Home to one of the state’s largest historic districts and USA’s fastest growing populations, McKinney’s charm and comfortable pace is quite different from the usual urban sprawl
By Fareeha Qayoom; photographs by Faryal Virk
unal Mauladad-Faruqi is the assistant director of planning, in the city government of McKinney, Texas. She is Pakistani by origin, was born and bred in Kenya, and now lives and works in USA. She is one of very few Kenyan/Pakistani extraction women to make it this far even if she’s a US citizen. It makes you feel proud,” she says. “It’s a lot of hard work but it’s worth it. We have huge agendas, about 30 to 40 items daily. We start our workdays at 7:00 AM and work weekends too. Everything has to be processed, even though, its paperless now, it has to go in a CD. We pride ourselves on our fast turnaround. My job is a lot of fun; it gives me tremendous sense of pride and satisfaction to see the end result whenever I drive through the city. Sometimes you go ‘what was I thinking when I approved that?’ ”
One major difference between USA and Pakistan is the attitude of government employees. “Taxpayers have major clout in USA. They pay our salaries. We are afraid of them as a matter of policy,” she says. “Since we work for the city government, we have to be polite and helpful no matter what. I remember this one occasion when I almost lost it though, this chap was being totally obnoxious and unreasonable so I finally took out a penny and gave it to him. That closed the discussion pretty fast since he got the point immediately that nothing was worth this much aggravation and his tax contribution only paid a penny of my salary! ”
McKinney city government is very active in the community. “McKinney is the fastest growing city in USA – it’s a big deal to us. We have codes and rules for everything and very active law enforcement. US citizens rarely break the rules; they are scared of authority. You are considered more patriotic if you respect the laws of the land. That’s another major difference between Pakistan and USA. Here breaking the rules is no big deal,” she says.
“We have three criteria – Federal, State and local. All residents have to comply with the city regulations on top of the federal and state laws. We check all buildings, even residential ones. Inspectors go in and check each phase of construction. You have to pay a fine if it fails inspection. If you need to cut a tree in McKinney, you need to get a permit. If you want to put up a sign, you need to get a permit,” she confirms.
“There are 34 zoning districts in McKinney and they have specific criteria and standards – for example, we have five categories of single family residential developments, three categories of multi-family developments; everything we do has to have the blessings of elected officials – mayor and the city council, though we report to the city manager. All building plans have to go through a due process. Rezoning requests also require due process and community involvement. We are very good at sticking to our guns and we simply won’t recommend or pass any building plans that are inappropriate for the community. Without due process, we are doing disservice to the community,” she explains.
McKinney is a prime example of ‘green buildings’. “We are very concerned about emissions and air quality,” she says. “We’ll charge impact fees to the development/builder for road, water and waste- water management. We require six foot sidewalks for example and may charge him impact fees to improve roadways around his development; ‘Westin Hotel’ is one such example.”
“McKinney’s an older city; we want to make sure it’s the best, a model city. We really take pride in what we do. We have a land use plan. We are responsible for its development, growth, zoning and infra-structure. We follow a comprehensive plan. Every city is required to have one. There are many examples of beautiful residential and mixed-use communities in McKinney. One example is Craig Ranch, a 2,500 acre master planned, mixed use development. Here, business, entertainment and residential life meet in a ‘new urbanism’ concept reminiscent of yesterday’s hometowns, with all the state of the art amenities you’d expect in a quality, world class development,” she says.
“We only encourage a quality product. We will impose additional development restrictions if we want to stop a development from going through. Our goal is McKinney and its residents, that’s the bottom line,” she declares.
Commenting on Lahore, she says, “If you can hook us up with LDA or DHA; that would be great. We would love Lahore to be sister community with McKinney. I would bring two of my planning guys with me and first of all rezone and redo MM Alam Road. It needs a major facelift. Residents need to work on restoring older buildings. LDA can offer offices and residents incentives to improve their properties. They can create a corridor district here. There are so many parking deficiencies – I noticed each building uses a different parking space ratio. In McKinney for example, we require 1 space per 75 foot of building area – that’s standard. There should be a corridor plan for height, size, pedestrian, shopper foot traffic. I see a lot of piecemeal development going on over here; they need to address basic questions like public rest rooms, emergency exits, sewer lines. This could’ve been planned better. They could do something really fabulous with it. There’s too much signage, especially free standing signage. The Mall Road is breathtaking on the other hand. It’s a prime example of smart design, very intelligent use of space. Yes, DHA is conceptually right too. They just need to tighten it up a bit. They do have some standards for residential and commercial developments. Lahore is so green even though it’s a hot country. I don’t know why they allow so much glass here. We even dictate building materials in McKinney by the way,” she comments.
“I don’t see anything unique about the current crop of new buildings. However, I do like Kingson Mall – they have thought about the appearance and signage. It is very well planned and well thought out. There are brick pavers and even walkways. More people will go there and shop because of convenience of shopping and parking. There is access and egress points – the entire site plan is very nice. Today’s builders don’t emphasize landscaping. Lahore requires major signage revamp,” she declares.
To learn more about McKinney, visit their website: www.mckinneytexas.org ■
This article was originally published in the print edition of “Valuemag,” issue 2, June 2008. Munal Faruqi has since then “left the country” to settle abroad “and with the US economy the way it is, development has slowed down a bit,” reports Faryal Virk