A small town incorporated in 1969 between Dallas and Ellis counties, along IH-35 East, is rapidly growing, so the city council decided it was time to formulate a plan to meet the new changes head-on.
Glenn Heights Mayor Pro-Tem Sonja Brown said she was not aware if the city even had a formal plan on file when she was first elected to the city council in 2018.
If so, it had been many years since any type of effort was made to put procedures in place that would guide growth and development, foster civic and community engagement, or provide direction toward a vision of the future for the small community south of Dallas.
All that has changed. Brown and the city council, along with City Manager David Hall and Mayor Harry Garrett, have formalized a long-term strategic plan that aims to preserve the intimate community feel of Glenn Heights while preparing for and addressing a significant population boost.
“We have all worked diligently and hard to make sure that the City of Glenn Heights goes forward with where we are now,” Brown said in an interview with The Dallas Express.
When Brown was elected, a goal of hers was to improve the quality of life for Glenn Heights residents, something she felt the previous council had not adequately addressed.
“I’m huge on quality of life,” the mayor pro-tem said. For Brown, “quality of life” includes broadband access and “making sure we are properly staffed on our emergency responders; not just that there are enough, but also that they are taken care of,” she added.
The council’s strategic plan addresses “almost everything that touches the residents of Glenn Heights,” she explained, then listed some examples. “Our roads, our infrastructure, our education, and our first responders. Our goal was to see a strategic plan that encompasses all of that.”
Like many small Texas cities, Glenn Heights has seen dramatic growth in recent years. The 2010 census showed Glenn Heights’ population was just over 11,000, but by 2020, it had increased by 45% to nearly 16,000 residents.
“Every city should have a strategic plan in place, and it had been a little while since we had one,” City Manager David Hall told The Dallas Express. “There have been a lot of changes in our city; we are growing tremendously, and the City Council has been working on this for a while now.”
Hall claimed that one of the obstacles to getting the strategic plan done has been the lack of sufficient resources. It is a challenge he thinks most cities face but one that the plan does not solve. Rather, the strategic plan organizes how the city will potentially use the resources it already has more efficiently.
However, Brown noted that she encountered other obstacles and problems as well.
“I would say engagement [has been an obstacle],” Brown said. Community feedback, while vital for city leaders, often only comes when serious problems arise.
“We really want the buy-in of the residents; we want engagement from the residents. Unfortunately, we just don’t get it,” she said.
One way Brown fosters community engagement is by reaching out to homeowners’ associations and other groups and hosting town hall meetings to interact with the community. At one of her recent town hall meetings, 25 people showed up, a significant improvement over the two who came to her first town hall.
The strategic plan will direct previously existing funding to complete the new city center, house the city council, and include a new police and fire station. Adjacent to the building will be a first-of-its-kind playground designed to be accessible to disabled children, funded partly by the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
The plan aims to identify projects to help existing businesses grow. New businesses will be encouraged to locate in Glenn Heights, and the council will seek opportunities to increase housing by utilizing the limited open space available.
A primary goal of the strategic plan is establishing a downtown area as Glenn Heights currently lacks one. Brown hopes that creating a development zone will, in turn, foster entertainment, dining, and other cultural opportunities, ultimately offering residents a better lifestyle than what they have today.