The Blue Ribbon News recently published an article about the Open Space Master Plan effort. The day after the paper was delivered, I received a number of emails and Facebook messages from friends asking me this question: What exactly is a county-wide open space master plan and why do we need one? Our team will cover this subject in detail and be available to answer questions at the first public meeting, which will be on Thursday, January 22 at 6-8pm at the County Courthouse. There will be an interactive presentation with survey questions and keypad polling, followed by breakout sessions where attendees will have the opportunity to provide suggestions on different topics and areas of the county. Here’s a brief overview of what our team’s been tasked with and why. As a Rockwall County resident myself, I believe this planning effort is important to the future of our area and communities.
What is a County-Wide Open Space Master Plan and Why Do We Need One for Rockwall County?
In Texas, plans guiding things like future land use and development patterns, transportation networks, and parks and recreation facilities are completed by local governments. There are some things, however, that cross municipal boundaries and cannot be properly planned and addressed solely at the municipal level, such as regional mobility, water supply and quality, and air quality. The North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) and Regional Transportation Council (RTC) handle some of the planning responsibilities for the region, particularly those related to transportation and mobility. There are similar groups that look at water supply and water quality at the regional level.
What is missing from these regional and city led planning efforts is how to fill the gap between the high level plans done for the region and the more specific plans completed by individual cities. That is where this project fits in. Because of the rapid growth and development, our region is experiencing increasing traffic congestion, deteriorating water quality in our creeks and rivers, and pressure on water supply systems. At the same time, people and businesses are looking to move to places that have access to quality open space, parks and trail systems. Older Metroplex communities like Plano, Richardson and others are spending significant money and resources to acquire more park land and integrate open space into previously developed areas so they stay competitive in recruiting and retaining businesses and residents, but also to address the growing concerns over water and air quality. These types of improvements are much more expensive and timely to make, as opposed to had they been planned intentionally before the growth occurred.
Rockwall County is experiencing a tremendous amount of growth, and much of the undeveloped land and natural open space we enjoy today will be turned into subdivisions, businesses and retail destinations in a matter of years. Different types of development and how they are connected have an impact on mobility, water quality, local workforce, property values and tax rates, and because we are such a small county, what happens in one city can have a significant affect on the other communities. We have a unique opportunity to learn from the mistakes other communities have made, and develop a coordinated county-wide strategy for growth that allows us to leverage the natural assets in our county in a manner that mitigates environmental impacts and maximizes economic development and quality of life benefits.
Goals for The Open Space Master Plan
This county-wide open space master plan will identify all of the current plans each of the cities have in place for floodplains, parks, trails and other open space areas, and identify opportunities for improved natural and multipurpose trail connections throughout the county. It will also look for ways to preserve key floodplain corridors and natural habitats that are critical to regional water quality and ecosystems. Finally, it will provide some recommendations for green infrastructure strategies that cities can consider implementing at project, neighborhood and watershed scales to improve water quality and reduce demands on stormwater infrastructure. By evaluating watershed and ecosystem impacts at the county level and identifying opportunities to connect the park and cultural assets of our individual communities together with non-vehicular trails, Rockwall County will position itself as a premier destination for residents and businesses and ensure it stays that way well into the future.
In my next post, I will talk about why this planning effort is important to people of all backgrounds, interests and ages and highlight some specific areas we would like your input on. Please share your thoughts on this and future posts in the comments section below. If you’re not already, please join the email list to receive notifications when future posts and discussion comments are posted on this website, and like the Open Space Alliance page on Facebook (www.facebook.com/rockwallopenspace) for more frequent information and updates.
Kevin Shepherd is a Rockwall resident and co-founder of VERDUNITY, the consulting firm leading the Open Space Planning effort. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read similar posts from Kevin and his colleagues at www.verdunity.com/news-and-views.