When Rockwall County Judge-elect Frank New takes the reins of county government in January, his first order of business will be to rework the county’s regulations on subdivisions, he told the Herald-Banner last week.
“We’re going to have to dive right into the subdivision regulations right out of the gate,” said New, a Republican who defeated Democrat Brandon Vines in the November general election after dispatching current County Judge David Sweet in the Republican primary runoff election.
The immediate focus on subdivision regulations “sets the tone and pace and scale for the development that comes into the county” and will give municipalities in Rockwall County a stronger hand in their dealings with developers, New reasoned.
Development in Rockwall County has been stunning. The county, one of the state’s smallest in terms of geographical size, has gone from a population of 25,600 in 1990 to 110,000 in 2020 as new housing and commercial developments have sprung up at an accelerating pace.
As they negotiate with cities in Rockwall County, developers hold the “ultimate ace in the hole,” said New. They’re able to tell cities that if they don’t give them the density they want, they’ll just place their developments in the county and build whatever they like, according to New.
“And if the county doesn’t step up, what it’s doing is allowing the developers to actually be in a stronger negotiating position with the cities, so it’s not just in the county lands, it’s forcing the cities to do things they don’t want to do,” New argues.
“Other counties have much more stringent regulations than what we do,” said New, vowing to change that dynamic. “My goal is to make them (regulations) so stringent that it will force the developers to play nice with the cities.”
He pledged to make Rockwall County’s subdivision regulations “the most restrictive possible.”
“We need to slow down. It’s the Wild West,” he said.
New said he believes he’ll have the support from other members of the Rockwall County Commissioners Court. Still, he doesn’t expect developers to suddenly see things his way.
“I’m pretty pragmatic about it,” he said. “We will get sued. In my opinion, we should have been sued four years ago. We should have stood up and taken a stand, but we didn’t so developers have a head start.”
The whole point of his goal to manage growth boils down to taxes and infrastructure.
“Right now the developers can come in and build what they want. Issue a MUD (municipal utility district), which I’m 100 % against,” he said.
“Existing citizens are left to figure out the roads, the sewer, the water, the fire (suppression) and all the things that come with it,” he said.“We tend to tell ourselves that infrastructure equals roads. and if we solve roads we’ve solved infrastructure. Not necessarily,” said New.
Infrastructure, he explains, also includes jail space, schools, electrical, gas, sewer, fiber optics, mass transit, water distribution and more.
As he talks about going to battle with developers, one might get the impression that this Republican businessman (he owns a commercial flooring company) is anti-growth.
“I am not anti-growth,” he argues. “I want us to develop, but I want us to develop properly at a pace and scale that we can keep up with.”
“Growth should fund itself,” he declared. “Existing citizens should not be on the hook by reducing your quality of life or increase your tax burden to pay for the growth.”
Along with managing growth, another top priority for New is establishing an office of public information.
“There’re a couple of hills I’m willing to fight and die on, and that’s one of them,” he said of modernizing the county’s process of disseminating public information.
New took pains to explain that he is not advocating for a “public relations” department. He believes, however, that keeping citizens informed in new and modern ways should be an important function of county government
“It’s not the 1800s. It’s time for us to mature a little bit,” he said, later adding: “I can tell you that just pinning a notice on the bulletin board at the courthouse doesn’t get it done anymore.”
After going through two-plus years of the COVID-19 pandemic, another thing New wants to see accomplished is to put more discretion for releasing public health information into the hands of the county’s medical authority, Dr. Dirk Perritt.
New said he wants to serve for two terms — eight years — before moving on from the Commissioners Court.
When his term in office is over, he hopes people will remember him as someone who championed “professionalism and communication and brought people together” despite the polarization and divisiveness of the times.
A sense of community should outweigh political views, he believes.
“Ultimately, the fact that we all choose to be neighbors – it trumps all the other things. The fact that I’ve got someone who lives next door to me is more valuable to me and more important than what political sign they have in their yard.”
Also, he wants to “see us take control of our own destiny as far as growth. and just stop letting the Metroplex run over the top of us. If we don’t, we’re going to wake up and it will be too late."
We’re going to be Garland 2.0.”
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