The first thing one must realize in any kind of zoning and planning in any city is that nobody cares about it unless there is a market for what's being zoned or planned. If there is no market for houses, apartments, shopping centers, or 10 story buildings, intense planning and zoning discussions are a waste of time. It only becomes important when developers want to build something in your city. Developers want to build something in your city if they think they can make money. This is a capitalist society. It's okay to make money. It's also okay to make a weekly salary.
Builders and developers study markets and decide where they can produce the best profits at acceptable costs. The key words here is that "builders and developers study markets." They don't go off willy nilly and build anywhere. They go where their study says it is a good place to go.
City leaders know this. They study and say, "Yes, we have a market, and we're going to control it." They probably have consultants that tell them how the available land should be used. Consultants study. Developers study. Elected officials try to figure out what both of them are doing. "Officialdom" might be taking the first step toward acknowledging that they don't have any idea what creates various types of markets. Some admit it. Some don't like to admit it. Elected officials should try to learn from ones that do know what's going on. Some do. Some don't.
The problem is that most consultants are probably pretty right much of the time, but usually have no experience developing real estate of any kind. They like to call themselves the "academicians." The good developers are also pretty right much of the time. They have a lot of experience getting beat up and losing money, and then at other times, making a lot of money studying and developing markets. They like to call themselves the "practitioners."
The point of the above commentary was to point out that both sides have smart people, but they have different skills and disciplines. Easily, both can be right on an issue. Take trees. Close spacing under Form Base Codes builds a beautiful canopy over a street after a few years. However, the developer might point out that such rules might cause a tree to be in the garage drive of many front entry houses. Sometimes builders try to comply with codes, but create a problem.......say garage drives that make cars stick out in alleys. Of course, that happened with our form base codes. So, who wins in a dispute? The city does. However, the city has a duty and obligation to it's citizens to make the most correct decision. To make a poor decision just because of a technicality is not good stewardship of the citizen's money and well being.
My opinion is that there should be some provision to modify Rowlett 2020 and Form Base Codes when there is undeniable evidence that a developer has a good product that is needed by the community and can achieve everything the elected officials want. The location of the product is important to the point it doesn't hurt anything. Otherwise, it's unimportant. Houston seems to have done quite well without any zoning at all.
The mayor wants to reserve North Shore for "employment opportunities." If jobs form up on Lakeview Pky and Bayview, but not at North Shore, leave it alone. If North Shore isn't meant to be a job campus, it isn't the end of the world. If there is a dead horse in the road, quit beating it. Oh yeah, it was mentioned that North Shore might still be barren many years from now. North Shore has considerable practice at being barren. Just tell me how you, the citizens, benefit from that.
Tammy made a statement that she felt a more local consultant than a Denver based consultant would be preferable. I totally agree.
Marc Kurbansade made a noble attempt to explain how good planning took into account both market demands represented by the developer, and the planning demands that were desired by the city. About half of the Council seemed to understand, or care about Marc's attempt to meld the developers and the city together. But, Marc made a good effort.
One thing I noticed in the Rowlett 2020 meeting was that some of the above concepts seem to be missing. At least at first. The meeting started off talking in general about what was going where. For example, North Shore was reserved for job creation. Then, it gravitated to some consultant to be hired and discussions of what the consultants were to analyze. Then, there seemed to be a desire of some council members to have some input in what the consultant were to research. Then, there was polite "push back" from Staff about council sticking their nose into Staff's business. Staff seemed to think they knew what to do in selecting consultants and areas of research, and council would be left to decide whether they did it right, or not. The question occurred to me, how would council know if Staff did a good job if they didn't know who the competing players for the consultant job were and what they were instructed to review? Who would Council compare Staff's choice with? I think Brian (City Manager) took a long time to say, "Trust us." Marc Kurbansade (Director of Development) softened the confrontation by saying there would be lots of conversation back and forth between council and staff while putting this together. That seemed to satisfy most and they went on to other topics
Therefore, I don't see much chance of Rowlett 2020 improving much. If there are pretty pictures, like before, there will be little substance. If there are some good facts, there's a chance. There will be a lot of hype about the "New and improved" Rowlett 2020, but I don't expect much. Probably something less than the $100,000 worth.
Housing Finance Corporations (HFC's)
When this discussion was started, the mayor made it clear that Debby and Bruce requested that the topic be put on the agenda. I presume that statement was important for some reason.
Let me start by telling you what a HFC is. It is a financing vehicle, designed to provide funding to develop apartments and houses for Senior and Workforce families. It doesn't have anything to do with where they are located, how many stories it has, whether there are 6 houses to the acre, or 3 houses to the acre. It does not have one thing to do with zoning or codes. It just provides funding (money) for development projects.
Early on in this discussion, it was clear that Debby, Bruce, and Robbert were solidly behind this financing vehicle. It was all for the right reasons. They knew how much money it would take to qualify for an average house in Rowlett. They knew workforce average salaries weren't sufficient to buy the average house. They also knew the problems retired Seniors could have even tho they owned their own houses. Many Seniors, if not most, were taught that if their house was paid off when they retired, and they had just a little nest egg, they would be fine. That simply isn't true. The above mentioned council persons did their homework. They wanted the council to render a "proclamation" that the City of Rowlett should issue a letter stating they were in favor of investigating the forming a Housing Financial Corporation.
Then, the wheels came off. All the rest of the council, mayor, and City Manager started talking about developing a "policy" first. Let me ask you a question. After you get past the policy question of whether you want to provide housing aid to Seniors and Workforce, how much more policy do you have? I couldn't believe some of the discussion. Some wanted to tie HFC's to Rowlett 2020, which is months away. The only reason given was that, and I quote the City Manager, "You don't let the tools drive the policy. You let the policy drive the tools."
HUH? Just how much policy do you need? Do you need months to develop it? Do you want to provide aid, or not? What other policy do you want to talk about? Admittedly, there are still many details to be worked out, but I would think you could work them out as you progressed. Working out the details doesn't have much to do with policy. If you run into an insurmountable problem, shut down the program.
You must understand, no taxpayer money is involved after the HFC is formed. Then, from fees earned, the HFC returns the start up money to the city.
Therefore, I guess the council has to concoct and script a policy before they can issue a letter saying HFC's are desirable. How does a policy determine if an HFC is okay, or not? Is well intentioned money wrong? Every day that Council lingers and acts "studious" is a disservice to Rowlett in general, and Seniors and Workforce populations in particular.
Tammy said she would like to tie the determination of the HFC to the Rowlett 2020 "redo." Since HFC's are a financing vehicle, she must mean we need to incorporate all lenders into Rowlett 2020. Why just one lender? Should we keep Chase and Wells Fargo out of Rowlett? How about all the Savings and Loans? They caused all the problems in the 1980's didn't they? What about Fred and Ethyl's Mortgage Company? Do we need a policy on all them? Goodness, they even keep our money. Shouldn't they have a policy? Tammy's comment to incorporate the HFC's into the Rowlett 2020 "redo" is very uninformed and is without any defense. Stated another way, it's bizarre. Martha Brown seemed to "team up" with Tammy. Sheffield kept his head down below the rocks. Brian said, "Now we're cookin." (I jest)
Brian Funderbunk spoke up. At one time I thought he was in favor of the HFC's. Now I'm not sure. He spoke about "the many options Rowlett has for housing aid." Well, if we have so many options, why aren't we doing something for Seniors and Workforce families? Does Rowett prefer that workforce families work in Rowlett but live somewhere else? Another of the things Brian mentioned was the "use of 380 funds." Folks, if you hear "380 funds," run and hide. Mostly they're called "380 Grants." When most people hear "Grants" they usually think of Federal Grants or State Grants. Well, 380 Grants are your money. These are funds that are advanced from the city.......your money that never left town. They would be paid out of your annual taxes. Please, please believe me. There is no one in Rowlett's "officialdom" that has a clue how to underwrite a loan, any development loan, and know how to administer it. It would be a disaster. They would be lending millions of dollars of your money, and no clue what is involved.
Which leads me to the last observation I will make in this blog. It's not so much an observation, but a story.
On November 6, 2016, I sent Todd Gottel and Brian Funderburk a memo. Attached to that memo was 37 pages of data, contacts, professionals I had talked to, and copies of correspondence. The attachments were the culmination of a lot of work I did researching HFC's. I spent a lot of time accumulating the info. I did what I thought was right. I was nobody important. I was just a citizen. I sent it to the boss of the staff (Funderbunk) and the boss of the elected officials (Gottel). I knew I couldn't present the information to City Council, so I thought our two "bosses" would know what to do with the information.
Contained within the information sent to Todd and Brian was the promise from two HFC professional organizations in Austin that offered to travel, at no cost to Rowlett, and bring their staff to answer any questions our City Council had. Folks, these people were professionals. When I listened to them on the phone and compared their answers to the questions I heard asked last night and the gobblygook answers coming from attendees last night, my head spun in disbelief. I worked hard to get them the best information I could. I talked to a lawyer in Chicago that did this business for a living. I talked to a financial consultant in Austin, and two organizations in Austin. I talked to two developers. I sent it all the Todd and Brian. I knew my job was as far as it could go. It was now in the city's hands.
Last night, I could have provided the best information available for Council to ask questions, and they sit there listening to junk.
Below is a copy of my email to Todd and Brian. I am working on setting up some kind of link whereby all my readers can click on the link and read the 37 pages of information.
My hat's off to Debby, Bruce, and Robbert. I think they care a great deal about our Seniors, Policemen, Firemen, and others that fit into the workforce strata. Some of the others, I don't think so. I am disappointed. I have a good place for their policy. The email is below. It's in reference to setting up a meeting:
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Sunday, November 6, 2016 9:01 PM
To: Brian Funderburk <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Todd Gottel <email@example.com>
Subject: Housing Finance Corporations--- Preliminary Info
Attached is some preliminary information regarding Housing Finance Corporations. I think there's 37 pages. Don't worry. I'm not going to get into anything remotely resembling 37 pages of information. However, I think it is information you will need if we proceed further. I put it in email format so that you can forward to anyone you feel has a need. Much is simply sample forms.
My visit will be relatively brief. I want to visit about what I have found around Texas, and what I feel Rowlett needs. My major thrust is that Rowlett should be looking out after it's own workforce and senior needs, and the Rowlett taxpayers should not have to subsidize it.
The attached info is part of the material that has been supplied to me by various people "in the business." I must say, I was most impressed by the people I talked to. In this email there is all the contact information for any questions that might arise. The email addresses within are "live," therefore all you have to do is click on.
I shouldn't keep you long. Oh, by the way, I will make an early apology for my wearing apparel tomorrow. I have a 4 hour stress test immediately after leaving your office. And, on Monday, too. Yuk!!