Efforts aided by new regulation, modifications

Members of two organizations vested in making changes along the FM 1960 and Jones Road corridors are hoping their recent efforts will breathe new life into the area.

The community growth committee within the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce has spent the past year meeting with business owners along Jones Road to see what can be done to revitalize the area, ranging from security issues in regards to lighting to improving retail center aesthetics.

Additionally, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle has organized a task force to update the county's regulations on sexually oriented businesses—an issue that has more recently begun to affect the county's unincorporated areas—for the first time since 1996.

"The neatest thing about the task force is that every one of those departments wanted to work together for the common good," said Larry Lipton, task force member and longtime area business owner. "Everyone said they would do whatever they could to make a difference, and that's exciting."

New regulations

The issue of sexually oriented businesses, specifically illicit massage parlors, became a bigger problem in unincorporated Harris County—primarily along the FM 1960 corridor—after the City of Houston passed an ordinance in 1997 to tighten up enforcement of such businesses, Cagle said.

"Those businesses that wanted to break the law and play in the grey to where they could get under the radar moved into the county," he said. "We had a problem, because the county isn't like a home-rule city that can pass its own ordinances."

State representatives Patricia Harless, R-Spring, and Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, passed legislation in the 2009 and 2011 sessions that gave Harris County authorization to pass new regulations similar to those that exist in the City of Houston. The proposed changes to the county's regulations have banned massage parlors, the definition of which differs from a traditional massage therapy business.

"In everything we do, we want to make sure there aren't unintended consequences we haven't thought through," Harless said. "When I passed the legislation, I was concerned because I didn't want to give a negative connotation to [all] massage parlors; you want to promote the legitimate [establishments]."

Although it is impossible in Texas to shut down an illicit massage parlor indefinitely, a case can be filed in district court that would authorize a cease and desist order, said Precinct 4 Constable Ron Hickman.

"These new regulations require certain kinds of businesses to register as sexually oriented businesses, including massage parlors," he said. "If you're an unlicensed massage parlor, you would be considered an illicit business."

An aesthetic blight

Aside from the county's task force, the chamber's community growth committee is working to improve older portions of Cy-Fair in a different way.

"The project got started because we were concerned with large vacant tenant spaces taking over Cy-Fair," said Mark McShaffrey, committee co-chair. "We started making calls to see what we could do, and it morphed into beautifying Cy-Fair."

Because a majority of Jones Road is located in unincorporated Harris County, there are no regulations in regards to landscaping or banner signs.

"We want to have advocates along Jones Road that work with their neighboring tenants to ensure their center is up to par aesthetically," said Jason Culpepper, chairman of the committee and Houston metro publisher for Community Impact Newspaper.

Commercial property owners can hire management companies to ensure all signs and banners match, but the committee has found that a majority of the commercial retail centers along Jones Road are not hiring these companies. The committee is urging business owners to take pride in ownership and address neglected landscaping, maintain storefronts and remove bandit signs, Culpepper said.

Although the committee is focused on Jones Road, they have other locations in mind for future improvements. Ultimately, Culpepper said, he understands this project could take an additional 10 to 20 years.

The area's future

Lipton, who has owned a business along the FM 1960 corridor for 27 years, said he has watched some deterioration occur in the area, especially after the City of Houston strengthened its ordinances. If the proposed regulations are approved by commissioners court, Lipton said he believes people will feel more confident about working and shopping in the area if there are fewer undesirable businesses.

"What's going to happen is when they see they can't operate like they do now, for the most part, they are going to move," he said.

When the businesses in an area start going downhill, everyone nearby does not have as much pride in the area, McShaffrey said.

"Ideally, I think our goal is to make the businesses, landlords, subdivisions and schools proud of where they live, and take responsibility for helping it get to that point," he said.