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Cities prepare for growth with zoning, new initiatives

Both Tomball and Magnolia officials are making headway on large projects to control development, marking progress on their comprehensive plans and providing a framework for the future.

After more than a century as cities, Tomball and Magnolia adopted their comprehensive plans in 2009 and 2013, respectively, to guide future development in the rapidly growing area.

By the end of October, Magnolia could adopt its first zoning ordinance to designate land use in city limits. Meanwhile, Tomball updated its zoning ordinance in April and adopted facade standards in September to move forward with a new aesthetic vision for the city.

“When you have a 100-year-old city and you bring in zoning and a comprehensive plan, it takes time to work out the kinks,” said Barbara Tague, chairwoman of the Tomball Planning and Zoning Commission. “A zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan are both living documents, so you can work with [them] as the city develops.”

Tomball is expected to nearly double in population from an estimated 11,000 to 20,000 residents by 2030, and Magnolia officials expect the city limits to quadruple to 12 square miles by 2040, according to projections in both comprehensive plans.

Tomball growth plan

In Tomball’s Vision 2030 comprehensive plan, the revitalization of the city’s entrance at the Four Corners intersection, and the addition of sidewalks and turn lanes on Main Street, are identified as high-priority projects.

Last December, the city of Tomball applied for a $30 million grant from the Houston-Galveston Area Council to carry out the projects with a local match of $3 million. H-GAC announced it is slated to make a decision on the grant this fall.

The overall goal of the comprehensive plan was not only to develop guidelines for future growth but to make the city more welcoming to businesses and residents, Tague said.

As outlined in the plan, the city has built multiple attractions, like the Tomball Historic Depot Plaza, and hired Mike Baxter in 2011 to serve as a marketing director to curate city festivals. In September, the city accomplished another initiative by implementing facade standards along major thoroughfares to encourage high-quality development in the future.

Magnolia plan progress

In June, the city of Magnolia and C|P|H Structural Engineering Inc. took steps toward implementing a high-priority project from the Magnolia on the Move comprehensive plan by unveiling a schematic for the future Magnolia Town Center along The Stroll.

The project is still in the concept phase, according to Magnolia Economic Development Coordinator Tana Ross. The city is still looking for a developer to implement the design but anticipates the project could be underway in the near future.

“It’s still on the books,” she said. “That’ll be something that we’ll continue to promote, but it’s all about the timing. We’ve had to have the roadways improved to get the other things like retail to follow [and that] plays a key role into that as far as [the project] being picked up by a developer.”

Deborah Rose Miller, former Magnolia economic development coordinator and project manager on the comprehensive plan, said population growth projections and continued annexation plans were a major impetus for creating the city’s long-term plan two years ago.

While the comprehensive plan was instrumental in preparing the community for zoning, Miller said the city of Magnolia has not followed through on enough of the plan’s high-priority items, including establishing design standards and building guidelines. Despite community involvement, the city has only recently begun taking steps toward implementing major parts of the plan this year, she said.

“Any plan is only good if it’s implemented,” Miller said. “Development is going to happen, and just because we have a comprehensive plan doesn’t mean it’s going to happen the way we want it to. We need to have the proactive ordinances and planning ahead of time.”

Ross said while zoning may not seem like much compared with the full list of priorities on the comprehensive plan, the city has been constantly working on thoroughfare planning and has already established annexation guidelines.

“It doesn’t seem like a lot of [progress], but our comprehensive plan was only adopted two years ago,” she said. “Coming from [developing a concept plan for the Magnolia Town Center] to zoning in that time, I think that’s pretty good, considering the recession in the area and ups and down with oil and gas.”

Moving forward

While the Tomball and Magnolia comprehensive plans are intended to serve as a planning guide for the next 20 years, flexibility is a key component so changes can be made in the future, city officials said.

With several large transportation and development projects underway in Tomball, Tomball Community Development Director Craig Meyers said the city will likely revisit portions of the plan later this year.

“We are going to implement an update to our major thoroughfare plan,” Meyers said. “A lot of the traffic patterns are significantly changing in the area, especially with the Hwy. 249 extension and the Grand Parkway. But we already have a foundation, so it’s easier to modify the plan than creating one from scratch.”

The city of Magnolia also expects to make modifications to its comprehensive plan if the new zoning ordinance receives final approval in October.

Magnolia City Council Member Anne Sundquist said the city plans to focus on finding ways to bring in new development to help accomplish many of the plan’s goals. These initiatives include establishing facade standards, promoting more community involvement through city events and increasing residential amenities, such as parks and sidewalks.

“There are still some changes to be made but at least we can move forward,” Sundquist said. “As far as what we expect and what our plans are for the future, it’s a good direction.”