As Director of the Planning & Development Department, I am pleased to share this Annual Report with the Houston community, which highlights the Department’s core services and achievements for the 2016 calendar year. Also included in the report are new projects and initiatives the Department expects to embark on in 2017 to strengthen and transform communities. Many milestones were reached this year, among them, the first active utilization of Plan Houston since its 2015 adoption, progress on the Houston Bike Plan, and a new funding structure that enhances department service levels to the community.
Finally, I’d like to acknowledge the dedication of the approximately 85 Planning & Development Department employees who strive every day to improve the quality of life in our city. With this report, I hope to convey the valuable role that planning continues to play in the development and preservation of the city – transforming Houston for a strong and vibrant future.
Patrick Walsh, Director
In 2015, Houston's City Council took the groundbreaking step of adopting the city's first general plan, Plan Houston. The Plan describes a vision and goals for our community and twelve core strategies representing the City’s approach for achieving the vision.
Community Survey Results
The City of Houston is now actively working towards achieving the community goals laid out in Plan Houston. In a survey conducted by the Planning & Development Department last fall, Houstonians were asked to identify the top three priorities that the City should focus on in the next budget year, which begins July 1, 2017. The list of priority options in the survey was derived from the core strategies and actions identified in Plan Houston. The purpose of the survey was to understand the community's interests so that policy makers can consider them as they develop priorities for the City’s budget. The survey was available online and in paper form in four different languages. Approximately 6,100 people responded to the survey from all parts of the city. The results of the survey are shown below and were presented to the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Council Committee on January, 10, 2017. These insights will assist City leaders in making budgetary decisions for 2018.
Who we are
Houston, the 4th most populous city in America and also one of the most ethnically diverse, is estimated to have had a population of 2,319,603 as of January 1, 2017.
The Planning & Development Department leads the City’s efforts to understand the demographics of our city and how Houston compares to its peers. The Department analyzes changes and trends in demographics and produces data and reports that inform and educate the community in order to make sound decisions for Houston’s future.
The Department periodically disseminates Census and related data for the city and region as depicted in the chart below.
The Department analyzes, compares and releases data/information related to population, permit activity, income, education, language, labor force, housing, and related characteristics on a bi-weekly basis. In 2016, the Department published a variety of charts and provided demographic and analytical support to various types of requests related to population, building permit and plat activities, language access, and other characteristics.
Fields of Bachelor's Degrees
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2014 5-Year Estimates.
Language Access Plan
The Planning & Development Department is in compliance with the City of Houston’s Language Access policy. The policy was established to ensure residents and visitors have access to essential public information about City programs, services, programs, and other benefits, regardless of their proficiency level in English. The Department currently offers four essential program documents in five non-English languages: Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Arabic and French. The City is coordinating the translation of all Department home pages to further expand public access to City services.
As of January 1, 2017, the City of Houston has a landmass of over 669 square miles.
Developing our growing city
The City growth and redevelopment is supported by the approval of plats and replats in accordance with the City’s land development ordinance, Chapter 42. Planning & Development Department staff reviews all development submittals for compliance with Chapter 42 as well as other ordinances such as off-street parking (Chapter 26) and trees and shrubs (Chapter 33). The Department makes recommendations on many of these submittals to the Planning Commission.
2016 Planning Commission
Top row, pictured left to right: Fernando Brave, Shafik Rifaat, Shaukat Zakaria, Truman Edminster, Raymond Anderson, Antoine Bryant, Planning Director Patrick Walsh, Paul Nelson, Jim Jard, Vice Chair Sonny Garza, and Patricio Sanchez. Bottom row, pictured left to right: Marty Stein, Linda Porras-Pirtle, Susan Alleman, Chair Mark Kilkenny, Eileen Subinsky, Lisa Clark, Algenita Davis. Not pictured are: Kenneth Bohan and Mark Sikes.
In 2016, the Department saw a decrease in the number of subdivision plat applications and residential site plans submitted for review. Commercial plan review remained strong throughout the year.
The map below shows the location of proposed development during 2015 and 2016. As you can see, a significant amount of platting of large parcels occurred along the Grand Parkway in Southwest, West, and North Houston. Significant platting of smaller properties occurred throughout the city as well.
Special Revenue Fund
With approval of City Council, the Department made an important change to the way in which its development-related services are funded, resulting in significantly improved service levels. The Department’s development services functions are now funded via a Special Revenue Fund, allowing more flexibility in meeting customer demands related to subdivision platting and building permit site plan review. In addition, the Department conducted a cost of service fee analysis to better align development fees to the actual cost of services. These changes were implemented during the first quarter of the year and quickly resulted in improved levels of service, including faster plan review times. By April 2016, these improvements enabled the Department to meet its goal of reviewing 90% of commercial plans in 5 business days and 90% of residential plans in 3 business days. The following graphic demonstrates the improved service levels achieved in 2016.
The Department made other improvements to the subdivision plat, development plat and site plan review processes as well. Public notification requirements were changed so that applicants no longer have to prepare notice packages, and the expedited plan review service was expanded.
Changes to our boundaries
The Planning Department helps manage boundary changes within the City limits and in the City’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ). These boundary changes are made necessary because of a growing and changing region.
In 2016, Houston’s city limits grew through 2 general purpose annexations via the petition of property owners and 5 limited purpose annexations that accompany strategic partnership agreements with area utility districts. They are as follows:
The Planning & Development Department leads the City’s systems-level mobility planning. This function includes management of the City’s Complete Streets and Transportation Plan, Major Thoroughfare & Freeway Plan, Bicycle Master Plan, rail-related planning, local area studies, and external transportation funding efforts. The Department also supports other departments, including Public Works & Engineering (PWE), as projects are developed at the corridor-level for specific capital improvements. In this way, the City sustains a seamless process for mobility improvements from planning through implementation.
Houston Complete Streets and Transportation Plan
In 2013, then-Mayor Annise Parker issued an Executive Order to develop a Complete Streets and Transportation Plan (HCSTP) for the City of Houston. This Plan is meant to provide public streets that are safe, accessible, and convenient for use by motorists, public transit riders, pedestrians, bicyclists, and people of all ages and abilities. The Planning & Development and Public Works & Engineering Departments are working in partnership to implement the Plan. The Plan requires the completion and update of a number of component plans, including the Major Thoroughfare & Freeway Plan, the Houston Bike Plan, and a Regional Transit Plan led by METRO.
Major Thoroughfare and Freeway Plan
The Department is responsible for maintaining the City’s Major Thoroughfare & Freeway Plan (MTFP). The MTFP identifies the required right-of-way and street hierarchy designation (local, collector, thoroughfare, or transit corridor) for each street in Houston.
In 2016, the Department led the review of 124 amendments to the MTFP, many of which were the result of Harris County’s US 290 Area Major Thoroughfare Study. The remaining amendments were the result of applications from other jurisdictions or organizations, both public and private. The 124 amendments were processed through the Planning Commission and City Council, with 118 of the amendments approved and added to create the 2016 MTFP map.
Lower Westheimer Enhanced Pre-Engineering Study
The Planning & Development and Public Works & Engineering Departments jointly led a pilot enhanced pre-engineering study for the Lower Westheimer corridor. This study is Houston’s first enhanced pre-engineering process, which is for unique streets that merit an advanced level of design sensitivity due to historic, cultural, or community significance. As part of this process, the City of Houston collaborates with departments, elected officials, property owners, residents, business owners, and community stakeholders to develop a preferred design that enhances the character of the corridor, while improving mobility and safety. The Stakeholder Advisory Committee for the Lower Westheimer study is an example of enhanced community engagement involving community leaders. The study is expected to be completed in early 2017.
Livable Center and Special District Studies
The Planning & Development Department works in partnership with the Public Works & Engineering Department to represent the City of Houston in studies led by Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) and other non-City entities. H-GAC's Livable Centers Program works with local communities to identify specific recommendations, such as pedestrian and bicycle facilities, that foster the development of Livable Centers. Livable Centers, with concentrations of residential and employment land uses, support more trips by foot, bicycle, transit, or carpool. The Museum Park Livable Centers Study was completed in 2016, and two other studies, the Kashmere Gardens and the Hobby Area Livable Centers Studies, will be completed in early 2017.
H-GAC also coordinates Special District Studies in areas where there are significant opportunities to replace vehicle trips with pedestrian or bicycle trips, based on local destinations, land use, density, demographics, and other factors. In 2016 H-GAC, with the City’s partnership, completed the Greenway Plaza Special Districts Study. The Livable Centers studies are programmed through the H-GAC’s Transportation Improvement Program, which utilizes grant funds and requires a 20% local match.
Bicycle Master Plan
Throughout 2016, the City continued work on updating the Bicycle Master Plan. This project is the first update of the Plan since 1993 and is led by the Planning & Development Department (P&D) with assistance from Public Works & Engineering Department, Parks & Recreation Department, and other partners. The Plan identifies projects that will create a city-wide bicycle network to serve a broad spectrum of people who bike at all skill levels, provide more transportation choices, and build on efforts such as the Bayou Greenways Initiative to create a well-connected city-wide bicycle system of both on and off-street facilities. The Plan will be presented to City Council in early 2017.
Houston B-cycle Expansion
The Planning & Development Department sponsored an application to expand the city’s bike share program, Houston B-cycle, in the 2015 Transportation Improvement Program Call for Projects and was awarded a $3.7 million federal grant. The expansion project will add 71 bike stations, 568 bicycles, and 2 transport vehicles to the existing bike share system of 33 bike stations and 225 bicycles. Houston Bike Share, operator of the bike share program, will work with the Department to oversee the implementation of the new stations.
The first bike station was ordered in December 2016 and was installed one month later in the Discovery Green area, in time for Super Bowl activities. A ribbon cutting for the Crawford Island Station was held on January 23, 2017 to kick off the expansion project. Installation of the stations will continue over the next two years throughout Rice University, Texas Medical Center, University of Houston Main Campus, University of Houston-Downtown, Texas Southern University, and surrounding neighborhoods.
City Review Committee
The Planning & Development Department facilitates the City of Houston review process for project proposals seeking grant funding for transportation-related improvements within the city limits. These proposals must have a letter of support from the City in order to meet application eligibility requirements for federal funding. Proposals are reviewed by the City Review Committee comprised of staff members from the Departments of Public Works & Engineering, Parks & Recreation, Planning & Development, and the Mayor’s Economic Development Office. The purpose of the review process is to increase transportation funding within the city by submitting strong proposals, ensuring proposals meet city guidelines, and improving agency coordination on transportation projects. The Committee was convened three times to review applications for the 2016 calendar year.
Walkable City Presentation
In February 2016, the Planning & Development Department co-sponsored a special presentation for Planning Commission and City Council featuring Jeff Speck, renowned TED speaker and author of Walkable City, who spoke about the benefits of a more walkable Houston that connects people and places to create a vibrant, healthy, and financially sound city. Mr. Speck is a city planner and urban designer who advocates internationally for making cities more livable by making them more walkable. Through his books and speeches, he provides planners with ideas and illustrates options for getting people out of their cars and into a healthier lifestyle.
Helping Houston maintain strong neighborhoods
The Planning & Development Department plays a significant role in supporting and preserving Houston’s neighborhoods and strengthening the community through civic engagement.
The Department helps communities maintain the character of their area through various neighborhood tools and programs, including Historic Preservation, the Minimum Lot Size/Building Line Program, and the Prohibited Yard Parking Program. These programs require applications initiated by the local community.
The story of Houston is not complete without knowledge of its history. Houston’s past is kept alive through its historical assets and neighborhoods of which the Planning & Development Department and the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission (HAHC) are stewards. Chapter 33, Article VII of the Code of Ordinances governs the City’s 22 historic districts, 292 landmarks, and 1,182 protected landmarks. Any new construction, demolition or alterations to structures in historic districts and historic landmarks requires a certificate of appropriateness (COA). Statistics on the Historic Preservation program are below.
The Planning & Development Department began the process of developing historic preservation design guidelines for six historic districts (Houston Heights East, Houston Heights West, Houston Heights South, Freeland, Norhill, and Woodland Heights) and updating the existing design guidelines for the Old Sixth Ward Protected Historic District. The project's robust community engagement activities included a series of community meetings and workshops, extensive public outreach through traditional social media, and partnerships with neighborhood associations, as well as a survey mailed to all property owners in the six historic districts.
2016 Historic Commission
Standing from left to right: Debbie McNulty, Vice Chairman Rob Hellyer, John Cosgrove, Charles Stava and David Bucek. Seated from left to right: Jorge Garcia-Herreros; Anna Mod; and Chairman Maverick Welsh, III; Ann Collum and Planning Director Pat Walsh. Not pictured: Edie Archer, Romulo Tim Cisneros, Doug Elliott and Kerry Goelzer.
Special Minimum Lot Size/Building Line Program
The Special Minimum Lot Size Program establishes the square footage of lots within a specific area, below which a lot cannot be subdivided. This opt-in protection helps neighbors maintain a more “traditional” single family style of neighborhood. The Special Minimum Building Line works similarly by establishing a setback to which any future development must adhere. The total number of protected properties for the Minimum Lot Size Program as of December 31, 2016 is 18,077 while the number for the Minimum Building Line program is 3,247.
Redevelopment can change the character of a neighborhood
Prohibited Yard Parking Program
Another tool available to communities is the Prohibited Yard Parking Program (PYP), which allows property owners to establish an area where the parking of vehicles on front or side yards of single family residential properties is prohibited. In 2016, the Planning & Development Department reviewed and processed 8 PYP applications through City Council. There were 189 designated PYP areas in Houston as of December 31, 2016.
The Land Assemblage Redevelopment Authority (LARA) is a non-profit organization created in conjunction with the City of Houston, Harris County and the Houston Independent School District. LARA’s purpose is to improve the quality of life for citizens residing in blighted neighborhoods. Projects include development and redevelopment of housing, commerce, parks, and education reflective of a neighborhood’s vision and individual character.
LARA is housed within the Housing & Community Development Department; however, the Planning & Development Department supports LARA’s planning efforts. To date, the LARA program has added 354 new homes in eight communities throughout the Houston area. In 2016, LARA acquired 13 lots, sold 77 lots to builders or adjacent owners, and builders sold 9 completed houses to new homeowners.
Dowling Street Renaming
In January 2017, City Council voted to rename Dowling Street to Emancipation Avenue, which serves as the front door to Emancipation Park. The action brings Emancipation Park in line with Houston’s other signature parks, Hermann and Memorial, which already share their names with adjacent streets. The Planning & Development Department led the City-initiated street name change process for Dowling Street and held two community meetings to get feedback on the proposal, with a majority being supportive.
Emancipation Park is located in Houston’s historic Third Ward and has been a local community gathering place and a symbol of cultural pride for nearly 150 years. The park was originally purchased in 1872 by a group of freed slaves and served as the epicenter for Juneteenth celebrations. The park was later donated to the City in 1916. The name change will coincide with the rededication of the park on Juneteenth 2017, currently undergoing a $33.5 million renovation project.
The ability to analyze and show data by specific geographic areas provides both citizens and the City of Houston a powerful tool. The City maintains an extensive array of mapped information and provides citizens the ability to learn about locations of interest. This data is displayed on My City, the City’s primary Geographic Information Systems (GIS) site.
There are three teams of GIS professionals in the Planning & Development Department. One of the Department’s key functions is to help update and maintain data within the City’s vast Enterprise GIS. City boundaries, addresses, and territories combine in the GIS with various City departmental data to create a spectrum of mapping possibilities. The Houston Emergency Center GIS group handles data related to Fire and 911. The Mapping and Analysis group is relied upon to create the visuals necessary for making informed decisions.
In 2016, the Department’s mapping staff completed the following tasks:
The Planning Commission has created two committees – Walkable Places and Platting Standards – to review and consider potential changes to the City’s Code of Ordinances (Chapters 26 & 42) pertaining to walkability and platting. These two committees are chaired by members of the Commission and comprised of a broad spectrum of stakeholders from the community.
Walkable Places Committee
The Walkable Places Committee will consider issues and potential revisions to City codes that will facilitate walking and create amenities for the public. A number of areas in Houston are attracting higher density commercial, office, and multifamily residential developments. These developments present an opportunity to create more vibrant, walkable streets that support alternative modes of transportation. The City’s development ordinances should maximize these opportunities. The Walkable Places Committee will explore how these ordinances could be amended to achieve this objective.
Platting Standards Committee
The Platting Standards Committee is comprised of neighborhood, development and other technical representatives. The committee will review and make recommendations to Chapter 42 platting standards and establish a predictable process for regularly reviewing and revising development codes administered by the Planning & Development Department.
Department Core Values
In early 2016, a staff-driven Internal Strategic Planning (ISP) Committee was created to help the Planning & Development Department identify its core values. The ISP Committee is comprised of a cross section of employees within the Department from different divisions and positions. The core values provide guidance to staff on how to perform their jobs on a daily basis. A survey of all Department employees confirmed the values and suggested ways the Department can align its operations more closely with its values. The four core values for the Department are Innovation, Collaboration, Empowerment and Integrity. Several strategies were also developed using the feedback in the survey that reflect our new core values and have resulted in the following actions:
Giving Back Through CMC
The Combined Municipal Campaign (CMC) is an annual drive encouraging City of Houston employees to raise funds for charitable organizations of their choice through payroll deductions and fundraising events during the month of October.
This year’s CMC theme was “Compassion in Action 2017”. Planning & Development Department staff raised over $14,000 through in-kind donations, staff donations, including some employees considered “Above and Beyond” by contributing at least 1% of salary, and various fundraising events.
Funds raised by the Department benefited the Wounded Warrior Project, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Housing, Entrepreneurship, and Readiness Training (H.E.A.R.T) Program, and Autism Speaks.
Mohdudul Huq Excellence in Customer Service Award
The Planning & Development Department hosted its annual Employee Service Award and Ice Cream Social event, and presented the Department’s first Excellence in Customer Service Award.
This award recognizes the employee who consistently and substantially demonstrates an ability and willingness to work positively, respectfully, and effectively with others; has significantly improved customer service or has increased customer satisfaction in their area; demonstrates ability and willingness to manage changes in work priorities, procedures, and organization; and demonstrates exceptional ability to foster collaboration, communication, and cooperation among colleagues and the community.
The award was named in Huq’s honor being that he is the first recipient and has demonstrated outstanding customer service for the past 30 years.
The Planning & Development Department has worked diligently over the last year to strengthen our Youth Engagement and Internship Initiative. The Department’s goal is to reach young people to get them thinking about planning as a profession. The Department occasionally visits schools to talk to students about the planning profession. The Department partnered with the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development to provide job opportunities to students and young adults, ages 15 to 21, to attain job readiness, skills training, resume writing, and interviewing techniques to help prepare them for the workforce.
Here are 2016 highlights of the Youth Engagement and Internship Initiative:
Visits to Schools
T. H. Rogers Elementary - In April, students at T. H. Rogers Elementary were gearing up for the Utopian City Project. To help 3rd graders understand the “Build Your City” concept, the Department led a presentation on planning and urban design to help students with creative ideas.
Cy-Fair High School - In April, the Department presented to 9th and 10th grade World Geography students at Cy-Fair High School about the profession of Planning and GIS and our role in the planning and development of the city.
Austin High School - In November, the Department met with seniors from Austin High School to talk about our role in city government and the planning profession. As a part of the PACE Program initiative, 25 students were able to tour the department and ask questions about what we do and the services we provide to citizens of Houston.
Planning & Development Summer Interns
This summer, two students from Texas Southern University had an opportunity to work with the Department for six weeks. Students were assigned to Development Services and Transportation Planning Divisions and assisted on special projects.
Hire Houston Youth Summer Program
Mayor Sylvester Turner launched Hire Houston Youth, an initiative to provide summer internships and jobs to young people between the ages of 16 and 24. Hire Houston Youth provides local youth with an 8-week summer job or internship experience. The Department had three students participating in the program.
Professional Academy for Career Exploration (PACE) Program
The PACE program is a partnership with Workforce Solutions that launched in the summer of 2016 in conjunction with the City’s Summer Jobs Program. Seniors participating in the PACE program are from Austin High School and Worthing High School. These students are completing a total of four internship rotations in city departments, including Health & Human Services, Houston Public Library, Houston Police Department, Houston Information & Technology, and Planning & Development. A senior from Austin High School is currently interning with the Department.