“Collaboration” Sets the Tone for WHA’s Tri-County Commissioners Forum

On March 23rd, the West Houston Association hosted our first Tri-County Commissioners Forum. With over 200 attendees, the event was the biggest in WHA history.

For many years, WHA has hosted the Tri-County Judges Forum. However, this year we decided to focus our attention on county commissioners because they are more often directly engaged with infrastructure challenges and the development communities. The forum featured Fort Bend Co. Commissioner Pct. 1 Vincent Morales, Waller Co. Commissioner Pct. 4 Justin Beckendorff, and  Harris Co. Commissioner Pct. 4 Lesley Briones. These three precincts join in the Katy area, near the center of WHA’s Development Map. The conversation was moderated by WHA Executive Committee member, Alia Vinson (Allen, Boone, Humphries, Robinson, LLP).

The panel opened with each commissioner giving a brief “state-of-the-county” update. From there, the conversation was formed around three main issues: flood mitigation, regional mobility, and quality development.

Vinson started off by asking each commissioner how their respective county is working to improve flood mitigation and how they might be able to find flood solutions together. Commissioner Beckendorff encouraged others to share flood studies in order to improve flood water conveyance and suggested building a third reservoir, similar to the USACE‘s initial plans from the 1940’s. He also supported alignment of floodplain management rules and expressed support for smart technology to monitor and control flood infrastructure in real-time. Commissioner Morales echoed similar sentiments for collaboration and supported continued investment in flood infrastructure. Commissioner Briones then pointed out the critical need for the Greater West Houston region to focus on green infrastructure and sustainability in order to remain resilient and competitive. The flood conversation also highlighted opportunities for the counties to join flood mapping and flood regulation to facilitate consistent development.

Turning to regional mobility, Vinson asked how these counties are working to address transit concerns. The panelists unanimously agreed that improving connectivity and reducing congestion are important to them. Commissioner Briones showed strong support for working to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Briones then announced that her team is working with the Harris County Toll Road Authority on expanding the Westpark Tollway in a way that helps with vehicle congestion while also addressing pedestrians, bicyclists, and proximal neighborhood connections. Commissioner Beckendorff shared that State Highway 36A was a high priority for Waller County. Then, Commissioner Morales shared with WHA members that Fort Bend was planning to issue mobility bonds on a regular basis to enhance the counties existing transportation infrastructure as well as looking at new regional mobility investments.

Next, Vinson mentioned WHA’s Quality Planned Development recognition program. “As an organization we strongly believe that development should be well planned and done in partnership with local governments. The design and implementation of high quality developments benefit the residents, the surrounding community, and ensure quality public infrastructure and resiliency.” She asked, “How can the development community work with each of you to ensure that the inevitable growth in your counties will result in good quality developments?”

This question led to a free flow discussion on development and housing. Commissioner Beckendorff noted that the large number of meetings with developers in the last few years is indicative of the rapid growth of Waller County. Commissioner Briones encouraged developers to partner with Harris County Precinct 4.  She stated that a call for partnerships would be published soon and encouraged collaboration between public and private sectors on housing and development, more broadly. When asked about higher density developments to enhance resilience, flood mitigation, and mobility outcomes Commissioner Morales responded that some higher density areas were important near commercial and retail areas, but in general, was not desired for Fort Bend County.

The recurring theme that emerged from our Tri-County Commissioners Forum was collaboration. High-quality growth will hinge on collaboration between county commissioners and the public and private sectors in order for the Greater West Houston region to be fully equipped for a rapidly increasing population.

The West Houston Association would like to thank our moderator and panelists, as well as our sponsors who made this event possible. Lastly, we’d like to give a special thanks to Michael Bloom (5engineering) for providing input on this summary.

The Katy Times published a story about the event on March 29th.