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Fast-growing Fulshear weighs charter adoption

Posted on April 20, 2016 in

Tommy Kuykendall remembers when people more likely knew of Dozier’s Grocery and Market, famed for its barbecue, than the town of Fulshear that surrounded it.

Today, Kuykendall serves as mayor of a small city that’s coming of age. The once-pastoral community of just a few hundred residents has grown into a city of nearly 8,000 that some say is on its way to becoming the largest municipality in Fort Bend County.

Fulshear residents next month face a major decision about how they want that future to unfold. Voters on May 7 will consider approving a charter drafted by a group of residents that would redefine the way in which local government operates.

“I think it’s where the city needs to go long-term,” Kuykendall, 49, says. “Cities that are advancing - and they’re growing, and they’re prospering - they’ve all made this transition.”

Home-rule charters can be adopted in Texas only by cities with more than 5,000 residents. Fulshear’s striking population boom sent it flying past that mark more than a year ago.

Fulshear’s 22-page document would supplant what is referred to as general law, which governs all cities below a population of 5,000. A charter institutionalizes a city’s chosen form of government and allows for more discretion locally, which can be needed as a city population grows and demands more complex government, explained James Thurmond, a public administration expert at the University of Houston.

Under Fulshear’s draft charter, a city manager would oversee the day-to-day operations of government; he or she would report to a seven-member city council, including five members elected from single-member districts. The proposal further stipulates term limits, allows for the city to annex property and outlines how citizens can place initiatives on a ballot.

Cities of 5,000 or more residents have historically been eager to set their own rules, said Thurmond, who met with the 13-member Fulshear charter committee.

Committee chair CJ McDaniel, who moved to Fulshear in 2013, said he immediately saw advantages to citizens making the decisions about where they live.

“Growth is going to happen whether we want it or not,” said McDaniel said. “It’s a popular area for people to come to. ... The citizens now have control over their own destiny.”

Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Roberts, who is challenging Kuykendall for mayor, disagrees. In a Facebook post, Roberts criticized the document for not explicitly stating that the Constitution would be followed.

“Having a manager form of government will make it difficult and almost impossible for the voice of the people to be heard…” Roberts wrote.

Still, a 2010 Texas Municipal League survey found that only 24 cities with populations over 5,000 out of 375 surveyed had not adopted a home-rule charter, an authority granted by the state legislature a century prior.

“Home-rule cities do have more authority,” said Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the municipal league, “but it’s not something that every city needs.”

Away from agriculture

Fulshear, however, is racing to keep pace with rapid changes.

A history of the city draws back to a man named Churchill Fulshear who, as the story goes, received a land grant and established Fulshear in 1824. The town was platted in 1890 and prospered from a railroad line that ran through it.

Fulshear incorporated as a city in 1977. The city remained largely agrarian, with cotton, cattle and horses abounding until the early 2000s. Then traffic arrived from Houston on the newly extended Westpark Tollway, and a master-planned community, Cross Creek Ranch, took the place of a cattle operation.

“Things started happening then,” recalled Scott Evans, who runs Dozier’s alongside his brother.

Among those watching the changes was Fulshear native Herc Meier, 57. He recalled a time when everyone knew everyone - “and their business.”

“I grew up with so many sets of parents,” said Meier, who supports the charter. “If I messed up five streets away, it was home before I was.”

By the 1980s, Meier recalled, people in town began to talk about Houston stretching their way. Some didn’t want the growth to come, while others said it would be inevitable, and thought that they needed to plan.

“I think as a whole, there’s always people who don’t like change,” added Evans, who lives outside the city limits but sees the charter as “the only sensible way to go.”

In 2000, the census found Fulshear had a population of 716, City Administrator CJ Snipes wrote in an email. Based on residential garbage accounts, the city believes its population hit 1,500 in 2010, following the annexation of Cross Creek Ranch, then 5,000 in late 2014 and a little more than 7,900 in March.

The population spike recalls the rural-to-urban transformations of places in the county closer to Houston, like Sugar Land and Missouri City.

Mixing old and new

The Fulshear of today seems a place of old and new. Small shops dot a quaint downtown area. Ranch-style homes sit on acres of land gated by rustic metal fences. Developments like Cross Creek Ranch line the roadways with grand entryways, sparkling water features and pristine landscaping.

On the city’s horizon are its first H-E-B and its first stand-alone Starbucks, said Don McCoy, executive director of the Fulshear Area Chamber of Commerce, which has gone from 50 people gathering at a restaurant to 384 members who meet at a church.

But Fulshear, which measures 12 square miles, is also a community that prizes eateries like Dozier’s - “an institution,” McCoy says - and First Cup Cafe.

“It has personality, it has customer service, they know your name,” McCoy adds.

McCoy suggested people are friendly because they are relaxed - enjoying a small-town feel, with hills and streams and, on a clear day, a view of the Galleria area’s Williams Tower off in the distance.

“Yes, we’re growing fast, but you’ve got to control it,” McCoy said. “I guess we don’t want to be Anytown, USA. We want to be Fulshear, USA. Fulshear, Texas.”