Mayors Column March 14

Mayor’s Column

Mayor Liechty

March 2014

As the economy and our local housing market have accelerated during the past 12 months, the pace at City Hall is busier than ever.

The number of building permits issued for single-family homes has increased 36 percent from a year ago, which is a statistic we celebrate as we welcome new residents to our growing community.

With growth comes the need for an increased focus on our vision for what we want Heath to be, both today and in the future. Two important tools that guide the City as we approve new residential and commercial developments are our Comprehensive Plan and our Zoning Ordinance.

What is the Comprehensive Plan?
The Comprehensive Plan represents the vision of what our citizens want the City to become, and sets forth policies that allow us to realize this vision. The Comprehensive Plan is updated periodically and includes multiple opportunities for citizens to participate and share their input. We anticipate updating our Comprehensive Plan again in 2015.

What is the Zoning Ordinance?
The Zoning Ordinance is the legal codification of the land use policies included in the Comprehensive Plan. The Zoning Ordinance establishes permitted uses for land and provides clear requirements for development, including the amount of square footage that can be constructed within a specific zone, and the types of activities that may take place in each zone.

Heath’s Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance work in concert to allow us to uphold Heath’s distinction as a premier D/FW community where citizens enjoy an upscale, open, lakeside environment.

What about Density Goals?
Beginning with our first Comprehensive Plan in 1996, City Council members, board and commission members and citizens have been united in the belief that maintaining a low density of residential building was a key objective to preserve a desirable environment with a manageable growth rate that enhances property values. Recent development proposals have elicited significant citizen input and comment regarding density of residential development in Heath, and therefore it is timely to take a look at the treatment of density in our Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance.

Each Comprehensive Plan has included a general residential gross density goal of one dwelling unit per acre of developable land. This policy allows for park and open space land mitigation, where higher densities can be developed, but are offset by parkland or open space provided in another area of the City. It is important to note, however, that the Comprehensive Plan does not require that each residential lot to be developed in the City be one acre or larger.

The Comprehensive Plan also encourages a diversity of residential properties in terms of size, type, exterior appearance, views and orientation of lots to amenities.

If you review our Zoning Ordinance, you will find single-family zoning options that marry the goals contained in the Comprehensive Plan and yet create the opportunity for developers and builders to take advantage of Heath’s open, beautiful and rolling topography with permits for homes on a variety of lot sizes including 15,000 square feet (SF-15), 22,000 square feet (SF-22) and 43,560 square feet (SF-43).

What is a Planned Development?
There is also a Planned Development category, which has resulted in distinctive communities that offer home buyers a variety of choices. Examples include Buffalo Creek and Stoneleigh, where some homes are situated on an acre or more and others are not. But the unique lot sizes combined with stunning architectural design, high quality building materials and upscale amenities such as trails and greenbelts create a beautiful place to call home.

The approved concept plan for Heath Golf and Yacht Club is another example of a Planned Development that blends a premier lakefront/golf course setting with exceptional amenities and a variety of lot sizes.

Overall, we have been able to maintain our general gross density goal of one home per acre and will work hard to continue to do so. In fact, the last Comprehensive Plan noted that Heath had the low density ratio of just 100 citizens per every 33 acres. Under current low density land use policies, the 2008 plan stated that our total population capacity can reach approximately 19,296. Our current population is over 7,400.

If the City allows a variance from the one lot per acre density goal with respect to any development, it is important to remember that such variations are allowed by our Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinances. However, it is important for City Government to remember that in order to comply with the spirit of our Comprehensive Plan these variations should be limited, and should be allowed only in areas which do not disrupt the make-up of existing neighborhoods and only if the new development is providing benefits to the City which justify the variances.

We are fortunate that most people living in Heath have a common opinion of the type of community we want, and that past and present elected leaders, volunteers and City staff have taken a pro-active approach to managing growth in Heath. On behalf of the City, I also want to thank the talented and dedicated developers and builders who have embraced our vision for Heath with the neighborhoods they have created and the homes they have built. Working together, I am confident that Heath will remain a community in which we are all proud to live.

Lorne Liechty