Council wants to encourage development in Houston by forming a Development Review Committee.
At a public meeting last Thursday, council presented the idea to over thirty people who attended, to gauge public opinion.
“I think it’s great, it’s been a long time coming,” said Tanya Margerm, local landscape architect.
“It gives the town leverage on helping maintain a standard in the community.
“If you have a development permit, it’s like a partnership with [the District and] those people who are developing in the community, rather than just letting them do whatever,” she said.
Margerm says that without a development permit process, a developer can come in and do whatever they want, a fantastic job or a a really poor job.
She adds that this process will also give council the ability to ask for specific, simple things that developers can work into their plans, like putting in one large tree per home, for example.
“If they know that up front then they budget for it and it makes it happen,” she said.
The process will also solidify a direction in terms of the community character that the town wants to bring out, and it will stay consistent even as council changes, Margerm said.
“This will make it more cohesive so that no matter who is working here – because we always have people come and go in the District office – the theme and the direction and the character of the community is being maintained,” she said.
John Guenther, Interim Community Planner, explained how the process would work:
First, the developer would lay out concrete plans assisted by a consultant.
Then they would present a development permit application to the Development Review Committee, made up of the Fire Chief, the District Engineer and a Town Councillor.
The developer and the committee would sit down and negotiate the permit conditions, and then the committee would issue the permit with certain conditions.
Guenther says their goal is for the process to go through in two weeks, and if the developer was not satisfied, they could appeal to council.
“A process like that is very common in most municipalities,” said John Bourdeau, recent Houston investor and owner of the townhouses on the north side of Park Lane.
“I think that’s a real step in the right direction. Then investors know what to expect.
“It’s like a partnership,” he said.
Guenther says council is planning to take proactive steps by approaching businesses and investors with illustrated development ideas.
Councillor Jonathan Van Barneveld said the timing for these ideas is good, since there are three empty lots downtown which need development.
The empty lots provide a great opportunity for council to be proactive and bring forward ideas about what development could look like.
Guenther says there are very good digital design programs that consultants and council could use to present their ideas for development to business owners and investors.
Council is working on developing criteria for a development permit that will show people what specifically is expected of them.
Council is also working on several other bylaws, including a bylaw enforcement policy with specific steps for enforcement.
Anyone with ideas regarding future development in Houston is encouraged to attend the upcoming public meetings on October 10 and November 20.