Houston businessman Haidar Barbouti already owns all the commercial property in the shopping center on Westheimer Road in between Drexel Road and the Union Pacific Railroad line, known collectively as Highland Village. Now he plans to transform the public infrastructure along that strip too.

In 2017, the Texas Legislature designated Highland Village a management district, which is a special government entity that can issue bonds that are paid back through an assessment, or fee, applied to commercial properties within its boundaries. Management districts can also implement services such as landscaping and maintenance, adopt branding and offer other services. 

After receiving the state’s designation, a management district in Houston must receive approval from the city before gaining the authority to issue bonds. Houston City Council voted to authorize the district Sept. 18.

Over the last two years, various consultants have worked with a state-appointed board of managers to develop a plan for improvements within the district, said David Hawes, senior partner of Hawes, Hill and Associates, a firm that consults with management districts and other economic development entities. 

A draft plan for the district includes improvements to Westheimer Road and the sidewalks along it as well as a plan to reposition parking within the shopping center to create a more dense, walkable area, Hawes said.

“The big issue is mobility here,” he said. “Over the years, they’re going to go vertical with this development and the primary concern is in public safety and vehicular mobility in and around that area.” 

In other management districts, 50 percent of commercial property owners within the boundaries of the district must approve approve of the district's service plan and its accompanying tax assessment, Texas local government code states. 

In this case however, Barbouti is the only property owner within the district’s boundaries, meaning he will need to put plans through a public comment period and can apply amendments based on comments. However, he does not have to coordinate with other commercial property owners to get the plans approved.

For this reason, Houston City Council Member Greg Travis, who represents the district that Highland Village is located in, said he supported the measure.

“It’s not a loss to the city of any revenues,” Travis said. “When I first heard about it, I was against it, but after taking the time to learn about the plans, now I have a favorable impression.”

A Highland Village representative said Barbouti was unavailable for comment.