By Gilbert Hoffman
HIGHLANDS – After a year of planning efforts, which included 3 public meetings, and 2 study groups, a planning study for the Highlands/Lynchburg communities was unveiled in its final format last Thursday night. The public presentation was held at the Highlands Elementary School multi-purpose room, with about 50 persons present, including residents, precinct representatives, and planning consultants.
Pct. 2 commissioner Adrian Garcia opened the meeting with recorded remarks, and reminded the audience that the theme was “Revive2Thrive” with the goal of determining how to improve the quality of life and serve the needs of the Highlands/Lynchburg communities.
The planning started in August 2021, and continued through this month. The resulting text and graphics can be viewed on the website: www.highlandslynchburgplan.com.
The final plan was organized into five components:
–Cultural Assets & Social Services
–Mobility & Transportation
–Parks & Open Spaces
The study will now enter into the implementation stage. Harris County will be charged with carrying out the recommendations, and in addition if a management district is formed, they will also be involved. The projects will have to be coordinated between Pct. 2 and Pct. 3 since Highlands is now in both of them.
The planning team started with information gathering, and interviewing local residents about their needs and desires for their communities.
Some of the needs identified through this process include:
–Increased public safety and law enforcement presence
–Increased Social Services
–Beautification of the environment
–Improvement to the roads and drainage
–Improve Environmental water and air quality
–Develop more economic opportunities and jobs
–Maintain and enhance the character of the community
The planning group then turned these needs into a set of Overall Recommendations, in the five categories, as follows:
–Creation of a Management District, in turn attracting businesses and providing jobs
–Creation of a Core Civic District
SOCIAL SERVICES & CULTURAL:
–Increase Outreach and law enforcement
–Create monuments, gateways, streetscape beautification
MOBILITY & TRANSPORTATION:
–Increase pedestrian safety
–Improve Public Transit
–Build sidewalks, add streetlights
PARKS & OPEN SPACES:
–Improve access and connectivity
–Safer access to Highlands Park
–Improvements to Highlands Reservoir
–Create Nature Parks
–Install an air monitoring system
–Educate public on water well health
–Reinstall Fish Advisory signage
The audience listened to the presentation, which tended to be general in nature. More detail was on mounted display boards, on exhibit through the room.
One of the main recommendations was creation of a Management District, which would have taxing authority and income to accomplish many of the Plan’s recommendations.
Some concern was expressed by members of the audience about whether the additional ad valorem tax, although small, would be a burden on property owners. It would only be levied on commercial property, not residential, it was pointed out.
Randy Casey, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, thought it was a good idea, and that something like a MD was needed to invigorate the community. He did not think the small tax amount was an unreasonable cost for most businesses.
Mark Taylor, head of the local water district, was in favor of the MD idea, but thought that the projected income, about $150,000 a year, might not be enough to effectively make a difference and pay for the necessary improvements and recommendations.
However, it was pointed out that often a management district could attract additional funding through government and private grants, and only have to pay matching monies. This leverage is a key to accomplishing many more projects.
One opponent to the Plan and the idea of a management district was present at the door, handing out a position statement on bright orange paper. Byron Schirmbeck, a resident of Baytown, is often seen at public meetings voicing a negative opinion on taxing and community improvements.
In general, the members of the audience seemed to express approval of the study, and agreed that the need for change and improvements in the community was welcome and overdue.
Some of the audience had been on the planning groups that helped development the recommendations, and felt their voices had been heard. Now it would fall to the Commissioners, Ramsey in Precinct 3 and Garcia in Precinct 2, to lead through the steps to implement these recommendations. Leading the planning for this study were Jorge Bustamante and Gretchen Knowles from Precinct 2; Mary Keilers and Amanda Haney from Clark-Condon; and Jim Webb and Ricky Gonzalez from the Goodman Corporation. Also present at the meeting were members of HCTRA, the county toll road authority, who now are responsible for the Lynchburg Ferry, and the land and buildings there.