Home Sizes Likely to be Further Limited in Austin

This is from last week’s Austin Statesman. Proposed home size restrictions are more restrictive than the temporary restrictions currently in place under the building moratorium. I have mixed opinions about this sort of building limitation. In general I think the limitations are OK if the policy allows for a reasonable exception or variance in those instances where it makes sense.

Article is posted below. For more information, go to: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/zoning/sf_regs.htm

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A city-appointed group has agreed on a plan to stop what some Austinites are calling a proliferation of homes that are out of scale with surrounding houses. The 16-member task force of neighborhood advocates, builders and architects will present its ideas to the Planning Commission tonight and to the City Council in June. The public will have a chance to comment at both meetings.

The plan “is a compromise, so a lot of people might not be happy with it,” said builder Michael Casias, the task force member who wrote the final proposal. “But the alternative would’ve been a version of the most extreme positions by the neighborhoods or builders.”

The plan would allow the bigger of a 2,300-square-foot home or a home whose square footage is 40 percent of the lot size (for example, a 10,000-square-foot lot could hold a 4,000-square-foot home). It also would create an “envelope” or “tent” boundary of development for each lot using height and angle requirements.

Builders who want to build bigger homes could seek a reprieve from a yet-to-be-determined city commission. Neighborhoods that want different rules could ask the city to approve rules tailored to their area. The city also would evaluate the rules after a year.

The task force has not decided whether the rules should apply only in older, central neighborhoods where some residents have complained about homes that dwarf nearby houses, or in suburban areas, too.

If passed by the council, the rules would replace a moratorium on larger homes and interim building limits. Those limits allow for the bigger of a 2,500-square-foot home; 20 percent more square footage than a torn-down home if it is rebuilt; or a home no bigger than 40 percent of the lot size. (The newly proposed 2,300-square-foot limit was a barter between builders and neighborhood activists on the task force.)

The development “tent” or “envelope” would be 15-feet high at the property line andextend 45 degrees inward and upward. In some cases, chimneys, gables and dormers could poke out of that envelope.

“You could still build a large, tall house, but you’d have to push it toward the center of the lot, away from your neighbors. So it will improve compatibility. A house won’t be looming over the homes next door,” said Chris Allen, an architect representing the Rosedale Neighborhood Association on the task force.

The envelope will preserve tree canopies in older neighborhoods by preventing builders from building to the edge of a lot, Allen said.

To prevent the sides of homes from being big and plain, which critics say makes homes look big and boxy, walls longer than 30 feet would have to be broken up with design elements.

The square footage calculation would exclude attics, basements, ground-floor porches, and detached garages up to 450 feet. It would include second- and third-story covered porches and any attached garage space greater than 200 square feet.

Only one task force member, builder David Arscott, voted against the proposal because he wanted a bigger development envelope and more allowed square footage. Arscott represents the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin and said people who buy smaller homes in the central city need to be able to rebuild and get the value out of their land.

The task force “is looking at the issues too simplistically and thinking the economic impact doesn’t matter, but it matters a lot,” he said.

Casias said he also worries that the rules would hurt the development of one form of affordable housing — duplexes, which under the new rules might be too small to appeal to buyers and builders.

To prevent builders from maxing out lots, homes would have to sit 25 feet from the street (the current setback) or the average of the front setbacks of the homes next door, if that is shorter. Current setback rules would apply for side yards (5 feet) and backyards (10 feet).

Homes and duplexes could be no taller than 32 feet (currently duplexes can be only 30 feet; single-family homes can be 35). The new rules also would tighten up a few loopholes that have been used to build taller homes.

The task force wants the city to educate residents about Austin’s limits on impervious cover — surfaces such as home footprints, driveways and patios and not impose tougher restrictions. City leaders cited drainage problems from bigger homes when they imposed the current moratorium.

Current city rules allow impervious cover on only 45 percent of a lot. Some neighborhood advocates on the task force wanted to require builders to include drainage measures or preserve trees to earn the 45 percent; others felt those ideas were too restrictive.

“There are a lot of people who just aren’t aware that what they’re building creates a drainage nuisance for their neighbors. So this will help,” said task force member Laura Morrison, president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council.

For more information, go to: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/zoning/sf_regs.htm

2 thoughts on “Home Sizes Likely to be Further Limited in Austin”

  1. Hi my name is brent is crawford, I am college student and am writing a research paper on the effects both new development and impostion of ordinances play on many of austin’s inner city neighborhoods. I came across this article through google and am pleased to find some facts considering the actual ordinance, which i learned has been nick named the “McMansions” ordinance. My only question is how do you think the effects of the newly imposed “McMansion ordinance affect the real estate maket for the central neighborhoods of austin? My family owns a house in the zilker and Barton springs area and as has seen new development emerge such as new duplexes and remodeling of homes. Have regulations of the ordinance worsened the market for the area or have they not? Are more homes being sold than before the ordinance or less?
    I would greatly appriciate any concern or information in regards to my questions.

    Brent Crawford

  2. Brent,

    I haven’t heard of any significant result of the new ordinance, but I imagine there could be instances where the ordinance increased or decreased the value of a particular home by some amount. But overall, I don’t think it’s going to make much difference in the affected neighborhoods.


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