incorporate? Fort Bend and Harris County officials propose bill

What should happen to unincorporated Houston?  

13 members have voted

  1. 1. What should happen to unincorporated Houston?

    • Yes, form brand new cities (South Katy, Cypress, West Harris, Klein, etc.)
    • Yes, incorporate into existing suburban cities (Katy, Fulshear, etc.)
    • No, but they should become a part of the City of Houston
    • No, they should remain unincorporated


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Posted (edited)

https://communityimpact.com/houston/katy/city-county/2018/06/21/fort-bend-county-official-etj-legislation-may-affect-up-to-300000-residents/

 

Quote

Fort Bend County Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers said he is gearing up for the 2019 Texas legislative session by advocating for a bill that could potentially affect up to about 300,000 county residents.

 


Meyers said he has been working to pass legislation that would allow residents living in Houston’s extraterritorial jurisdiction—an unincorporated area of land beyond a city’s limits—to vote themselves out of the area for over a decade.

The legislation would allow residents living in Houston’s ETJ to either petition to be annexed into an adjoining city like Katy, stay wholly unincorporated or create a new city.
 

 

 

Also:

 

https://communityimpact.com/houston/katy/city-county/2018/08/23/katy-state-representative-etj-bill-could-affect-1-8-million-houston-residents/
 

“You are taking away their voice from the standpoint that their elected body [Fort Bend County Commissioners Court] can be overruled by an unelected body [the city of Houston],” Meyers said. “That’s un-American, un-Texan; it’s just not right.”Meyers said the taxes that are imposed on these areas translate to sales taxes from retail establishments that are possible through limited purpose annexations. According to the Texas Local Government Code, a limited purpose annexation occurs when a city extends regulations in regard to land development and in exchange provides limited services and collects sales tax. Local state representatives said this can be seen with LaCenterra in Katy—sales tax from the businesses there go to the city of Houston, not Katy.

 

 

It's about time. Unincorporated Houston is very weird. I grew up in unincorporated Harris County and didn't realize how different it was until I moved to different places (DFW and now LA). There are definitely some things missing in the Houston metro that having more incorporated cities would solve. It's also about time all that money that's spent stays local to their respective areas. Maybe now there can be more planning and design to areas that are stuck in this weird limbo. I hope this moves forward. I think it can really benefit the Houston area overall. Houston still would have gigantic city limits that it already has a hard time maintaining.

 

What does HAIF think?

Edited by Trae
quote feature is weird!
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"It's also about time all that money that's spent stays local to their respective areas."

 

I think that generally, going with local new incorporation is much more expensive (see The Woodlands wrestling with it).

 

How much money are we actually talking about here? 

 

Also, don't locals have to agree to join in to limited purpose annexation? I thought that part of Atascocita was like that. It allowed them to keep their own water/fire/whatever but the city added on their portion of the local tax. 

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, wilcal said:

"It's also about time all that money that's spent stays local to their respective areas."

 

I think that generally, going with local new incorporation is much more expensive (see The Woodlands wrestling with it).

 

How much money are we actually talking about here? 

 

Also, don't locals have to agree to join in to limited purpose annexation? I thought that part of Atascocita was like that. It allowed them to keep their own water/fire/whatever but the city added on their portion of the local tax. 

 

This seems to be a uniquely Houston problem. Other areas don't have the same issues with incorporation. There has been new information released about incorporation in TW and it now looks to not be as expensive as first presented. The unincorporated area of Harris County I grew up in (North Katy) is basically bare-bones suburban. Some major roads are just now getting sidewalks after about 20+ years of small dirt lines along the roads where people walk. There is so much commercial space nearby that CoH annexed. Half of that money goes into the city's coffers when it should stay in the local area. Look at places like Webster or other incorporated cities in the Houston area. They are generally more appealing than unincorporated areas.

 

Locals also have no say in limited-purpose annexation. That's between MUD officials and the CoH. Residents just have to deal with it with most being completely unaware.

Edited by Trae

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At some point I developed the assumption that annexation/incorporation was basically at the mercy of state level politics with little recourse to the annexed citizenry.  The folks in Kingwood that remember it are still bitter, Clear Lake somewhat less, maybe. 

 

I can't cite a source, so I may be off base here. 

 

I'm kind of surprised they haven't gone after Cypress already, but if you look at other unincorporated parts, most notably the Aldine and Sheldon areas that they conveniently skipped over to get to Kingwood, it's clearly a money grab.  Ditto Channelview, Highlands, etc. 

 

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, Trae said:

  Unincorporated Houston is very weird. I grew up in unincorporated Harris County and didn't realize how different it was until I moved to different places (DFW and now LA).

 

Harris County isn't really that anomalous. Yeah, Dallas County is mostly incorporated (with a lot of independent cities in addition to Dallas), but 65% of Los Angeles County is unincorporated. There are all sorts of different byzantine ways to deal with local jurisdiction across the country, up north you've got civil townships, parishes in Louisiana, in Florida you have the merger of the city of Miami and Dade County governments into a single government body, basically. There is no one "normal" way that Houston-Harris runs contrary to.

 

To answer the poll, I live in Houston city limits, so I don't have a dog in this hunt, but I've seen my parents deal with a city annexing their formerly unincorporated area, first in their main home in NW Harris County, and then their bay home on Galveston Island. In both cases getting annexed resulted in poorer services. The cities want the tax base, but don't want to have to extend services. So while I don't have any preference between options 1,2 and 4, I would strongly be opposed to option 3, for the residents' sake, so I will root for this initiative to at least buy unincorporated communities time, if not allow them some self-determination that the likes of Clear Lake never had.

Edited by Reefmonkey
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20 minutes ago, Reefmonkey said:

 

Harris County isn't really that anomalous. Yeah, Dallas County is mostly incorporated (with a lot of independent cities in addition to Dallas), but 65% of Los Angeles County is unincorporated. There are all sorts of different byzantine ways to deal with local jurisdiction across the country, up north you've got civil townships, parishes in Louisiana, in Florida you have the merger of the city of Miami and Dade County governments into a single government body, basically. There is no one "normal" way that Houston-Harris runs contrary too.

 

To answer the poll, I live in Houston city limits, so I don't have a dog in this hunt, but I've seen my parents deal with a city annexing their formerly unincorporated area, first in their main home in NW Harris County, and then their bay home on Galveston Island. In both cases getting annexed resulted in poorer services. The cities want the tax base, but don't want to have to extend services. So while I don't have any preference between options 1,2 and 4, I would strongly be opposed to option 3, for the residents' sake, so I will root for this initiative to at least buy unincorporated communities time, if not allow them some self-determination that the likes of Clear Lake never had.

 

The 65% of Los Angeles County that remains unincorporated are all of the desert lands and mountain regions. The vast majority of urbanized areas in LA County are incorporated. There are only a handful of areas that aren't: some of those mountain towns and there's a few areas in the LA Basin that are completely surrounded by other cities (Baldwin Hills, Florence-Firestone, West Athens, East LA). The interesting thing about them is that they're lower income/poor areas aside from Baldwin Hills.  All of those areas are just a few square miles large with East LA being the largest at 7.2 square miles. Compared to Houston's ETJ, that's a tiny neighborhood. Parishes in Louisiana are literally just counties, but the state calls them by a different name due to its history. City-County mergers have happened in a few places (Miami, Nashville, Indy, etc.) and could be an option but I don't think the suburban areas want to be in Houston. Plus Harris County is larger than those other counties.

 

The most normal way seems to be that urbanized areas are incorporated into cities, while semi-rural/rural areas are unincorporated until development comes. It'll be interesting to see what happens. Hopefully it's moved forward and people are allowed to vote on what happens in the area they live in.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Trae said:

The most normal way seems to be that urbanized areas are incorporated into cities, while semi-rural/rural areas are unincorporated until development comes.

 Perhaps. Though just because it's the most common progression doesn't necessarily mean it's necessary or a good thing. If county-level government plus MUds and ISDs can provide the services people want/need, then why should they submit to annexation/incorporation just because "that's the way things are done"? Between my parents' two experiences and how things went down for both Clear Lake and Kingwood, annexation generally doesn't benefit the annexed, who end up paying higher taxes for lesser services, with a far lesser voice in how their community is run. Annexation is always just a tax-base grab for the city. That's why you don't see people clamoring to be annexed, and only see people pushing to incorporate when they see their area is threatened by annexation by the big city.

 

Harris County's "weird" situation, as you call it, came about precisely because of unchecked liberal annexation provisions that benefited big cities like Houston, at the expense of the people who were annexed. In the post-war period, when Houston was finally starting to grow, it was afraid it would be "boxed in" by neighboring cities (like Dallas and LA are), then-mayor Holcombe saying he had to prevent suburban communities from benefiting from Houston's economy without contributing to its taxbase. More than two dozen annexations took place between 1940 and 1960. In addition, after the Memorial Villages incorporated in the 50s to prevent Houston from swallowing them up, Houston moved to lock in a claim to all unincorporated areas of Harris county, to prevent them from self-incorporating or being annexed by other cities (eg Pasadena) so that Houston could annex them at its leisure. Houston's annexation efforts were so aggressive and contentious that the state legislature eventually changed the rules to prevent the enormous landgrabs Houston had been engaging in, limiting them to a 5 mile band around city limits and to 10% of a city's existing territory. Houston annexed Clear Lake in 1977 after a bill passed in the legislature that could have allowed Clear Lake to become its own city. The Kingwood annexation was so contentious that two years later the state legislature passed a bill that all but ended cities' ability to engage in similar forced annexations in the future.

 

So basically, Harris County is Harris County because Houston gobbled up communities before they could incorporate, and was able to prevent many of them from independently incorporating for a while, even though it wasn't ready to annex them yet (and some of those restrictions are still in place), and Houston is now limited in its ability to annex, and because of this and for other reasons, a lot of unincorporated areas don't feel a threat of annexation by Houston or any other need to self-incorporate, they feel they are doing just fine as they are.

Edited by Reefmonkey

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12 minutes ago, Reefmonkey said:

 Perhaps. Though just because it's the most common progression doesn't necessarily mean it's necessary or a good thing. If county-level government plus MUds and ISDs can provide the services people want/need, then why should they submit to annexation/incorporation just because "that's the way things are done"? Between my parents' two experiences and how things went down for both Clear Lake and Kingwood, annexation generally doesn't benefit the annexed, who end up paying higher taxes for lesser services, with a far lesser voice in how their community is run. Annexation is always just a tax-base grab for the city. That's why you don't see people clamoring to be annexed, and only see people pushing to incorporate when they see their area is threatened by annexation by the big city.

 

Harris County's "weird" situation, as you call it, came about precisely because of unchecked liberal annexation provisions that benefited big cities like Houston, at the expense of the people who were annexed. In the post-war period, when Houston was finally starting to grow, it was afraid it would be "boxed in" by neighboring cities (like Dallas and LA are), then-mayor Holcombe saying he had to prevent suburban communities from benefiting from Houston's economy without contributing to its taxbase. More than two dozen annexations took place between 1940 and 1960. In addition, after the Memorial Villages incorporated in the 50s to prevent Houston from swallowing them up, Houston moved to lock in a claim to all unincorporated areas of Harris county, to prevent them from self-incorporating or being annexed by other cities (eg Pasadena) so that Houston could annex them at its leisure. Houston's annexation efforts were so aggressive and contentious that the state legislature eventually changed the rules to prevent the enormous landgrabs Houston had been engaging in, limiting them to a 5 mile band around city limits and to 10% of a city's existing territory. Houston annexed Clear Lake in 1977 after a bill passed in the legislature that could have allowed Clear Lake to become its own city. The Kingwood annexation was so contentious that two years later the state legislature passed a bill that all but ended cities' ability to engage in similar forced annexations in the future.

 

So basically, Harris County is Harris County because Houston gobbled up communities before they could incorporate, and was able to prevent many of them from independently incorporating for a while, even though it wasn't ready to annex them yet (and some of those restrictions are still in place), and Houston is now limited in its ability to annex, and because of this and for other reasons, a lot of unincorporated areas don't feel a threat of annexation by Houston or any other need to self-incorporate, they feel they are doing just fine as they are.

 

I'm well aware of the history of annexations/ETJ in Houston. But the whole reason why this topic even came about is because people who live in unincorporated areas are tired of the services (or lack thereof) that they receive. It's become a huge problem in Harris County and becoming a problem in Fort Bend County. MUDs have limited power and ISDs have even less power. They can't provide everything that a city can. I think Harvey really highlighted this issue and over the past year there's been much discussion about it.

 

I also think you're looking at this from a different lens than I am. I never advocated for the CoH to annex these areas. Quite the opposite actually. People want to be annexed, but not by Houston. North/South Katy residents want to be in the City of Katy or to create a new city. Cypress area residents would rather be in a new City of Cypress than the CoH. You can go on down the list with Klein, Spring, etc. These people in ETJs almost have no say in what goes on around them. This has never been possible due to prior Texas ETJ law, which is why a new bill will be proposed in the upcoming session. Houston's annexation efforts in the past were very short-sighted and the limited-purpose annexations of commercial areas left the residential as "taxation without representation" areas. They pay taxes at stores in their neighborhoods but those tax dollars don't remain local to that area. So these unincorporated areas have inadequate roads, no sidewalks, generally poorer muni services, inconsistent flood control, minimal neighborhood planning, etc. If they were instead cities I think there would generally be more design into where and what gets constructed.

 

You see the areas in the region that are cities tend to be laid out better and often have higher-priced homes on average: Sugar Land, Missouri City, Pearland, League City, Conroe, etc. There's a definite upgrade in quality in my opinion versus the unincorporated areas, even within master-planned communities. Small things like searching for homes, viewing crime, demographics, etc., is easier if there are well-defined borders that becoming a city creates. High crime areas where a glut of apartments were built in one spot (parts of Alief for example) could have been avoided if it started out as a city rather than unincorporated. There are potentially future Aliefs in some unincorporated areas. You'd also have more votes on H-GAC which would help with regional needs.

 

Houston is 600 square miles, has all of the largest business districts, the cultural institutions, the airports, and entertainment venues for a fast-growing top 6 metro area in the US. It will not lose its position or power in the region if the unincorporated areas form cities of 250k-400k each, even with it releasing the strip annexation of commercial areas. Those would mainly be outside of Highway 6-FM 1960's semi-loop anyway. If anything, it'd make the region more attractive as these newly formed cities can create their own plans and attract other businesses into the Houston area.

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Dare I say this here but I like the Dallas vs. suburb setup better. Dallas’ boxing in by incorporating cities made for an all around economically healthier metro area. I think the economic competition between these incorporated suburban cities gives area residents better local services, better infastructure, better developments and beautification efforts. I mean think about it, most of these towns are all trying to outdo their neighboring towns. Houston, on the other hand, just bought out all of its possible competition, leaving us with just one overbloated city to rely on. IMO, I feel de-annexing, not just the ETJ lands, would be in Houston’s best interest. It’s spread too far and too thin and it shows worst of all. Unincorporated lands could then reincorporate into new or existing towns based on the locals desires. Meanwhile, a shrunkened Houston would likely operate more efficiently. If that means losing the #4 largest city title, I say so what! There are plenty of even more popular US cities that don’t make it to the “top ten largest city” list and it doesn’t hurt their economy, image or ego. 

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1 hour ago, intencity77 said:

Dare I say this here but I like the Dallas vs. suburb setup better. Dallas’ boxing in by incorporating cities made for an all around economically healthier metro area. I think the economic competition between these incorporated suburban cities gives area residents better local services, better infastructure, better developments and beautification efforts. I mean think about it, most of these towns are all trying to outdo their neighboring towns. Houston, on the other hand, just bought out all of its possible competition, leaving us with just one overbloated city to rely on. IMO, I feel de-annexing, not just the ETJ lands, would be in Houston’s best interest. It’s spread too far and too thin and it shows worst of all. Unincorporated lands could then reincorporate into new or existing towns based on the locals desires. Meanwhile, a shrunkened Houston would likely operate more efficiently. If that means losing the #4 largest city title, I say so what! There are plenty of even more popular US cities that don’t make it to the “top ten largest city” list and it doesn’t hurt their economy, image or ego. 

 

Agreed and it took living there and in other places with incorporated suburbs to see it. Not only does it breed all of those things you named, I think it's also the reason why DFW has higher rated schools and school districts than the Houston area. We know in Texas school districts don't follow city limits but in DFW students living in a suburban city will generally go to that school district. So most students in Arlington attend Arlington ISD, most in Mansfield attend Mansfield ISD, most in Plano attend Plano ISD, most in Frisco attend Frisco ISD, most in Grand Prairie attend Grand Prairie ISD, etc. This helps with community involvement in my opinion. A good example of that is the City of Allen with Allen ISD. They opted to be a one high school town which has pumped out state championships in football (and other sports).

 

Besides schools, other small things are noticeable like stoplight camera/sensors. In DFW or here in LA, rarely would I need to wait at a light for an entire cycle because it would change as my vehicle approached (or the countdown on the pedestrian walkway would trigger with usually 10 seconds or less of wait time). If no one was in a turning lane then the light would only change for the thru lanes. The suburban cities in both places almost have that as standard at most intersections. In unincorporated Houston I've had to stop for a shopping center light while on a major road when no one was entering/exiting the shopping center. I've had to wait in turning lanes for entire cycles because there are few left turn yields in Houston even though you can clearly see all oncoming traffic. Granted those are small issues in the grand scheme of things but stuff like that is hard to maintain for a stretched-thin county. A city where tax dollars stay local might be able to do more traffic studies and decide to upgrade their intersections...

 

If allowed to incorporate into cities, I really think the western/northern arc of 99 between 59S and 59N could become Houston's version of a Collin County. It can be a contiguous area of generally more planned communities (or cities) that become attractive to relocating companies. The vast unincorporated areas I believe are a deterrent to outside companies because there isn't a general plan of what is going to be built around them. They see the long range planning of the suburbs in DFW or Austin and go there instead.

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Posted (edited)

Having lived in Dallas, I agree with both Intencity77 and Trae that independent municipalities makes for a prettier metro area, I'll take your words for it on better services, (though I disagree on Sugarland, Missouri City, etc either having better laid out or higher priced homes than unincorporated areas) I just think that in a region that has grown with suburbs in unincorporated areas for going on 70 years now, it's going to be a tough sell politically. Talking about Cypress, Klein, Katy, etc., these are all areas that grew through White Flight, making them dominated by a lot of white upper-middle-class small government Republicans. They aren't going to want to add municipal taxes onto their county taxes, aren't going to want to have to pull a city permit just to install a new water heater*, all the things that come from having a city government with city ordinances and permits to raise revenue, inspectors looking to something to fail in  every job the first time to justify their salaries, etc. So I agree that Harris County would probably be a prettier, more liveable, better managed place if the city of Houston had been kept smaller, hemmed in by tidy well run independent municipalities during the mid to late 20th Century, that ship had sailed.

 

Also, Trae said something about Harvey highlighting the issue of incorporated vs unincorporated areas. I disagree on two levels. First, I live in the city of limits, along Buffalo Bayou in a neighborhood that flooded, my parents live out in the Northwest unincorporated area in a neighborhood that flooded, being in an incorporated vs unincorporated area had no discernable effect on preparation for a disaster like this, or for reaction and recovery to it. Second, further balkanization of the jurisdictional makeup of the county isn't going to help us plan, both in development and emergency planning, to deal with events like this. If anything, we need further consolidation and coordination of land use planning, even beyond county lines. Having a county flood control district doesn't really do a lot of good when we live at the junction of multiple watersheds that extend across multiple counties.

 

 

*this comes from my dad being appalled when I was complaining about a COH inspector failing my Sears-installed water heater for a ridiculous reason, when he said he never had to install a water heater in 45 years of living in unincorporated Harris County.

Edited by Reefmonkey

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13 hours ago, Reefmonkey said:

Having lived in Dallas, I agree with both Intencity77 and Trae that independent municipalities makes for a prettier metro area, I'll take your words for it on better services, (though I disagree on Sugarland, Missouri City, etc either having better laid out or higher priced homes than unincorporated areas) I just think that in a region that has grown with suburbs in unincorporated areas for going on 70 years now, it's going to be a tough sell politically. Talking about Cypress, Klein, Katy, etc., these are all areas that grew through White Flight, making them dominated by a lot of white upper-middle-class small government Republicans. They aren't going to want to add municipal taxes onto their county taxes, aren't going to want to have to pull a city permit just to install a new water heater*, all the things that come from having a city government with city ordinances and permits to raise revenue, inspectors looking to something to fail in  every job the first time to justify their salaries, etc. So I agree that Harris County would probably be a prettier, more liveable, better managed place if the city of Houston had been kept smaller, hemmed in by tidy well run independent municipalities during the mid to late 20th Century, that ship had sailed.

 

Also, Trae said something about Harvey highlighting the issue of incorporated vs unincorporated areas. I disagree on two levels. First, I live in the city of limits, along Buffalo Bayou in a neighborhood that flooded, my parents live out in the Northwest unincorporated area in a neighborhood that flooded, being in an incorporated vs unincorporated area had no discernable effect on preparation for a disaster like this, or for reaction and recovery to it. Second, further balkanization of the jurisdictional makeup of the county isn't going to help us plan, both in development and emergency planning, to deal with events like this. If anything, we need further consolidation and coordination of land use planning, even beyond county lines. Having a county flood control district doesn't really do a lot of good when we live at the junction of multiple watersheds that extend across multiple counties.

 

 

*this comes from my dad being appalled when I was complaining about a COH inspector failing my Sears-installed water heater for a ridiculous reason, when he said he never had to install a water heater in 45 years of living in unincorporated Harris County.

 

When I mentioned home prices, I meant that similar homes in the incorporated city would be higher on average than the ones in a nearby unincorporated area. So homes in Missouri City are worth more than the homes in Fresno right next door, etc.Sometimes an advertising line homebuilders would use is being in an actual city. I remember this when my parents were looking for a new home 15 years ago in the Katy and Sugar Land areas.

 

I think it would have been a tougher sell maybe 14-20 years ago but not as much now. Look at Atlanta,  a metro area that's just as, if not more conservative. They've had a few incorporation over the last 10 years that were driven by Republican representatives who want more control on what's built around them. The most conservative parts of the Houston metro is in well planned areas like The Woodlands and incorporating for them looks cheaper than originally thought.

 

What I meant about flooding is that if the unincorporated areas were cities there'd have been more flood control. It's much harder for the county to handle all of that and just as hard for the city to manage its bloated square mileage + ETJ. The collective growth method is the reason for the flooding. It's a wonder why we didn't get more area lakes earlier on in the 20th century like in DFW. Would have been perfect for NW Harris County. Funny you mentioned emergency planning. That was one of the big issues with Harvey actually. It was harder for officials to meet due to the 3-day rule, but if they were mayors instead of county commissioners, it would have made things much easier. The easiest way to get better planning is to break the county down into sections (aka incorporating). Right now these commissioners oversea such large land areas and huge populations.

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Echoing some of the comments on here, I tend to think that suburban self-governance provides advantages that Houston has missed out on. When I first moved to Dallas and then later to the suburbs of Austin, I thought the suburbs seemed sterile and less "real" than Houston, and I still think this is largely true. But as I have revisited Houston again and again over the years, I have noticed large swaths of the suburbs that have greatly sagged in appearance, places I remember as nice growing up (thinking particularly of the Spring/Klein area). Some places, like the area around Jones Road and FM 1960 where I was visiting family last Christmas, simply look terrible. Obviously places age and experience decline, but it doesn't need to be as sharp or as likely permanent as some of the places I'm seeing. 

 

Houston has restored and boosted its center city by targeted policies and revitalization projects, but apart from a few places like Sugarland, there are no local governments to boost and revitalize the suburbs, or create true town centers (not the fake retail-only kind) that combine retail, government offices, civic institutions, and parks in an attractive setting that generates local pride. A self-governing city takes care of itself much better than a management district or a M.U.D. or a county commissioner does. 

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37 minutes ago, H-Town Man said:

Echoing some of the comments on here, I tend to think that suburban self-governance provides advantages that Houston has missed out on. When I first moved to Dallas and then later to the suburbs of Austin, I thought the suburbs seemed sterile and less "real" than Houston, and I still think this is largely true. But as I have revisited Houston again and again over the years, I have noticed large swaths of the suburbs that have greatly sagged in appearance, places I remember as nice growing up (thinking particularly of the Spring/Klein area). Some places, like the area around Jones Road and FM 1960 where I was visiting family last Christmas, simply look terrible. Obviously places age and experience decline, but it doesn't need to be as sharp or as likely permanent as some of the places I'm seeing.

 

Is this really anything more than the natural cycle that real estate (especially residential) goes through?  (Growth, Stability, Decline, Revitalization)   Are there really no comparable declining suburban areas in DFW or Austin?  (And is there really any reason to think the declining areas you see in Houston are truly in permanent decline?

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9 minutes ago, H-Town Man said:

Echoing some of the comments on here, I tend to think that suburban self-governance provides advantages that Houston has missed out on. When I first moved to Dallas and then later to the suburbs of Austin, I thought the suburbs seemed sterile and less "real" than Houston, and I still think this is largely true. But as I have revisited Houston again and again over the years, I have noticed large swaths of the suburbs that have greatly sagged in appearance, places I remember as nice growing up (thinking particularly of the Spring/Klein area). Some places, like the area around Jones Road and FM 1960 where I was visiting family last Christmas, simply look terrible. Obviously places age and experience decline, but it doesn't need to be as sharp or as likely permanent as some of the places I'm seeing. 

 

Houston has restored and boosted its center city by targeted policies and revitalization projects, but apart from a few places like Sugarland, there are no local governments to boost and revitalize the suburbs, or create true town centers (not the fake retail-only kind) that combine retail, government offices, civic institutions, and parks in an attractive setting that generates local pride. A self-governing city takes care of itself much better than a management district or a M.U.D. or a county commissioner does. 

 

Can't quite say about Austin, but I think the sterility you noticed in the Dallas suburbs vs Houston back in the day may have been at least partly due to the fact that the area around Dallas is naturally mostly devoid of trees except along creeks and rivers, while much of Houston is naturally forested. However, go to Katy, plenty of suburbs as sterile as anything in Plano. And even in areas of Houston that used to be kind of pretty because of the trees, like up in the Klein area where I grew up, the new subdivisions get denuded of all existing trees and look pretty sterile.

 

FM 1960 has become Westheimer North, with all the problems you might imagine come along with that, and any subdivisions along that corridor, up to about about a mile north (even more depending on how far east your are - the once-nice Cypresswood subdivision and Ponderosa are really sad), and anything south, have definitely suffered.

 

I may have come across as "anti-incorporation" here, I'm really not. Though I grew up in an unincorporated area, I choose to live in the city limits, and I see the appeal of the Dallas suburbs. My position comes more from the position that talking about the problems in Harris County and incorporation as a solution is trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube. I also think that the kind of problems we're talking about in this thread are more complicated than incorporated/unincorporated. Lots of what is ugly sprawl now in Houston has been within city limits since it was still cow pastures, and being within the city limits hasn't necessarily done anything for those areas. Houston's lack of sensible zoning and city planning plays an outsize role. Also, due to my job, I've been pretty involved with the flood control professional community, have to be involved in emergency planning for plants I'm responsible for the wastewater and stormwater permitting for, have close relations with drainage/flood control district officials in Harris, Galveston, Fort Bend, Brazoria counties, as well as city officials in incorporated cities in these counties. Incorporation in Harris County probably wouldn't make flood control issues much worse, but it's going to have negligible impact on making things better. The thing that is going to fix that is to start seeing and managing regional flood control beyond county lines, beyond arbitrary political boundaries, and start managing land use in whole watersheds in an intracounty regional effort, similar to the way the Texas legislature created the Harris Galveston Subsidence District in the 70s, but on an even larger scale.

So, when people start boostering incorporation as a solution to Harris County's problems, especially flood control, I get cynical, and I apologize for that.

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6 minutes ago, Houston19514 said:

 

Is this really anything more than the natural cycle that real estate (especially residential) goes through?  (Growth, Stability, Decline, Revitalization)   Are there really no comparable declining suburban areas in DFW or Austin?  (And is there really any reason to think the declining areas you see in Houston are truly in permanent decline?

 

It's a good point, I have a friend from college who grew up in Arlington in the DFW area, and makes some of the same flavor comments about its decline when he goes back to visit.

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17 hours ago, Houston19514 said:

 

Is this really anything more than the natural cycle that real estate (especially residential) goes through?  (Growth, Stability, Decline, Revitalization)   Are there really no comparable declining suburban areas in DFW or Austin?  (And is there really any reason to think the declining areas you see in Houston are truly in permanent decline?

 

I addressed the cycle decline issue at the end of my first paragraph. I think that, if you compare areas between the two cities, the streetscape along Jones Road or most areas of FM 1960 or Louetta looks much junkier than suburbs of similar age and income in Dallas. Thinking of Coit Road and upper Greenville Avenue in Richardson, Garland Road heading out to Garland, Beltline Road in Carrollton. The properties along those roads are old and tired, the rents have gone down, but they still look orderly and pleasant in most areas due to zoning restrictions on things like setbacks, chainlink or metal fences, signage, etc.

 

The reason why I said "likely permanent" is that certain things do not seem reversible. When you have gas stations landing in really bad places that are out of scale with the older shopping centers next to them, you're not going to at some point rip all those gas stations out. The area is just doomed to ugliness at that point. When the older modest brick shopping centers now have jarring bright colored buildings landing in them that no zoning department would ever approve, that older shopping center is not going to ever attract higher rents or nice businesses again. You'd have to tear everything down and start over, which will only happen if there is a massive upswing in demographics nearby, like what is happening on N. Shepherd in the Heights. 90% will stay ugly forever.

 

So yes, there is the natural cycle, but keeping things orderly and preventing bad development will make that revitalization a lot easier and likelier. As will concerted city efforts to improve how the city looks and attract businesses, rather than hoping a management district or a county commissioner will get involved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by H-Town Man

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Posted (edited)
17 hours ago, Reefmonkey said:

 

Can't quite say about Austin, but I think the sterility you noticed in the Dallas suburbs vs Houston back in the day may have been at least partly due to the fact that the area around Dallas is naturally mostly devoid of trees except along creeks and rivers, while much of Houston is naturally forested. However, go to Katy, plenty of suburbs as sterile as anything in Plano. And even in areas of Houston that used to be kind of pretty because of the trees, like up in the Klein area where I grew up, the new subdivisions get denuded of all existing trees and look pretty sterile.

 

FM 1960 has become Westheimer North, with all the problems you might imagine come along with that, and any subdivisions along that corridor, up to about about a mile north (even more depending on how far east your are - the once-nice Cypresswood subdivision and Ponderosa are really sad), and anything south, have definitely suffered.

 

I may have come across as "anti-incorporation" here, I'm really not. Though I grew up in an unincorporated area, I choose to live in the city limits, and I see the appeal of the Dallas suburbs. My position comes more from the position that talking about the problems in Harris County and incorporation as a solution is trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube. I also think that the kind of problems we're talking about in this thread are more complicated than incorporated/unincorporated. Lots of what is ugly sprawl now in Houston has been within city limits since it was still cow pastures, and being within the city limits hasn't necessarily done anything for those areas. Houston's lack of sensible zoning and city planning plays an outsize role. Also, due to my job, I've been pretty involved with the flood control professional community, have to be involved in emergency planning for plants I'm responsible for the wastewater and stormwater permitting for, have close relations with drainage/flood control district officials in Harris, Galveston, Fort Bend, Brazoria counties, as well as city officials in incorporated cities in these counties. Incorporation in Harris County probably wouldn't make flood control issues much worse, but it's going to have negligible impact on making things better. The thing that is going to fix that is to start seeing and managing regional flood control beyond county lines, beyond arbitrary political boundaries, and start managing land use in whole watersheds in an intracounty regional effort, similar to the way the Texas legislature created the Harris Galveston Subsidence District in the 70s, but on an even larger scale.

So, when people start boostering incorporation as a solution to Harris County's problems, especially flood control, I get cynical, and I apologize for that.

 

After having gone back and forth between these cities for over a decade and thought about these issues the whole time, it is really unlikely that the differences I'm seeing come down to the mere presence or absence of trees. I am also not talking about the inside of subdivisions but rather major thoroughfares. An example of this within the Houston area is driving on Highway 6 from Sugarland northward. You pass the Sugarland city limit and suddenly it becomes a lot messier; inside Sugarland it's more "sterile," but nicer. Or drive on Voss or Wirt north out of the villages and notice the change when you see the Houston City Limit sign.

 

You mention how Houston's lack of zoning or planning plays a role in these things, and that is kind of the whole point of allowing suburbs to incorporate. They would be able to zone themselves if they chose to and thereby have some control over their destiny.

 

 

Edited by H-Town Man

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On 1/7/2019 at 8:26 PM, Reefmonkey said:

Having lived in Dallas, I agree with both Intencity77 and Trae that independent municipalities makes for a prettier metro area, I'll take your words for it on better services, (though I disagree on Sugarland, Missouri City, etc either having better laid out or higher priced homes than unincorporated areas) I just think that in a region that has grown with suburbs in unincorporated areas for going on 70 years now, it's going to be a tough sell politically. Talking about Cypress, Klein, Katy, etc., these are all areas that grew through White Flight, making them dominated by a lot of white upper-middle-class small government Republicans. They aren't going to want to add municipal taxes onto their county taxes, aren't going to want to have to pull a city permit just to install a new water heater*, all the things that come from having a city government with city ordinances and permits to raise revenue, inspectors looking to something to fail in  every job the first time to justify their salaries, etc. So I agree that Harris County would probably be a prettier, more liveable, better managed place if the city of Houston had been kept smaller, hemmed in by tidy well run independent municipalities during the mid to late 20th Century, that ship had sailed.

 

Also, Trae said something about Harvey highlighting the issue of incorporated vs unincorporated areas. I disagree on two levels. First, I live in the city of limits, along Buffalo Bayou in a neighborhood that flooded, my parents live out in the Northwest unincorporated area in a neighborhood that flooded, being in an incorporated vs unincorporated area had no discernable effect on preparation for a disaster like this, or for reaction and recovery to it. Second, further balkanization of the jurisdictional makeup of the county isn't going to help us plan, both in development and emergency planning, to deal with events like this. If anything, we need further consolidation and coordination of land use planning, even beyond county lines. Having a county flood control district doesn't really do a lot of good when we live at the junction of multiple watersheds that extend across multiple counties.

 

 

*this comes from my dad being appalled when I was complaining about a COH inspector failing my Sears-installed water heater for a ridiculous reason, when he said he never had to install a water heater in 45 years of living in unincorporated Harris County.

Just because an area doesn't mean that the newly-incorporated cities have to go will have to go through high taxation, permits, and bureaucracy, and the process of annexation means the city can tax immediately but then stall on sewage, garbage, and other features for years. It's been the better part of a decade since College Station forced their way to annex Wellborn (as Wellborn tried too little too late to annex--which due to ETJ restrictions, required College Station's permission) and very few changes have happened except for new street signs. Houston is an even bigger problem as its a large city, which is constantly broke but continually asks for more money to finance everything--unfeasible pay structures for city employees, "big city" programs, some segment of road that's falling apart because it has barely been touched since 1972, trains, et cetera. I disagree with the "balkanization of Harris County is bad" rhetoric because Houston is already sprawling enough in terms of sheer square miles, enough that with minimal cutting and trimming, you could fit Chicago, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Manhattan, Washington DC, and Boston all inside the city limits. 

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1 hour ago, IronTiger said:

 

I disagree with the "balkanization of Harris County is bad" rhetoric because Houston is already sprawling enough in terms of sheer square miles, enough that with minimal cutting and trimming, you could fit Chicago, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Manhattan, Washington DC, and Boston all inside the city limits. 

 

I only talked about balkanization in terms of regional disaster response and flood control planning, that I don't agree that a bunch of new cities incorporating would help this. Again, regional disasters, even normal rain event water flows are no respectors of political boundaries. We need more consolidation of land use planning to deal with this at not just the county, but transcounty regional level. Again, I give the Harris Galveston Subsidence District as an example, just on an even bigger scale. A bunch of little municipalities with their own city planning and land use rules is the opposite of this. I'm not saying that the new cities all coordinating their land use planning under the kind of regional body I'm proposing wouldn't work out just fine, just that new little cities popping up isn't by itself automatically going to make emergency response to regional events like Harvey better, or land use planning to premptively mitigate the impacts of such events better, as was suggested by Trae. Other than that, I'm all for new cities popping up, everything else probably would be better, I even think that breaking off parts of COH into independent municipalities would be a good idea  (like make the Westchase District its own city), I'm just doubtful either idea will ever go anywhere.

 

One "breaking up big jurisdictions" idea I think might actually be able to get some leverage, and which is sorely needed, is breaking up HISD into 2 to 4 new districts. HISD is geographically way too spread out (especially with the annexation of North Forest ISD), and is very poorly managed at the central level. The only hitch I can see is breaking it up would unavoidably change race ratios in several of the new districts, which would run it afoul of federal civil rights laws and court rulings. That's what happened when the western part of the district was tired of being neglected and tried to break off and form the Westheimer Independent School District back in the late 70s.

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3 hours ago, Reefmonkey said:

 

I only talked about balkanization in terms of regional disaster response and flood control planning, that I don't agree that a bunch of new cities incorporating would help this. Again, regional disasters, even normal rain event water flows are no respectors of political boundaries. We need more consolidation of land use planning to deal with this at not just the county, but transcounty regional level. Again, I give the Harris Galveston Subsidence District as an example, just on an even bigger scale. A bunch of little municipalities with their own city planning and land use rules is the opposite of this. I'm not saying that the new cities all coordinating their land use planning under the kind of regional body I'm proposing wouldn't work out just fine, just that new little cities popping up isn't by itself automatically going to make emergency response to regional events like Harvey better, or land use planning to premptively mitigate the impacts of such events better, as was suggested by Trae. Other than that, I'm all for new cities popping up, everything else probably would be better, I even think that breaking off parts of COH into independent municipalities would be a good idea  (like make the Westchase District its own city), I'm just doubtful either idea will ever go anywhere.

 

 

The Harris County Flood Control District wouldn't change no matter what, and it's absurd to think that there wouldn't be a group response in the event of another Harvey-like disaster, and in terms of land use planning, it's hard to imagine a scenario where separate municipalities would make things worse, so it's a bit of a moot point for any argument against splitting up into smaller municipalities.

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A Texas legislature-chartered regional flood and land use management authority would supersede HArris’s flood district. 

 

I’m sure there would be a group response to to another Harvey like disaster, but responses to disasters are too little to late, preventing Harvey-like and non-Harvey-like disasters disasters takes decades of coordinated regional planning 

 

 From my professional perspective, I can imagine worse happening if people take the attitude that separate municipal authorities is the answer.  Houston, Harris County, FEMA, Corps of Engineers, the Texas Legislature, had all been asleep on the job when it came to recognizing and managing the intensive growth in Southeast Texas for the last 50 years, but that doesn’t mean smaller authorities taking separate responsibility for land use management is the answer. A small town of 5,000-10,000 carved out of some suburbs with realtors and soccer moms serving part time on a city council with little if any full time city staff isn’t going to have the expertise to consider how city growth in their boundaries, and the boundaries of the cities neighboring them, will affect people downstream of them.

 

I’m not making an argument against splitting into smaller municipalities, but this is an argument against Trae’s idea that splitting into smaller municipalities will be better for Harvey like events. My concern is an attitude like Trae’s (not to pick on her) would lead to complacency which would stall impetus for the trans-County regional land use planning that is actually needed, and again this is coming from 20 years of working closely with flood control authorities in several counties in the region. 

Edited by Reefmonkey

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2 hours ago, Reefmonkey said:

A Texas legislature-chartered regional flood and land use management authority would supersede HArris’s flood district. 

 

I’m sure there would be a group response to to another Harvey like disaster, but responses to disasters are too little to late, preventing Harvey-like and non-Harvey-like disasters disasters takes decades of coordinated regional planning 

 

 From my professional perspective, I can imagine worse happening if people take the attitude that separate municipal authorities is the answer.  Houston, Harris County, FEMA, Corps of Engineers, the Texas Legislature, had all been asleep on the job when it came to recognizing and managing the intensive growth in Southeast Texas for the last 50 years, but that doesn’t mean smaller authorities taking separate responsibility for land use management is the answer. A small town of 5,000-10,000 carved out of some suburbs with realtors and soccer moms serving part time on a city council with little if any full time city staff isn’t going to have the expertise to consider how city growth in their boundaries, and the boundaries of the cities neighboring them, will affect people downstream of them.

 

I’m not making an argument against splitting into smaller municipalities, but this is an argument against Trae’s idea that splitting into smaller municipalities will be better for Harvey like events. My concern is an attitude like Trae’s (not to pick on her) would lead to complacency which would stall impetus for the trans-County regional land use planning that is actually needed, and again this is coming from 20 years of working closely with flood control authorities in several counties in the region. 

 

I read about some of the flood issues from this article. Maybe you know something different since you're also closely involved:

 

Another problem that came up during the flooding of Hurricane Harvey was that county commissioners could not have emergency meetings as one single group.

“We could not all meet with the county judge because of the open meetings act,” Meyers said.

The open meetings act requires a government meeting to be announced to the public three days before it takes place.

Meyers pointed out that if unincorporated areas were incorporated as their own cities and towns, there would be municipal staff available to go to emergency meetings. Right now, Meyers is basically the staff of unincorporated Fort Bend County. There is no other expert to send to vital meetings. He has a very small staff that represents more residents than many cities in Texas.

“It made it difficult to get quality information during the flooding,” Myers said.

Meyers says the Houston area has a problem with ETJs that are not found in other parts of the state. He says Houston has a very high population that lives in its ETJs. Most major cities in Texas, he says, only have a small percentage of people who live in their ETJs, he said.

He notes that they are taking tax money that’s needed to serve millions of people, and spending that money in Houston instead of the unincorporated areas.

https://coveringkaty.com/local-news/commissioner-meyers-talks-annexation-and-houstons-ability-to-tax-katy-residents/

 

And with separate cities then maybe one that floods more often passes a law that requires higher elevation for homes or requires more detention ponds, etc. You see it now with the City of Katy passing its flood control bond last year that was in addition to the county wide one. What if that was more widespread? That would only happen with cities. The MUDs and ETJ of Houston does the bare minimum for almost everything.

 

And definitely a guy lol

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1 hour ago, Trae said:

 

I read about some of the flood issues from this article. Maybe you know something different since you're also closely involved:

 

Another problem that came up during the flooding of Hurricane Harvey was that county commissioners could not have emergency meetings as one single group.

“We could not all meet with the county judge because of the open meetings act,” Meyers said.

The open meetings act requires a government meeting to be announced to the public three days before it takes place.

Meyers pointed out that if unincorporated areas were incorporated as their own cities and towns, there would be municipal staff available to go to emergency meetings. Right now, Meyers is basically the staff of unincorporated Fort Bend County. There is no other expert to send to vital meetings. He has a very small staff that represents more residents than many cities in Texas.

“It made it difficult to get quality information during the flooding,” Myers said.

Meyers says the Houston area has a problem with ETJs that are not found in other parts of the state. He says Houston has a very high population that lives in its ETJs. Most major cities in Texas, he says, only have a small percentage of people who live in their ETJs, he said.

He notes that they are taking tax money that’s needed to serve millions of people, and spending that money in Houston instead of the unincorporated areas.

https://coveringkaty.com/local-news/commissioner-meyers-talks-annexation-and-houstons-ability-to-tax-katy-residents/

 

And with separate cities then maybe one that floods more often passes a law that requires higher elevation for homes or requires more detention ponds, etc. You see it now with the City of Katy passing its flood control bond last year that was in addition to the county wide one. What if that was more widespread? That would only happen with cities. The MUDs and ETJ of Houston does the bare minimum for almost everything.

 

And definitely a guy lol

I’ve read the article and I actually agree with it, the taxation without representation issue, etc, I’m not sure I understand where you’re going with your focus on the Open Meetings Act and emergency meetings among county commissioners. I’m talking about long term planning being paramount, so emergency meetings don’t apply to that. I’m also talking about a hypothetical regional flood control district, that yes, meetings of its board of commissioners would be subject to OMA, but the day to day operations of its staff wouldn’t be. Even with existing organizations, during Harvey Ed Emmett didn’t have to give advance notice and convene a quorum of the county commissioners every time he talked with the Office of Emergency Management about how to handle the ongoing situation. I’m not sure how having more meetings with municipal staff from multiple cities braving flood waters to attend them would have helped in the middle of Harvey .  But maybe I’m not understanding what you’re getting at. 

Edited by Reefmonkey
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10 hours ago, Reefmonkey said:

I’ve read the article and I actually agree with it, the taxation without representation issue, etc, I’m not sure I understand where you’re going with your focus on the Open Meetings Act and emergency meetings among county commissioners. I’m talking about long term planning being paramount, so emergency meetings don’t apply to that. I’m also talking about a hypothetical regional flood control district, that yes, meetings of its board of commissioners would be subject to OMA, but the day to day operations of its staff wouldn’t be. Even with existing organizations, during Harvey Ed Emmett didn’t have to give advance notice and convene a quorum of the county commissioners every time he talked with the Office of Emergency Management about how to handle the ongoing situation. I’m not sure how having more meetings with municipal staff from multiple cities braving flood waters to attend them would have helped in the middle of Harvey .  But maybe I’m not understanding what you’re getting at. 

 

It's just a little nuisance that could be avoided in addition to being able to vote for more drainage improvements locally like the City of Katy just did.

Edited by Trae

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I'd just caution against giving that article more weight that it deserves. It's from a little quasi-professional suburban community online newspaper and it seems to have a serious axe to grind. To wit:

 

Quote

The recent passage of Senate Bill 6 has gotten little publicity, perhaps because the Houston based media likes the control their city has over millions of us who live in the suburbs.

(emphasis mine)

Pretty unprofessional tone there. From my perspective it seems the reporter is taking everything Meyers said and shoehorning it into the reporter's agenda. The reporter says "Meyers is basically the staff of unincorporated Fort Bend County. There is no other expert to send to vital meetings." Meyers is a CPA and real estate broker, and according to the article "much of [his] time is spent planning the next road that fixes the problem of roadway congestion."  I don't think that makes one an expert on emergency management. But county commissioners are elected officials, and like to make sure they are included in big newsworthy events, whether their input is valuable or not.

 

And while Meyers is pushing for Fort Bend residents to vote themselves out of Houston's ETJ, he is never actually shown to explicitly support the area self-incorporating.The reporter intersperses paragraphs with hypotheticals about cities self-incorporating among paragraphs reporting what Meyers said, and I can see how that might give the impression of Meyers advocating for self-incorporation, if you look more closely, he never really does.  Even the line about Meyers "pointing out" that "if unincorporated areas were incorporated as their own cities and towns, there would be municipal staff available to go to emergency meetings. If you look closely, there is no direct quote of Meyers saying that, and no context around his supposedly "pointing out". It's very possible that the reporter asked ""if unincorporated areas were incorporated as their own cities and towns, would there be municipal staff available to go to emergency meetings?" and Meyers might have simply answered "yes, that's probably true," but that in no way would be Meyers saying that these areas should incorporate. Given this reporter's already-demonstrated journalistic unprofessionalism and bias, it's not unreasonable to suspect that the reporter may have made such a distortion.

 

A quick search shows that Meyers is pushing hard for an amendment to the Open Meetings Act that would create an exemption for meetings held during a declared disaster like Harvey, so that's obviously what he sees as the solution to dealing with OMA hamstringing communication during disasters, not incorporation.

 

I don't know one way or another, but from what the article didn't say and from I learned about Meyers from sources outside the article, it's still very possible that Meyers is one of those conservative small-government type exurbanites who wouldn't favor an additional layer of municipal government on top of his unincorporated county government.

 

Also, individual small cities voting for more local drainage "improvements" independently and without regional coordination is one of those areas I'm talking about where incorporation could possibly make flood control worse. Katy is upstream of Houston in the Buffalo Bayou watershed. Surface water that leaves Katy comes downstream to Houston. Moving stormwater more quickly out of Katy can make flooding worse in Houston, without Katy knowing or caring. And if Katy makes drainage improvements that benefit it, this could open more land in Katy that is currently not feasible to build on because of water to development (remember, Katy is an area that used to be primarily rice fields), which would make the overall stormwater runoff problem worse, affecting those of us who live downstream of Katy.

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22 minutes ago, Reefmonkey said:

I'd just caution against giving that article more weight that it deserves. It's from a little quasi-professional suburban community online newspaper and it seems to have a serious axe to grind. To wit:

 

(emphasis mine)

Pretty unprofessional tone there. From my perspective it seems the reporter is taking everything Meyers said and shoehorning it into the reporter's agenda. The reporter says "Meyers is basically the staff of unincorporated Fort Bend County. There is no other expert to send to vital meetings." Meyers is a CPA and real estate broker, and according to the article "much of [his] time is spent planning the next road that fixes the problem of roadway congestion."  I don't think that makes one an expert on emergency management. But county commissioners are elected officials, and like to make sure they are included in big newsworthy events, whether their input is valuable or not.

 

And while Meyers is pushing for Fort Bend residents to vote themselves out of Houston's ETJ, he is never actually shown to explicitly support the area self-incorporating.The reporter intersperses paragraphs with hypotheticals about cities self-incorporating among paragraphs reporting what Meyers said, and I can see how that might give the impression of Meyers advocating for self-incorporation, if you look more closely, he never really does.  Even the line about Meyers "pointing out" that "if unincorporated areas were incorporated as their own cities and towns, there would be municipal staff available to go to emergency meetings. If you look closely, there is no direct quote of Meyers saying that, and no context around his supposedly "pointing out". It's very possible that the reporter asked ""if unincorporated areas were incorporated as their own cities and towns, would there be municipal staff available to go to emergency meetings?" and Meyers might have simply answered "yes, that's probably true," but that in no way would be Meyers saying that these areas should incorporate. Given this reporter's already-demonstrated journalistic unprofessionalism and bias, it's not unreasonable to suspect that the reporter may have made such a distortion.

 

A quick search shows that Meyers is pushing hard for an amendment to the Open Meetings Act that would create an exemption for meetings held during a declared disaster like Harvey, so that's obviously what he sees as the solution to dealing with OMA hamstringing communication during disasters, not incorporation.

 

I don't know one way or another, but from what the article didn't say and from I learned about Meyers from sources outside the article, it's still very possible that Meyers is one of those conservative small-government type exurbanites who wouldn't favor an additional layer of municipal government on top of his unincorporated county government.

 

Also, individual small cities voting for more local drainage "improvements" independently and without regional coordination is one of those areas I'm talking about where incorporation could possibly make flood control worse. Katy is upstream of Houston in the Buffalo Bayou watershed. Surface water that leaves Katy comes downstream to Houston. Moving stormwater more quickly out of Katy can make flooding worse in Houston, without Katy knowing or caring. And if Katy makes drainage improvements that benefit it, this could open more land in Katy that is currently not feasible to build on because of water to development (remember, Katy is an area that used to be primarily rice fields), which would make the overall stormwater runoff problem worse, affecting those of us who live downstream of Katy.

 

That's just one article. There are several out there about the ETJs incorporating with Meyers having exact quotes like this (link in the first post):

 

“You are taking away their voice from the standpoint that their elected body [Fort Bend County Commissioners Court] can be overruled by an unelected body [the city of Houston],” Meyers said. “That’s un-American, un-Texan; it’s just not right.”

 

“I don’t want people to get out of the ETJ and not be able to create a city,” Meyers said. “It will be done probably through some type of petition.”

 

“Legislators are reluctant to pick up legislation that is going to be extremely controversial,” Meyers said. “We certainly anticipate opposition from Houston and the Texas Municipal League on our efforts.”

 

To me, that looks like he favors incorporation.

 

In regards to Katy, how is building additional detention ponds and upgrading drainage under existing streets going to mean that Houston floods worse? By planting some trees, adding sidewalks, and maybe some playground equipment those detention ponds become nature trails or pocket parks in normal weather. Going by your logic, there shouldn't be any development out there because any additional concrete will flood Houston. Furthermore, you don't think the City of Katy (or any others) consult with the flood management districts about the improvements that they want to put through? Cities are independent but like you said, there's still an overarching agency that they'll have to report to. There are already some master-planned communities that take a little extra step for drainage but they can't do too much since the developer wants to make money. Those smaller KB Home-type neighborhoods do the bare minimum and those dot a lot of northern Harris County in the Spring area which has serious flooding problems. Imagine if Spring was a city and they put up a vote to raise homes and require developers to build more detention ponds? Perhaps that would have saved quite a few homes from taking on water.

Edited by Trae

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Okay, it appears he does at least support his constituents having the option to be able to vote on whether they want to become a city (and I agree with him on that). They'd have to vote themselves out of Houston's ETJ before they could even get to that point, which even your article says is a long shot, and supporting constituents right to self-determination is no guarantee how he himself would actually vote if such a vote went from being a far-fetched hypothetical to actually on a ballot. And even his support for incorporation for his neck of the woods would still have no bearing on whether it would be better for regional land use management and flood control.

 

Honestly, yes, there has been too much development, and in the wrong places, throughout the region, and the Katy area has a lot of those places (so does Houston). Drainage improvements constitute more than just detention ponds, there are still jurisdictions doing channelization, even though the evidence points to channelization actually making flooding worse. Absolutely channelization in cities upstream on Buffalo Bayou worsens flooding downstream, like in Houston. And yes, there are overarching agencies that cities have to report to. Not one, but separate ones of varying quality based on what county a city is in. A city in Fort Bend has to answer to a Fort Bend Drainage government agency, which does what it thinks is best for Fort Bend county, even though the water that is drained out of Fort Bend County becomes Harris County's problem. Fort Bend doesn't even have a Flood Control district, it has a Drainage District, which county residents obviously have come to understand is not adequate, because since Harvey there have been calls to finally establish a Flood Control district there

https://communityimpact.com/houston/katy/city-county/2017/11/21/fort-bend-county-considers-flood-control-district-in-hopes-of-modernizing-drainage/

 

We're in the mess we are in here in Southeast Texas because of a patchwork of independent jurisdictions with land use planning and flood control agencies of highly variable quality of oversight and little coordination with each other. Throwing a bunch more independent jurisdictions into the mix is not the solution to that.

 

 

 

Oh, and an aside, something I missed that you said earlier in the thread, really just more interesting trivia information than anything else, but you pointed to lack of sidewalks in unincorporated suburbs. From what I heard from a long time ago, so take it with a grain of salt, but that doesn't actually have to do with lack of services, it's a vestige of Houston's White Flight in the 70s and 80s. Neighborhoods which took HUD funding during development, which was intended to make the houses more affordable to lower-income people, had to meet certain requirements. One of those requirements was they had to have sidewalks. New subdivisions  that were marketing themselves to the middle class and above White Flighters deliberately didn't put in sidewalks as kind of a racist dog whistle to let prospective buyers know they didn't take any HUD money, so they didn't have any low-income, ie., black residents. Do we really think that Don Hand couldn't have afforded to put in sidewalks in a high end, expensive neighborhood like Champion Forest, if people really wanted that?

Edited by Reefmonkey

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3 hours ago, Reefmonkey said:

Okay, it appears he does at least support his constituents having the option to be able to vote on whether they want to become a city (and I agree with him on that). They'd have to vote themselves out of Houston's ETJ before they could even get to that point, which even your article says is a long shot, and supporting constituents right to self-determination is no guarantee how he himself would actually vote if such a vote went from being a far-fetched hypothetical to actually on a ballot. And even his support for incorporation for his neck of the woods would still have no bearing on whether it would be better for regional land use management and flood control.

 

Honestly, yes, there has been too much development, and in the wrong places, throughout the region, and the Katy area has a lot of those places (so does Houston). Drainage improvements constitute more than just detention ponds, there are still jurisdictions doing channelization, even though the evidence points to channelization actually making flooding worse. Absolutely channelization in cities upstream on Buffalo Bayou worsens flooding downstream, like in Houston. And yes, there are overarching agencies that cities have to report to. Not one, but separate ones of varying quality based on what county a city is in. A city in Fort Bend has to answer to a Fort Bend Drainage government agency, which does what it thinks is best for Fort Bend county, even though the water that is drained out of Fort Bend County becomes Harris County's problem. Fort Bend doesn't even have a Flood Control district, it has a Drainage District, which county residents obviously have come to understand is not adequate, because since Harvey there have been calls to finally establish a Flood Control district there

https://communityimpact.com/houston/katy/city-county/2017/11/21/fort-bend-county-considers-flood-control-district-in-hopes-of-modernizing-drainage/

 

We're in the mess we are in here in Southeast Texas because of a patchwork of independent jurisdictions with land use planning and flood control agencies of highly variable quality of oversight and little coordination with each other. Throwing a bunch more independent jurisdictions into the mix is not the solution to that.

 

 

 

Oh, and an aside, something I missed that you said earlier in the thread, really just more interesting trivia information than anything else, but you pointed to lack of sidewalks in unincorporated suburbs. From what I heard from a long time ago, so take it with a grain of salt, but that doesn't actually have to do with lack of services, it's a vestige of Houston's White Flight in the 70s and 80s. Neighborhoods which took HUD funding during development, which was intended to make the houses more affordable to lower-income people, had to meet certain requirements. One of those requirements was they had to have sidewalks. New subdivisions  that were marketing themselves to the middle class and above White Flighters deliberately didn't put in sidewalks as kind of a racist dog whistle to let prospective buyers know they didn't take any HUD money, so they didn't have any low-income, ie., black residents. Do we really think that Don Hand couldn't have afforded to put in sidewalks in a high end, expensive neighborhood like Champion Forest, if people really wanted that?

 

Drainage improvements includes a lot of things and it's up to that particularly city to decide on what gets done, then they'll bring that to flood management agencies for final approval. After that, it gets put up to vote by citizens of that city. Obviously the way Houston has been doing it now (your preferred way) hasn't worked at all, especially recently. It's time to stop the status quo and allow for change.

 

Adding more brains in the room that oversee cities would make things easier, in my opinion. It'd reshape the H-GAC to be more like the North Texas Council of Governments. It's hard to do much when there's so much ETJ land that's not governed well. What's easier? City of Cypress or MUD #400+MUD #233+MUD #105, etc.? Really, Harvey's damage could have been mitigated had their been more individual municipalities that needed to take care of their population. You see this in DFW where the construction of all of their area lakes was partly due to help with drainage and was pushed by some of the suburban cities. With so much of the developed land in Houston falling under an ETJ (and most within an ETJ of a city with no zoning and lax ordinances), most developers were in it for a quick buck. That's the only reason why I could see things like Canyon Gate/parts of Cinco Ranch neighborhoods that were built IN the reservoir. If those areas fell within an actual city then I doubt it would have been approved.

 

As for your last paragraph, it's always been a wonder to me why stuff like that is specific to Houston, while other metro areas don't have that problem when they've all experienced white flight. For example Dallas had a lot of white flight, yet it's suburbs still all built (mostly continuous) sidewalks. Los Angeles had a TON of white flight, yet its suburbs all built sidewalks (and many developed before Houston started to really grow in the late 60s/early 70s). There are sidewalks in many affluent/former white flight areas all across the country. The reason for the lack of sidewalks in Houston is due to weak ordinances and the tendency to do things cheaply. It's good that most master-planned communities are built with sidewalks but the problem is that they lead to nowhere once you leave the development. I used to think like that too being from the Houston area and thought that sidewalks meant "poorer area" because that's what we were told. Once I got older and moved around it showed me that was bullshit. In fact, one of the areas that needs sidewalks most (North Katy-South Cypress) doesn't have any. It's a shame to see moms pushing strollers, people carrying groceries, or kids pushing their bikes on dirt paths along the streets there. That's what happens when your tax dollars are sent elsewhere because you're an ETJ...

Edited by Trae

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1 hour ago, Trae said:

 

Drainage improvements includes a lot of things and it's up to that particularly city to decide on what gets done, then they'll bring that to flood management agencies for final approval. After that, it gets put up to vote by citizens of that city. Obviously the way Houston has been doing it now (your preferred way) hasn't worked at all, especially recently. It's time stop the status quo and allow for change.

 

Adding more brains in the room that oversee cities would make things easier, in my opinion. It'd reshape the H-GAC to be more like the North Texas Council of Governments. It's hard to do much when there's so much ETJ land that's not governed well. Really, Harvey's damage could have been mitigated had their been more individual municipalities that needed to take care of their population. You see this in DFW where the construction of all of their area lakes was partly due to help with drainage and was pushed by some of the suburban cities. With so much of the developed land in Houston falling under an ETJ (and most within an ETJ of a city with no zoning and lax ordinances), most developers were in it for a quick buck. That's the only reason why I could see things like Canyon Gate/parts of Cinco Ranch neighborhoods that were built IN the reservoir. If those areas fell within an actual city then I doubt it would have been approved.

 

As for your last paragraph, it's always been a wonder to me why stuff like that is specific to Houston, while other metro areas don't have that problem when they've all experienced white flight. For example Dallas had a lot of white flight, yet it's suburbs still all built (mostly continuous) sidewalks. Los Angeles had a TON of white flight, yet its suburbs all built sidewalks (and many developed before Houston started to really grow in the late 60s/early 70s). There are sidewalks in many affluent/former white flight areas all across the country. The reason for the lack of sidewalks in Houston is due to weak ordinances and the tendency to do things cheaply. It's good that most master-planned communities are built with sidewalks but the problem is that they lead to nowhere once you leave the development. I used to think like that too being from the Houston area and thought that sidewalks meant "poorer area" because that's what we were told. Once I got older and moved around it showed me that was bullshit. In fact, one of the areas that needs sidewalks most (North Katy-South Cypress) doesn't have any. It's a shame to see moms pushing strollers, people carrying groceries, or kids pushing their bikes on dirt paths along the streets there. That's what happens when your tax dollars are sent elsewhere because you're an ETJ...

 

 

Actually, the way Houston has been doing things is NOT my preferred way, I've stated my preferred way as being to create a regional flood control and land use management authority that would supersede the flood control districts of multiple counties in Southeast Texas, like the way the Texas legislature chartered the Harris Galveston Subsidence district, but greater in scope and geography. I've talked about it in five different posts before this one, so I'm perplexed as to why you're claiming that the status quo is my preferred way.

 

I agree with you that incorporating unincorporated parts of Harris would absolutely make a lot of things easier and better (I have from the start), just NOT flood control and emergency management. As I have already said, I'm not saying that means a bunch of new municipalities would HAVE to make things worse, but in my opinion based on 20 years of professional involvement in this issue, the best thing to prevent then from contributing to the problem and to actually fix the problem would be the trans-county regional authority I've now advocated for six times in this thread. Emergency planning/response could still be handled at the county along with mutual assistance agreements between the new cities.

 

On the no sidewalks issue, from the time I was a kid, I always thought it was lame the neighborhoods I lived in didn't have sidewalks, and when I heard the supposed reason for that, even without talking into account the racial undertones of that, I thought that was the dumbest reason not to have something that would be nice to have I had ever heard. However, it's not unique to Houston-area suburbs. My cousin and brother have both lived in the Atlanta-metro suburbs, and has lived in three different metro DC-area suburbs, and I've visited them in both areas numerous times. There are plenty of middle-class-to-upper-middle suburbs in both areas that have no sidewalks. And as you live in Los Angeles, you should know that Bel Air has no sidewalks, a deliberate decision on their part. With the exception of Bel Air which made its decision decades sooner, the most common vintage for these sidewalk-free neighborhoods is about the same time as Houston area's neighborhoods, an interval from about the early 60s into the 80s. One sees more sidewalks in neighborhoods of this demographic built from the 90s on. Why things changed, I don't know; maybe the HUD requirement sunsetted maybe people forgot about the HUD requirement and/or realized its stupid not to have sidewalks. Now I see a lot of sidewalks in newer neighborhoods built from the 90s on in unincorporated northwest Harris just north of Louetta near 249 (I mention that because it's where my parents live now so I know it fairly well). Just looking at Google Earth I can see sidewalks in Colony Creek Village, Bridgestone West, Charterwood, Glenloch, Memorial Springs, I could go on and on.

 

Check out this link (from the DC metro area) that talks about different neighborhoods not having sidewalks. It certainly demonstrates that it is not just a Harris County thing, though the reasons for this may be more varied than the one I was told so long ago:

 

https://ggwash.org/view/37058/ask-ggw-is-there-any-reason-not-to-have-sidewalk

 

There are parts of DC and other cities with no sidewalks. As pedestrian safety has become a higher priority in road design, DC and other cities have been adding them, though sometimes residents oppose the idea. Is there any good reason not to put one in? Do we have statistics?

 

Ben Ross gives some historical perspective on why neighborhoods might not have them:

The original reason for not building sidewalks in suburban neighborhoods was to give the development a “high-class” non-urban image by discouraging walking.  See Dead End, page 16.

Sean Emerson lives in one such area:

A reason I’ve heard people in my neighborhood (Woodmoor in Four Corners) use for opposing sidewalks was the preservation of the “rural” feel of the neighborhood.  My neighborhood and several others nearby were once anchored by Indian Springs Country Club, so you can imagine that the clientele originally buying homes around here were doing so to escape the city and its associated “urban” infrastructure like curbs and sidewalks.

The streets in my neighborhood close to University Boulevard and Colesville Road were built in the mid-1930’s with no sidewalks or curbs (these streets comprised the original development anchored by the country club).  When the county installed curbs about 10 years ago, sone people complained that the curbs changed the “character” of those streets, and several think that sidewalks would make it worse.  There are many 1930’s era neighborhoods in and around Silver Spring which still lack curbs of any kind, much less sidewalks (Hillandale, North Hills of Sligo, and parts of Woodside come to mind).

Retaining a “country” or “rural” feel might not sound like a compelling reason to prevent the installation of sidewalks to most, but it is for some.

So does Nick Keenan:

My neighborhood, Palisades, had a protracted debate about adding sidewalks on a neighborhood street, University Terrace. Ultimately they were not put in.

Some of the arguments were expected: there are people who never walk, who don’t see any utility to sidewalks. Landowners who would lose part of their front yard were predictably opposed. What surprised me was how many people expressed the viewpoint that sidewalks actually detract from a neighborhood. People even used the adjective “rural” to describe our neighborhood. I’m not sure they really knew what rural meant — Palisades certainly isn’t rural —  I think they were looking for a word that meant non-urban and that was the best they could come up with.

Like so many personal preferences, there’s no right or wrong, but there’s also very little room for persuasion.

Edited by Reefmonkey

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I used to walk to high school before I got a car. Our neighborhood, built in 2002, had sidewalks, but as soon as I got to Grant Road - nothing. My mom contacted some county official, probably the commisioner, around 2003.

 

In 2017 a sidewalk was finally installed. Partially - it terminates right before the school. Because that makes sense?

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Here's another article about Des Moines that shows suburbs without sidewalks is not some unique Harris county thing:

 

https://www.mercedsunstar.com/news/nation-world/national/article116122278.html

 

"Like Windsor Heights, most of the disagreements are in neighborhoods built in the 1950s and 1960s that were designed to be different from the larger cities they border. The absence of sidewalks was intended to give the neighborhoods a rural appearance and more privacy at a time when walking for exercise was less common."

 

And one documenting the phenomenon in Minneapolis-St. Paul:

http://www.startribune.com/sidewalks-gain-in-suburbs-even-as-some-residents-protest/210719691/

 

"For proof of the fractured history of sidewalks in suburbia, look no further than Katherine McManus’ block of Zarthan Avenue in St. Louis Park.

On a street where children and parishioners walk to the school and church at the end of the block, the sidewalk simply stops at her property line and starts up again three homes down the street. Pedestrians veer into the sometimes-busy street to avoid walking on the grass.

'Walking dogs or having kids in the street seems ridiculously dangerous,' McManus said.

Once, cities had sidewalks and suburbs had lawns. Not anymore. Next week, the St. Louis Park City Council is expected to approve a 10-year plan to put a sidewalk within a quarter mile of every resident (fixing the Zarthan gap in 2016). Hopkins and Edina have programs to add sidewalks."

 

 

Trae, your premise is that you perceive unincorporated Harris County as so "very weird" and "different" from other metro areas where the suburbs are incorporated, and you blame lack of incorporation for that weirdness. One of those differences you perceive as being "specific" to Houston area is our suburbs' lack of sidewalks, but per above, that's obviously a nationwide phenomenon. Since your perception was not accurate in that respect, perhaps you should reexamine whether it might also be inaccurate in the other ways you find Houston area "weird" compared to other metro areas?

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If the folks in the ETJ want to live in a city, it's easy. Just vote to be annexed by Houston. As for the taxes collected by Houston in the ETJ through strip annexation, it's great that those areas contribute something to Houston, where most of them work and use the streets. Not a lot different than me paying for their police protection from HCSO who will not respond to a call in the City of Houston.

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17 hours ago, Ross said:

If the folks in the ETJ want to live in a city, it's easy. Just vote to be annexed by Houston. As for the taxes collected by Houston in the ETJ through strip annexation, it's great that those areas contribute something to Houston, where most of them work and use the streets. Not a lot different than me paying for their police protection from HCSO who will not respond to a call in the City of Houston.

 

In what election does one vote to be annexed by a city? It's probably even easier for them to just incorporate on their own if state law allows. That has the added benefit that people in, say, Cypress can govern themselves in a way that best meets the needs and desires of Cypress without having to submit to the decisionmaking process of 2 million people who don't care anything about Cypress.

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7 hours ago, H-Town Man said:

 

In what election does one vote to be annexed by a city? It's probably even easier for them to just incorporate on their own if state law allows. That has the added benefit that people in, say, Cypress can govern themselves in a way that best meets the needs and desires of Cypress without having to submit to the decisionmaking process of 2 million people who don't care anything about Cypress.

State law allows them to incorporate, as long as Houston gives permission. Which isn't going to happen, although Houston has allowed Katy, Pasadena, and Baytown to annex areas Houston didn't want.

 

I care about Cypress. As a source of funds to improve areas Inside the Loop😁

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On ‎1‎/‎11‎/‎2019 at 9:27 PM, Ross said:

State law allows them to incorporate, as long as Houston gives permission. Which isn't going to happen, although Houston has allowed Katy, Pasadena, and Baytown to annex areas Houston didn't want.

 

I care about Cypress. As a source of funds to improve areas Inside the Loop😁

 

Yes, the topic of this thread is an attempted modification of state law.

 

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On 1/13/2019 at 11:54 AM, H-Town Man said:

 

Yes, the topic of this thread is an attempted modification of state law.

 

Which I am opposed to. If Cypress wants to incorporate, either beg Houston to allow it, or beg Houston to annex the area. There's no need for more cities to surround Houston and suck all the tax money out, which is what happened to Dallas. Houston would be stupid to allow itself to be surrounded.

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3 hours ago, Ross said:

Which I am opposed to. If Cypress wants to incorporate, either beg Houston to allow it, or beg Houston to annex the area. There's no need for more cities to surround Houston and suck all the tax money out, which is what happened to Dallas. Houston would be stupid to allow itself to be surrounded.

Has Dallas really done all that badly?

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1 hour ago, Reefmonkey said:

Has Dallas really done all that badly?

 

Ross makes a fair point that Dallas has been strangled by its suburbs and unable to expand its tax base. This was a bigger issue in the late 20th century when all the growth was in the suburbs; now people and money are moving back to the core. One must consider what is best for the city as a whole. If your suburbs are a wasteland of disfigured development (extreme case, not saying ours are), it affects the whole city's image and makes companies less likely to relocate there. But you don't want to be landlocked either.

Edited by H-Town Man

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So, I'm wondering, and asking this of people on both sides of the issue, do you think people commuting from outside the city they don't live in burdens the city (ie road maintenance, etc) more than it helps it economically (ie, through having a large workforce to attract companies), and if so, what do you think is preferable:

 

A. A city being able to tax and/or annex an ETJ

 

B. A city being able to charge a commuter tax

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20 hours ago, Reefmonkey said:

Has Dallas really done all that badly?

For decades, Dallas was not doing well at all. It's better now, but it's still vulnerable, as the city is completely landlocked. As are all of the incorporated entities around Dallas. We lived in Plano from 1969 to 1972. There were 16,000 people there then, with open fields everywhere. About 18 months ago, I read that the last open space in Plano was under development. There's no opportunity for growth in that situation.

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Was that, though, conclusively attributable to being landlocked? The time period you are talking about is one where practically every city, including unlandlocked Houston, was suffering from urban decay and White Flight. 

 

And I’m not sure a city reaching the limits of its corporate boundaries and not being able to sprawl out more is the end of the world. At some point city planners need to adjust to the fact that low density sprawling suburbs were a bad idea. 

Edited by Reefmonkey

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Dallas is one example, but it's doing ok.

Detroit and Philly are cities that are surrounded by incorporated suburbs, so they cannot grow and bring in additional tax revenue. They are also smaller geographically, and that's the key. If Houston was surrounded by a bunch of Bellaires, it would be screwed.

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