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January 2021
2020 Planning Department Highlights
The Planning and Development Department is moving full-steam ahead into 2021, but this issue of the
Monthly Planner encourages readers to take moment to reflect on a few of the many Planning Department highlights and accomplishments from 2020.
PD Celebrates 80th Anniversary
The Planning and Development Department reached a milestone anniversary in 2020. The Department was created by city ordinance on Feb. 14, 1940, and the Planning Commission was re-formed. Last Valentine's Day, Mayor Sylvester Turner joined Director Margaret Wallace Brown and the PD team for the 80th anniversary festivities in the City Hall Legacy Room. The event was the one of last Department-wide gatherings of PD employees before pandemic social distancing protocols were adopted.
Department Operations Pivot for the Pandemic
The pandemic has changed the way the world does business, and among the most significant changes for PD operations was the virtual conversion of public meetings including Planning Commission, Historic Commission, Tower Commission, Complete Communities, Census engagement, Vision Zero, Livable Places, the North Houston Highway Improvement Project, Bicycle Advisory Committee and more. Of the 25 regularly scheduled Planning Commission meetings, 18 were held virtually and only one meeting was delayed due to COVID-19. "Despite the pandemic and evolving meeting protocols, PD upheld the Chapter 42 requirements without missing a beat or delaying opportunities for developing property in our communities," Director Margaret Wallace-Brown reported to the Planning Commission. PD also launched a new public engagement platform, where participants can ask questions, leave comments for a specific program or project, pin an interactive map, watch a meeting broadcast, and upload photos.
Houston Says #YestotheCensus
The new decade brought a new Census, and the Planning Department led the City of Houston's efforts to encourage every resident to say Yes to the Census. From February to October, PD provided community outreach, demographic and Council support for the Census. The sunshine yellow campaign signs, t-shirts, videos, advertisements, and billboards were highly visible online and seen in multiple languages across the city. Community engagement was adapted to pandemic protocols, redirecting door-to-door and block-walking to emphasize digital outreach and socially distanced events. Mayor Turner, Council Districts and City departments joined the efforts hosting multiple caravan parades, supply drives and Census promotional events as well as filming promotional videos and unveiling five murals around town. A local barber even held a Census logo haircutting contest and Pulitzer Prize-winning and nationally syndicated cartoonist Nick Anderson contributed a cartoon series.
Council Approves Walkable Places/Transit-Oriented Development
The Walkable Places/Transit-Oriented Development ordinances received unanimous support from Houston City Council in August after three years of planning, research and public engagement. The ordinances will assist the City to design, build, and maintain a vibrant pedestrian environment for Houston to grow responsibly and sustainably. The standards apply to new developments or redevelopments in three pilot communities: Emancipation Avenue in Third Ward, Midtown and Hogan/Lorraine Streets in Near Northside. Read the Walkable Places/ Transit-Oriented Development press release.
More Space Programs Address Business Needs in Pandemic Economy
The More Space and More Space: Main Street programs were launched in 2020 to addresses the current needs of local restaurants struggling with the pandemic economy. The original More Space program applies to restaurants across the city, whereas the More Space: Main Street program applies to the unique needs of restaurants located along the rail line on Main Street in Downtown Houston. Both programs offer creative solutions for providing more dining spaces to serve customers while maintaining social distancing during the pandemic. Shown here, the Phoenix on Westheimer was the first Houston restaurant to apply for the More Space program. See the More Space press release. Read about More Space: Main Street.
Historic Preservation Moves Forward While Protecting Past
The Houston Office of Preservation (HOP) team serves the Houston Archeological and Historic Commission (HAHC) and the Houston Preservation Appeals Board (HPAB) to protect our city’s physical and cultural history. Preservation activity for 2020 include 286 Certificates of Appropriateness and a new total of 471 landmarks or protected landmarks, including 13 added in 2020. The HOP team is improving customer service with a major upgrade to the Historic Preservation Tracker application portal and a new pre-review process through the tracker. Many members of the HOP team are new to the Department and new Houston residents, so the team took a tour of historic downtown spots with R. W. McKinney, a local historian and radio and television personality, who leads the Houston History Bus.
Geographic Information Systems Maps Complex Data for the Public
The Geographic Information System team oversees data pertaining to streets, public facilities and services, special districts, population demographics and housing. It also provides street maps, aerial imagery and tabulated data for all aspects of the City. Among their many accomplishments and contributions in 2020, the GIS team completed or addressed an estimated 1,217 Common Place Names, 37,039 road edits, 24,095 new address points, 3,239 new road segments, 994 Plat Tracker applications, 411 mapping and data projects, and 450 demographic requests. The team also completed 5 Computer Aided Dispatch floor updates and provided GIS and ArcGIS Pro training for two dozen Houston Police Department and Houston Public Works employees.
Livable Places Explores Walkability, Affordability and Equity in Houston
The Planning and Development Department launched the new Livable Places initiative with the first Action Committee meeting on Sept. 22. Livable Places continues the department's efforts to update portions of Houston’s development codes to create more opportunities for walkability, affordability and equity. Be a part of developing Houston's future by participating in this initiative. Educational resources and interactive activities are frequently posted on Read more about Livable Places and watch this introductory video presentation.
Vision Zero Action Plan Sets Course to Save Lives
More than 200 people die and nearly 1,000 people are seriously injured in crashes on Houston roadways every year. That means someone in Houston dies in a crash every other day and three people experience life-altering injuries each day. After extensive data analysis, community engagement and multi-agency collaboration, the Planning and Development Department created the Vision Zero Action Plan (VZAP). Mayor Sylvester Turner launched the plan in December to improve street safety and equity for road users of all ages, abilities and modes of transportation. Watch a video of the press conference. Read the press release, and view and download the Vision Zero Action Plan.
Complete Communities Releases Phase 2 Action Plans
The Planning and Development Department released action plans for the five Phase 2 Complete Communities: Alief-Westwood, Fort Bend Houston, Kashmere Gardens, Magnolia Park-Manchester and Sunnyside. During the development of the action plans, PD organized 23 community-wide meetings and drew participation from 2,400 stakeholders. An additional 1,515 people participated in the extended engagement through online surveys, virtual meetings, and website activities. Read the press release. View the action plans.
New Bike Lane Ordinance Protects Two-Wheeled Traffic
City Council adopted an ordinance prohibiting vehicles from stopping, standing, or parking in bike lanes, which will help ensure bike lanes remain safe and accessible to bicyclists of all ages and abilities. The ordinance supports the Houston Bike Plan, protects the City’s investment in the bikeway infrastructure and supports the City’s Vision Zero goal to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Warnings and educational flyers will be given for the first 90 days, after which a citation with a $100 fine will be issued on first offense. Drivers will have the option to take an online Bicycle-Friendly Driver Training Class in lieu of paying the fine on first offense. Read more about the new parking violation 
PD Facilitates Community Consensus on NHHIP
At 24 miles and over 7 billion dollars, the North Houston Highway Improvement Project for portions of Interstate 45 is the largest infrastructure investment our region will make in a generation. The TxDOT project has inspired a robust debate and garnered considerable public engagement. Over the past year, the Planning and Development Department has hosted nine public meetings and the City and TxDOT received a combined 1,130 written public comments. Mayor Turner asked the Planning and Development Department to lead a Facilitation Group to elevate the community’s concerns and recommend ways to improve the project. The Planning Department continues to provide support for the City's ongoing NHHIP project efforts.
Steady Plat Activity Shows City's Continuing Development
The Development Services team administers the platting and related land preparation processes. In 2020, platting activity inside the corporate limits of Houston outpaced that in the Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ). The Planning Commission acted on 2,465 subdivision plats, compared to 2,403 in 2019. Also during 2020, 834 subdivision plats were recorded. The Plat Tracker system used for submitting plat applications, received significant upgrades including a new payment portal, revamped recordation appointment scheduling and other technical options. Read more.