On April 30, residents of Hitchcock will have one last chance to add their ideas and concerns to a comprehensive plan for the community being developed by students at Texas A&M University at College Station.
The students of architecture and urban planning are part of the Texas Target Communities project, an Texas A&M University-based program designed to get students involved in real-life places with problems needing real life solutions.
As it stands, the plan’s key recommendation is to create a city center for the town bisected by state Highway 6 that, to passersby, can look like a place without a central core.
Hitchcock has struggled over the past year with daunting fiscal problems, including a depleted general fund that almost landed the over-extended town in bankruptcy, and reached a low moment last year when budget cuts at the city, including firing of the police chief, led to an effort to recall the mayor and major divisions within the town.
The Texas A&M University plan contends that for a community to move forward, it needs to unite around a plan that reflects what it wants its future to look like.
Among problems in Hitchcock identified by members of the community at a series of public meetings held by the Texas A&M University group were no grocery store in town, a lack of public amenities including anything for youth and other community members to do, and the lack of a city core.
Suggested in renderings of the new city center, which is on the north side of state Highway 6 at Main Street, is a new location for Hitchcock’s City Hall that has flooded multiple times in the past, including after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 when it took on a foot of water. City hall is on the north side of state Highway 6.
Versions of the new city hall move it to the south side of Highway 6 on a complex centered at Main Street that includes a community center, multipurpose gathering spaces, an outdoor recreational complex and a refurbished retail area that would invite visitors passing through Hitchcock to stop and take a look while providing the community with a shared common space.
The proposed city hall complex borders historic Stringfellow Orchards, 3.5 acres of some of the coastal region’s finest live oaks, bringing one of Hitchcock’s natural advantages, its trees, into focus, said Jaimie Masterson, associate director of Texas Target Communities at Texas A&M University. The property is privately owned by resident Sam Collins III, but ideas are being tossed around about its place in the newly designed city center, Masterson said.
“The idea has come up a lot,” Masterson said. “It’s a historic site and it’s beautiful. The question is how can we leverage this amazing asset and use it as a front-door gateway to Hitchcock?”
Like everything else about the Texas A&M University plan, the idea of incorporating Stringfellow Orchards as part of a network of assets at the city’s newly designed center is merely a proposal, an idea of what might work should the community come together in solidarity around a plan.
Just up the road, also on the south side of the highway, Hitchcock’s Good Ole Days Fairgrounds site would be reimagined to make it more visually inviting and physically hospitable to visitors, according to the students’ draft plan.
Linking various aspects of the city center would be sidewalks along a newly landscaped Highway 6, designed to slow traffic, linkage between the north and south sides of the highway, and bike and walking trails.
Enthusiasm for the plan from a task force composed of residents, including Collins, and support from Mayor Dorothy Childress, Planning and Zoning Director Joe Wood and Sabrina Schwertner, Hitchcock economic development manager, has been met with some resistance within the community, not an uncommon circumstance for Texas Target Communities projects, Masterson said.
“Most every community we go to, that’s what we hear,” Masterson said. “Usually we’re going to places with very limited resources and capacity, so we try to apply principles that lead to a plan that will stabilize the community first, then see it grow and prosper.”
Most recently, Texas Target Communities won an award from the American Planning Association’s Texas chapter for a comprehensive planning document put together by students for Liberty County, a guide to the county’s economic development, public infrastructure, housing and transportation system with a focus on environmental stewardship.
In Nolanville, a small town outside Fort Hood Army Base, a project similar to the one in Hitchcock has resulted in securing $1 million in grants for implementation of the plan, Masterson said.
“Grantors are often looking for a community approach, and they’ve leveraged the plan to help them go after funding,” she said. “So far, they’ve repaved some roads, solved some storm water management issues, fixed up a city park with new equipment and a community center, started a recycling program and hired a new city manager.”
Program coordinator Jeewasmi Thapa and students from a variety of graduate and undergraduate classes in Texas A&M University’s architecture and urban planning division will be on hand at the April 30 meeting in Hitchcock to present plans they have developed concerning the community’s projected future needs, economic development, facilities and parks, historic preservation, environmental stewardship of Hitchcock’s abundant wetlands, health care access, the community’s food needs, road improvement and maintenance, sidewalks and bike trails and a number of other community development strategies.
“After the students have done their presentations, we’ll take ideas from public input at the meeting and weave them into the recommendations to make sure the plan we design is what the community wants,” Thapa said.
“We take that and create a comprehensive plan, including a chapter with action steps the community needs to take and ideas on how to find funding for projects.”
In the end, it comes down to a good plan and a good process that the community is behind and excited about, Masterson said.
“It’s also about leadership in the community taking it to the next step,” Masterson said.