Monday, April 17, 2023

Richardson's Most Important Election in a Generation.

Every two years Richardson has the opportunity to select a new Mayor and City Council. Traditionally the Mayor and Council seats undergo little or a slow turnover. This year Richardson gets a new Mayor, two new council persons, and potentially a third in a contested seat. 

For these reasons and others I believe this is the most important election for Richardson in a generation.

Richardson Comprehensive Plan Cover
Cover for COR's 2009 Comp Plan

The Richardson City Council, with Richardson residents and businesses (should the latter choose to be involved), will have a busy two years ahead. That is because Richardson is updating its comprehensive plan.

This elections and the changes it can bring are an opportunity to bring Richardson fully forward as a grown-up 21st-century city. So far, we have been doing well growing up but gaining 20,000 new residents in 10 years and more on the way. It is time to embrace what we can be fully. Now is that time with a new Mayor, a new council, a new Comprehensive Plan, and a new Economic Development Policy.

Never has there been (arguably since the 1960s) such a collision of changes of this magnitude.

With a new Mayor, two new council persons, and three council persons starting their second term, this update to the comprehensive plan could and probably will have impacts beyond the lifetimes of many participants. Because the City Council can be impactful in that process, the selection of who sits on that dais will have a generational impact on the future of Richardson.

What is a Comprehensive Plan?

A Comprehensive Place (or abbreviated as Comp Plan) is usually thought of as a 20 to 30 year plan that guides the physical changes or progression of a city. For example, our neighbor to north defines their Comp Plan as:

a 20 to 30-year framework to guide the city’s future, providing policy and direction related to future growth and redevelopment, transportation, housing, city services, and other important aspects of the community. The Plan will inform current and future decision-makers about where we’ve been, where we are today, where we want to go, and how we intend to get there. -- City of Plano, Texas, Comprehensive Plan

A Comp Plan's most impactful part is its land use guidance. "Land Use" is a compact way of saying what we can build, how we can build it, where we want (or do not) want to build it, and zoning.

The most important motivating reason cities create Comp Plans is zoning. Texas State Law requires that a city plan and then produce a zoning ordinance. If you are reading this and live in a single-family house surrounded by single-family houses, then that is because of zoning. Why can't you or your neighbor turn your home into a pub or build a new four-story house? Zoning.

So when a Comprehensive Plan is complete, what typically happens is zoning is updated. When (and if) zoning for an area changes, owners and developers look differently at what can be built "by right" which is a fancy way of saying that it doesn't need a city council vote to get permission to build certain things. All the developer or owner has to do is comply with the building codes and standards.

These changes ultimately tremendously impact how things turn out in the long term.

Take a look at these pictures.

Old Retail vs New Retail


A comprehensive plan and zoning determines whether a city gets more of one or less of the other. Anyone who knows me knows I would argue that the bottom picture is more valuable and productive for cities. I do not have to say that because it is indisputably true.

It is essential not to be distracted by superficial elements in this example. Each picture is, more or less, the same type of land use configured differently. I could pick from a dozen picture examples with the same story. The point is the Comp Plan, and its subsequent zoning changes will majorly affect how things turn out in the long run. As Richardson goes into the future does it continue the top photo, or does it get more of the bottom photo?

Let's give some Richardson "could have been examples." Do you dislike the progress and development plans of Palisades? Did you dislike that Richardson is getting warehouses where the old Owens Sausage property is? Are there too many chicken drive-thrus near Belt Line and Plano Roads?

Let's give some "It's going good" examples. Do you like the redo of the Lockwood District and Velvet Taco on Campbell? If you answer "Yes" to all or some of these in both sets of examples, then having a forward-looking Comp Plan is for you. If you answered "Yes" to any in the "could have been" paragraph, then understand deficiencies in our current Comp Plan and zoning produced those things. Our current Comp Plan is deficient. We did not rezone parcels of land whose land use changed after the City Council adopted it unless they were in study zones. It created six study zones and in 14 years we did not finish studying them! All of that in the "could have been" paragraph was preventable. Those and many more were "self-owns."

If you answered "Yes" to any of the "It's going good" paragraph, then understand that a new Comp Plan encourages and codifies those. However, appreciate their existence was a series of lucky breaks and not entirely because they were planned or sought.

Our city council and mayor choices will decide how forward-looking Richardson will go in its Comp Plan and zoning to allow productive changes. Will these council members be passive and just "go along?" Will they listen to citizens and treat public input like more than a check box? Will they listen to bunches of "noisy" residents who think little should change? Will they listen to members of the community with expertise and experience? Importantly will they demand more from our staff and consultants? If things are not quite right when proposed, will they be willing to "tap the breaks" and step back and make changes?

You might say, "But Andrew, I care more about these other things. I care about economic development and First Responders, parks and/or infrastructure more than those things."

If you care about those, you should care deeply about who influences the Comp Plan.

Richardson's economic development plans are undergoing a tremendous shift. Previously, our economic development was managed by the Chamber of Commerce through the Richardson Economic Development Partnership. Economic Development has been brought in-house. We have a new economic development director, and the path for more contemporary strategies is being set. The new approach and how it works out will have a massive overlap with the Comp Plan. City council members who understand this change and its gravity are essential to Richardson's future.

When discussing First Responders, parks and infrastructure, the question is, "How do we pay for all of that?" Answer: Land Use. Property taxes are the biggest revenue generator that we can control. We want to keep the property tax rate the same. Instead, we would prefer to have it work smarter.

Take this graphic below.

Land Value Productivity of revenue per acre.

This 3-D projection map shows how property tax generation varies depending on the land use pattern. In this case, we are looking toward the northwest with Brick Row to the left (south) and Downtown to the right (north). The taller the stack, the more productive that parcel is for the city coffers.

You notice that the new townhome and TOD development by the Spring Valley DART station is highly productive. Old Downtown is productive, and the new townhomes at Kaufman and Greenville are incredibly productive.

The key takeaway is that a selective redevelopment of areas and an enhancement of productive old ones helps pay for those things you might care about such as First Responders, parks, and the rest. All of that potential gets laid out in the Comprehensive Plan. If you haven't read my previous piece, The Story of Scottsdale, then I encourage you to do so because it adds to this story. A Mayor and Council that understands these issues and will boldly embrace them is a must.

The conclusion is this. Richardson is on the verge of making its next step. It took steps to incorporate 100 years ago. We leaped when it exploded in the 1950s after WWII. We took another big step in the 1990s with the expansion of the creation of the Telecom Corridor ideas. Now it is time to take that next big step, which means choosing this council wisely.


  1. I can't tell who your audience is. You say the election is the most important in decades, but you don't give any guidance as to which candidates understand what you're preaching. Maybe you are really talking not to the voters but to the candidates instead, telling them how they should be thinking if they are lucky enough to get elected.

    1. Mark,

      Thanks for the feedback.

      I'll make comments on who in a later post.

      I thought it was implicit when I stated, "Our city council and mayor choices will decide...," "choosing this council wisely," "If you care about those, you should care deeply..." and so on.

      The Mayor and Council do not choose themselves. The voters do that. I do appreciate the feedback.


    2. The point I think Mark was trying to make, and that I certainly feel is "tell me who are the urbanists running." For all of us who are already committed to urbanism, this blog post would be more useful as a single sentence. "Here are the candidates that I recommend based on their views on urbanism: x, y, z"

  2. Where did you get that productivity graphic? Is there a source where we can look at all of Richardson, or even all of DFW?

    1. That is an excellent question. I produced that graphic using a GIS program and processing data from the Dallas Central Appraisal District. It would take a lot of work to get it into a publicly digestible form.