Development Services oversees current, long-range planning
Everyone is excited about all the economic development taking root in The Colony. With Grandscape as the catalyst, a plethora of new restaurants, hotels, and retail outlets have recently joined the community or will be here soon.
New, popular businesses already open include Topgolf and Peter Piper Pizza. Coming soon are the likes of In-N-Out Burger and Rooms-to-Go. Recently announced additions to Grandscape are Cheddars, Rock & Brews, Hard Eight BBQ, Homewood Suites, and Hampton Inn & Suites.
Every new development in The Colony goes through a rigorous application and planning process designed primarily to ensure the right businesses in the right locations join the community.
That process is managed by the city’s Development Services Department, which has been recognized three times by the American Planning Association for Planning Excellence. Planning Director Mike Joyce and Senior Planner Brooks Wilson comprise the team largely responsible for walking applicants from the first steps through to final approval by the city council.
Whether the applicant is a developer, realtor, or resident, Joyce said the process begins with pre-development meetings, which include representatives from Engineering, Building Inspections, and Economic Development alongside the applicant and their consultants.
“This is where the paper trail begins, and when we discuss the basics of the project,” Joyce said. “We discuss what meets current code guidelines and what direction they need to go in to increase the chances their application will be approved.”
To make it convenient for applicants, there is no specific timetable established for when a project or phase of a project may be submitted, be it a plat, site plan, SUP, etc. The goal is to have the decision in front of the Planning & Zoning Commission or the City Council at the next possible meeting.
“We want to keeps things going. It takes us some work to make it happen but I take great pride in aiming for expedient service, moving applicants from my desk to P&Z and the city council, even if it’s less than a week away,” Joyce said.
To maintain those scheduling goals, Joyce said the most important thing they do is work closely with developers to make sure they understand the rules and requirements of the development process.
“We assist them in submitting their plans, which are promptly reviewed and replied to so they can get their corrections back to us quickly,” Joyce said.
Being an efficient, customer-service oriented department helps build good relationships with developers and consultants, Joyce said. While the city’s economic development team is largely credited for recruitment, the planning staff helps maintain relationships and, hopefully, attract repeat customers.
“It’s nice when the consultants tell us they wish they could do all their projects in The Colony. We understand time is money and we’re fortunate to have a city council and city manager’s office that are very supportive of our work,” Joyce said.
Convenience and efficiency never impact the city’s development standards, however. Joyce said he believes the city maintains fair standards – not too hard, not too easy. A big part of their job is continually reviewing those standards, particularly the last few years as development has boomed.
“We’ve been systematically going through and re-writing sections of the code, especially the sections related to current development,” Joyce said. “Recently, we started getting a bunch of new hotels, so in about two weeks we wrote a hotel ordinance, taking into account that we no longer allow motels in The Colony.”
Tightening and retooling the standards isn’t a deterrent to development. On the contrary, most applicants are very understanding and appreciative because strict requirements ensure a more quality product and increased competition.
As they continually work to update the standards, Development Services also comes up with ways to improve them and set the city apart. An example would be changes to the landscaping ordinance requiring Texas Smartscaping be utilized to conserve water.
While much of their focus is on new businesses growth, the Development Services Department also provides support to existing developments and neighborhoods in the city. “We want every development in the community to remain viable for many years,” Joyce said. “Our council understands this, too, which is why they support continued review of the city’s comprehensive long range plan.”
The long range plan comprises both new development standards as well as ways to improve older development. Joyce recalled that when he first came to The Colony nearly five years ago, one of the first things he was asked to do was work alongside the Community Image Department to brainstorm ways to improve the city’s housing stock.
“A large portion of our housing stock is between 30 and 40 years old,” he said. “So we set up the Volunteer Assistance Program as a way to help those who are unable to maintain their homes for various reasons. It doesn’t cost the city any money, generates a lot of goodwill, and helps homeowners get their properties up to code.”
When a property owner’s needs and the code don’t mix well, that’s when the Board of Adjustment steps in. If it’s truly a one-of-a-kind situation, then the BOA may make an exception. “Typically we’re dealing with people that really have a hardship and we work hard to find a creative solution,” Joyce said.
At any stage of the process, Joyce said their main goal is to be fair and equitable to people and businesses in the community.
“It’s something we pride ourselves on. But just like the city council and P&Z, we have to do what’s in the best interests of the city. We have to make decisions that make The Colony a better place to live and work,” Joyce said. “The satisfaction comes from helping out people who need it, whatever it may be. Sometimes things just need common sense.”