ROCKWALL, TX (Nov. 28, 2022) Several weeks ago, Heath former Mayor, Lorne Liechty, wrote an article entitled “Rockwall County Open Space: ‘We Must Not Delay any Longer’, which was published in the local newspaper, “Blue Ribbon News”.
In his article Mr. Liechty argued pervasively that Open Spaces in the county was a subject that had been neglected, was absolutely needed, and it was time to reawaken this entire effort with the goal of developing and implementing an Open Space Plan for Rockwall County.
So, what’s the background of this subject and why the article by Mr. Liechty?
This subject started officially in 2008 when the Commissioners Court adopted a policy on Open Space. Specifically, three objectives of Open Space were outlined: protect floodplains and greenbelts, build trails, and develop a large public park area.
As in most broadly defined programs, it took time to really get started on deciding what needed to be done. Many people, led by a stalwart Mrs. Nell Welborn, became involved in an “Open Space” group outside the purview of the Commissioners Court with the objective of getting a buy-in from the cities and start some actual implementation plans. Little success was achieved in their efforts.
But in about 2013, the County started including this group, made of up citizens who had volunteered from all over the county, in a monthly county-wide update series of meetings on Transportation, Emergency Management, and now Open Space. In these meetings official representatives from all the cities, plus the county, went through an update on these three areas and long-range planning was discussed.
But nothing tangible happened in the Open Space area even though Mrs. Welborn and the group made many presentations to the cities and the county on the need for Open Space and some preliminary recommendations to get the program started.
In the 2014-2015 time frame the Commissioners Court commissioned a formal contractor study of Open Space. This resulted in the issuance of the “Rockwall County Open Space Plan”. This plan was developed with the input of concerned citizens from all areas of the county. Rightfully so, these citizens had great hopes for Open Space as now there was an actual implementation plan and focus from the Commissioners Court on the subject.
After the issuance of the plan, the Commissioners Court simply dropped the ball and did not follow through with actions needed to implement the plan. Different Commissioners were chosen as the leader from the Court on the plan, but little if anything actually happened.
Then in about 2019, Mr. David Magness, Commissioners from Precinct Four, picked by the Court leadership on this subject and he started to get things moving. Unfortunately, David died while in office…and no one assumed the leadership of Open Space after his death: the subject “died on the vine”.
So here we are today. Housing developments are springing up all over the County. Since the cities have been basically restricted to their current boundaries due to that ill conceived Annexation Law that was passed two terms ago in Austin, expect more of these developments outside the cities. And since the County does not have the authority to define such things as building codes, setbacks of houses, etc., expect to see these developments to be densely packed with buildings with little regard for any of the attributes of Open Space.
So, what is it really going to take to make Open Space happen in Rockwall County?
First, it is going to take someone on the Commissioners Court to be the person that drives this to a solution. It’s time to stop paying lip service to this subject and start making something happen.
In addition to someone from the Court that needs to drive this to a solution, each city also needs to have someone in their official structure responsible for their actions on this subject.
For this to be successful, it is going to need buy-in from all the cities. It cannot be a plan that does not have the full support of all the cities and the county.
The Open Space Group of citizens have the backbone of an organization of committed individuals, and they have recently led an effort to make the citizens aware of Open Space. They need to be used by the county as the County representative DRIVES this to a solution.
It’s time to quit talking about the subject of Open Space and instead make the plan and implementation of Open Space a reality.
It has been 14 years on the desk of the cities and the county. It’s past time to make it happen!
Submitted Letter to the Editor/Guest Column contributed by Jerry Hogan, a former Rockwall County Judge. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 214-394-4033.
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