The Woodlands Township considers zoning in incorporation planning

As part of an ongoing study on incorporation, The Woodlands Township will consider whether a potential city of The Woodlands could include zoning for the area as well as new responsibilities for the municipality.

Whereas incorporated cities use local ordinances to develop zoning requirements within the city limits, the township uses covenants—which act like deed restrictions—to enforce standards much like a homeowners association would.

In the township’s July 19 incorporation planning session, the board of directors heard presentations from municipal attorneys on how The Woodlands might enforce control of land use in the area.

“So here you are thinking about incorporation and living in a community that is almost, but not quite, completely covered by restrictive covenants or deed restrictions,” said Monte Akers, a municipal attorney with Akers & Akers law firm. “You have a choice: Are you going to adopt zoning, in which case you would not have the authority to enforce deed restrictions? Or do you not adopt zoning and elect to enforce deed restrictions in a manner similar to what you’re doing now?”

Should the township vote to incorporate, it would first become a general law city, which has limited powers under the state Legislature. Should voters approve a charter to become a home rule city, The Woodlands could adopt zoning ordinances, under which violations would be punishable with fines or legal action. However, if the council is opposed to developing local ordinances, Alan Pennington, vice president of Matrix, the lead consultant for the study, said the covenants would remain in place following incorporation.

While many cities develop zoning plans to determine uses for undeveloped space, township officials said doing so in The Woodlands would not need to occur immediately and may not be necessary.

“The Woodlands has very limited land that’s not already developed or plotted or subdivided out with already existing restrictions on it,” Township Chairman Gordy Bunch said. “Based on the summary that we were provided, if you choose to incorporate and the residents of the community choose to incorporate, the easiest thing is you continue to administer covenant administration the way you are today while you’re a general law city, and you bridge that discussion when you start doing the home rule charter.”

Pennington said there are some areas within the township on the northeast and western boarders not covered by the existing covenants, which is something the board could address through zoning.

While implementing zoning would optional for the proposed city of The Woodlands, there are a few responsibilities that would be mandatory. Should the voters approve incorporation, the township would be responsible for adopting and enforcing building codes throughout the city limits.

“A lot of those functions are currently performed by the county but upon incorporation this would become a municipal responsibility,” said Josh Rauch, an associate with The Novak Group, a consultant for the study. “The Woodlands would have the option to either contract those services or to use in-house staff to perform those functions. That is required whether the township chose to do planning and zoning or covenant administration.”

The township board of directors will continue the study next month with presentations on pavement analysis and police analysis on Aug. 16 and 22, respectively.
By Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.


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