Here is a change for lawmakers to consider next time the Texas Legislature is in session. Any bill filed that is not acted upon within 30 days automatically becomes law.
If that seems like a really bad idea, it’s because it is — legislation not thoroughly discussed, revised and bargained could result in countless unintended consequences for Texans.
That is the dilemma now faced by county and local governments after the passage last session of HB 3167. The soon-to-be law requires all land development applications to be approved by the planning commission or other suitable agency within 30 days, or it automatically becomes approved.
Residents who don’t want a cellphone tower in their backyard, skyscraper blocking their view of the sunset or their neighbor’s house built close enough to their own that they can shake hands through the windows better hope their local officials are on their toes.
Lake Jackson city leaders brought the potential pitfalls of the law to the public’s attention recently when they had a workshop to discuss exactly how they can comply with the law while still doing their due diligence to protect its vision for the city and the people who live there. It is common for it to take two or three months from proposal to approval of a development plan, giving both sides time to compromise and make adjustments before shovels hit the ground.
Looking through the minutes of Lake Jackson Planning Commission meetings, it’s obvious there is a collaborative approach to development in the city. A developer will present his proposal for a particular property, city leaders will raise concerns and make suggestions, and a month or two later the developer comes back with some revisions that make both sides happy.
That’s an ideal situation, and undoubtedly the process does not go as smoothly everywhere because either the local leadership or developer is entrenched on what they want done and won’t yield. Putting a clock on the process won’t resolve that problem, though, as Lake Jackson City Manager Bill Yenne points out.
“The problem with this new thing is, is once they file their plan with the planning commission they have 30 days. There’s no back and forth, no time for discussion,” Yenne said. “It becomes a very formal and adversarial process.”
It also all but assures the winning side will not be city residents but the developers who want to force their vision into action regardless of how unpalatable it might be to the communities they want to build.
There isn’t much question lawmakers had good intentions in passing HB 3167. Local leaders who habitually stonewall projects while developers’ potential costs rise need to get their feet off the brakes. Removing local authority to determine which developments are best for a community and putting all the power into the hands of developers is a really bad way of going about it.