New Texas Legislation Sets 'Shot Clock' for Development Reviews
A recent bill approved by the Texas Legislature could have a serious impact on municipal efforts to regulate development.
Texas House Bill 3167, dubbed the “shot clock” bill, went into effect on Sept. 1, 2019. The bill expands on previous legislation requiring cities and counties to act on plat applications within 30 calendar days. The new law extends this requirement to other types of site development plans, including preliminary plats, preliminary subdivision plans, and subdivision construction plans. Additionally, subsequent applications will now be subject to a 15-day review period. Plans that have not been acted on at the end of these timeframes must be automatically approved.
Under the new law, municipalities have the option to “approve,” “disapprove” or “approve with conditions” future development applications. The law further requires municipal authorities conditionally approving or disapproving an application to provide a written statement of conditions or reasons for disapproval, citing specific laws or municipal ordinance language. This provision is intended to prevent reviewers from providing arbitrary comments to prevent a development from occurring. However, opponents of the new regulations argue this provision prevents staff from using engineering judgement or best practices to prevent unsafe or undesirable development practices.
Finally, the rule prevents staff from making new comments on applications after the initial review and comment period. This stipulation prevents reviewers from providing comments on design elements that were overlooked during the first review but also has the potential to extend to cases where modifications to the plans have resulted in new compliance or safety issues.
Supporters of the new rules cite the benefits of speeding up the development review process and tightening up loopholes that cost developers time and money. Opponents say the abbreviated time frame and lack of flexibility given to the review process pose an undue burden on review staff that will contribute to challenges ensuring that future development occurs safely. Developers may also find that review staff are forced to reject incomplete submittals, rather than engage in back-and-forth discussion to resolve minor comments.
Cities in Texas are responding to the legislation through increases in development application fees, staff augmentation, budget redistribution, changes in their development review processes, and updates to City engineering standards and ordinances governing development.
Written by Chris Johnson, PE, CFM, and Wylie Gorup, EIT, CFM, ENV SP