Oak Ridge North has faced its share of change and development over the years, but its leaders, including Mayor Jim Kuykendall, believe the roughly 900-acre municipality still holds true to its small-town ideals while planning ahead for growth.
The city was incorporated Jan. 20, 1979, around five years after neighboring Shenandoah did the same. The borders of Houston were also expanding north at the time, said John Planchard, a founding alderman and Oak Ridge North’s third mayor.
“Houston was creeping up this way, and the people were afraid that they would be annexed,” Planchard said. “We were incorporated basically to avoid being incorporated by Houston and to provide police protection and city ordinances, some kind of local control.”
Planchard said he recalled a feeling of excitement in the city after its establishment. Six people ran for mayor, and many more ran for one of five alderman spots. A town marshal was also elected, and a secretary was hired, filling out the first administration.
“We were just civic-minded people that wanted to get involved,” Planchard said. “Rather than sit around and complain about how things are, we rolled up our sleeves and tried to jump in and see what we could do to make this community a better place.”
Highlights over the years included the city taking over public works services from the Oak Ridge Municipal Utility District, creating its own police department, adoption of a city administrator—and later, city manager—form of government, setting the city sales tax and the adoption of a long-term comprehensive plan, Planchard said.
The city’s population has grown slightly since its founding, but the most notable changes have come from booming development in the area and across I-45.
Oak Ridge North’s population grew from less than 2,500 residents in 1980 to more than 3,000 by 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Kuykendall said the arrival of new businesses has helped the city, while at the same time, growth has created new planning challenges, such as the ongoing effort to realign Robinson Road as well as challenges in maintaining the city’s culture.
“We’ve become more serious about our zoning to protect our small-town image,” Kuykendall said. “Unfortunately and fortunately, everything has grown up around us. … So we’re all-in right now.”
Kuykendall said the city’s appeal has remained in its welcoming atmosphere, security and ability to plan ahead.
“One of the main reasons our city was created was to have a safe environment to raise families, and that’s who we still continue to be,” he said. “We’re not just governing for today; we’re doing just like our founding fathers did. We are governing for today, but we’re planning for tomorrow. I’m very hopeful for the future of Oak Ridge North.”