As the Katy area grows, authorities at the county and city levels must approve new developments regularly. Within incorporated cities like Katy and Fulshear, these zoning restrictions protect land values and guide development, while unincorporated portions of the county rely on platting to ensure infrastructure development is not hindered.
“Zoning helps shape cities and protects the property values by keeping certain uses that either are incompatible or unsuitable from certain areas,” Katy City Planner Anas Garfaoui said.
Since 2010, Fort Bend County has grown by nearly 180,000 people and Harris County by more than 560,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That growth leads to development, said Maggie Dalton, development coordinator with the Fort Bend County Engineering Department. That is why there are so many platting and zoning applications submitted in the Greater Katy area.
Katy City Council considered two new planned development district zones in February and March. Meanwhile, Waller, Fort Bend and Harris county Commissioners Courts considered 56 plats for approval in March.
The two processes are similar but differ in their purposes and complexity, according to both Garfaoui and Dalton.
Zoning guides growth
Zoning is used by cities to guide growth in a way that is fair for residents and businesses, Garfaoui said. Zoning restricts land use to ensure public safety, prevents conflicts and keeps compatible uses near one another.
Additionally, one of the zoning types is the Old Katy District, which is located downtown near City Hall. It is similar to a commercial district but has different parking restrictions and is meant to preserve the city’s historic feel, Garfaoui said.
In February and March, two different companies proposed PDDs in Katy, according to city documents. A PDD is a subdivision that allows landowners to work with the city to customize use of a plot of land, Garfaoui said.
The 25K Morton Ranch and Silver Oaks Estates subdivision would have been a mixed-use subdivision for residential and commercial use in the northwest corner of Morton Road and Katy Hockley Cut Off Road. At a Feb. 26 public hearing, residents of Heritage Park West, a neighboring residential subdivision, raised concerns about the PDD, including drainage, lighting, noise and traffic.
No vote was held at that meeting, and the public hearing was extended at the request of multiple City Council members to provide time to review the PDD.
Katy Mayor Chuck Brawner said the developer, JPSPS Development, pulled the application before the next hearing on March 12 to coordinate water management with Costello Inc., the engineering firm coordinating the city’s drainage.
Had the PDD gone through, members of the City Council and residents were concerned that its privacy walls would have interfered with drainage, flooding neighboring properties.
“What we have done to address that is any project that comes in has to go through Costello Engineering,” Garfaoui said. “We’ve told the developer to go through Costello and show their drainage plan so Costello can give us a recommendation on how to move forward.”
The Village at Katy PDD is a single-use PDD that was approved unanimously March 26, with commercial usage in mind. The 84-acre development will be at the northeastern corner of Pin Oak Road and I-10, according to the PDD application. Costello representatives said this development will benefit neighboring properties by improving drainage.
Possible Village at Katy tenants include office complexes, shopping centers, hotels, medical facilities and a recreation center. At least 70 percent of the street-facing side of each building will be glass and masonry, according to the PDD. Some businesses are prohibited by the PDD, including car dealerships, smoke shops, sexually oriented businesses and others.
Platting future development
Plats are a similar process administered at the county level, Dimetra Hamilton, communications manager for the Harris County Flood Control District, said via email.
“Platting ensures public interests, such as roadway mobility, drainage and utility services, are accounted for when subdivision of properties take place,” Hamilton said.
Fort Bend County has adopted a major thoroughfare plan that identifies roadways that are expected to grow, Dalton said. This means certain roads that now have little traffic may have larger rights of way than expected to allow expansion as development moves west from Houston.
Platting also ensures that easements—parts of a property set aside for utilities or drainage–are protected, Dalton said. Easements allow utility companies to maintain infrastructure.
While the platting process preserves easements, Dalton said it is important to remember that there are no other property use restrictions that are enforceable through platting. Because Texas does not allow property restrictions in unincorporated county areas, a chemical plant may be built next to a park or school.
“We cannot enforce deed restrictions,” Dalton said.
There may be drainage requirements for a plat, Dalton said. Property owners needing more information should contact their drainage district, municipal utility district or levee improvement district to determine drainage requirements and involve an engineer and surveyer early in the process.
“The drainage district has a drainage criteria manual,” Dalton said. “In general, based on amount of development they are providing, that determines the amount of detention required for that subdivision.”
When complications arise
Garfaoui said the city often hears from residents complaining they were not informed about proposed zoning changes near their homes. However, the city is constrained by state law, which requires homes within 200 feet of a proposed development to be informed by mail of public zoning hearings. The city posts notices in newspapers to ensure residents are aware of changes.
Property owners face legal issues when zoning restrictions are violated.
“The Code Enforcement Department will issue a letter,” Garfaoui said. “If it escalates, they can cite [the landowner] for violation and it can go through the court process.”
While platting is not as restrictive, it is still possible to see problems arise regarding how land is used, Dalton said. Landowners should be aware of the easements associated with their properties. If easements are violated, the municipalities involved have the right to enforce the easement, as do utility companies whose hardware passes through easements.
“[Structures] aren’t technically supposed to be in those utility easements, but they do get placed there all the time,” Dalton said. “[Landowners] need to be aware that if AT&T, CenterPoint[Energy] or whomever needs to get back there and [a] building is in the way, they’re going to get to their line however they need to get to their line.”