Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Another Bad House Bill HB 4144

The following was forwarded to us by the Texas Municipal League.
The bill would authorize landowners appointed by a county commissioners court to judge the reasonableness of a city’s comprehensive plan. Basically, it will come down to developers telling us how to zone our town. It would greatly impact our Smart Growth plan
Let our representatives in Austin know we want to have a voice in what goes on in our town.

From TML:
I express our concerns on each specific portion of the bill as follows:

The bill would provide that the governing body of a city shall adopt by resolution or ordinance a comprehensive plan as defined by the bill that details current and future land uses and serves as a basis for making planning or zoning decisions of the city.

Chapter 213 of the Texas Local Government Code currently authorizes a city to adopt a comprehensive plan. Many cities choose to adopt a plan to guide the future development of the city. However, for many other cities, the costs attendant to the development of such a plan are unnecessary for any number of reasons. For example, some cities are entirely “built-out,” and others have a limited number of zoning classifications.

The bill would provide that the governing body shall review its comprehensive plan not less often than every three years.

Comprehensive plans are usually developed by a city with the assistance of planning consultants. The cost to develop a plan can be thousands, ten-of-thousands, and in some cases hundreds-of-thousands of dollars. That can be cost-prohibitive for most of our members, and triennial review would be even more so.

The bill would provide that: (1) the governing body shall appoint an advisory committee to make recommendations regarding the adoption, amendment, and review of its comprehensive plan; and (2) the advisory committee is composed of at least five members appointed by a majority vote of the governing body, and at least 40 percent of the membership of the advisory committee must be representatives of the real estate, development, or building industries who are not employees or officials of a political subdivision or governmental entity.

Cities that develop a comprehensive plan generally do so with the assistance of various boards and committees, including the city’s existing planning and zoning commission. Mandating yet another committee is unnecessary, and many cities would be unable to find the specific member representatives as defined by the bill.

The bill would provide that: (1) the governing body may not adopt or amend the comprehensive plan until it conducts at least one public hearing on the recommendations made by the advisory committee, and may not amend or adopt the comprehensive plan before the 30th day after the date the governing body receives the advisory committee's report, unless each of the landowners affected by the plan or amendment consents to the plan or amendment; (2) at the public hearing, a landowner may object to any land use applied to the landowner's tract by the comprehensive plan.

Chapter 213 of the Local Government Code currently requires notice and a hearing at which interested persons may give testimony and present written evidence. The remainder of the above provision appears to misunderstand the purpose of a plan and zoning law in general. City development regulations are currently enacted pursuant to a statutorily-defined public process at which the interests of all citizens are represented. The reason for comprehensive planning is to protect the viability and property value of an area, and granting “veto” authority to any one landowner undermines that process to the detriment of other city residents.

The bill would provide that: (1) a landowner may petition the county commissioners court to appoint three disinterested persons, who reside in the county, as special commissioners to assess the reasonableness of a land use applied to the landowner's tract under the city’s comprehensive plan if the landowner objects in writing to the land use and has been unable to sell or develop the tract in conformity with the land use for a period of three years; (2) the special commissioners shall conduct their proceedings and shall have the same powers as special commissioners in an eminent domain proceeding; and (3) if a majority of the special commissioners determines that a land use applied to a landowner's tract by the comprehensive plan is unreasonable, a majority of the special commissioners may determine a reasonable land use for the tract and order that the comprehensive plan be amended to reflect that use.

The commissioners court has essentially no land use planning experience or authority. Granting the court the authority to appoint person who may not even reside in the city limits, and who may have no interest in the protection of property values in the city, makes no sense. Again, municipal land use regulations are subject to statutorily-defined notice and hearing procedures that ensure adequate public input. County residents who are not elected by the people should not have “veto” authority over elected city officials.

For the reasons above, H..B. 4144 is wholly unnecessary, unduly burdensome, and would promote bad public policy. We are opposed to the bill in its entirety.

Scott Houston
Director of Legal Services
Texas Municipal League
1821 Rutherford Lane, Suite 400
Austin, Texas 78754
512-231-7400 phone
512-231-7490 fax

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