Austin McMansion Ordinance May Be Undone by TX Leg

This article below is from the Austin Business Journal today. It’s a recurring scenario for Austin, where those who don’t like the local Austin laws or ordinances passed by Austin Lawmakers take their case to the State Legislature and push for laws that supersede or nullify local Austin laws. The Texas Legislature is forbidden by the Texas Constitution from passing laws that target specific cities, but somehow they wiggle around that by passing State Laws which in fact accomplish the same thing. Now, they are going after Austin’s so-called McMansion Ordinance, which was approved last June 2006, and which limits the sizes of homes that can be built in certain areas.

I’m neither for or against the Austin McMansion Ordinance. It’s one of those issues where I can clearly see both the pros and cons, but the issue was studied to death and the law was a compromise between many different factions with opposing interests. I can live with that.

Bill takes hard look at home sizes
Austin Business Journal – Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A bill recently filed in the Texas Legislature could essentially nullify an Austin city ordinance that restricts home sizes in certain neighborhoods.

Rep. Edmund Kuempel (R-Seguin) has filed House Bill 1736, which would require that cities only regulate home size on one of three criteria: impervious cover, footprint of the lot or floor-to-area ratio. An ordinance passed in 2006 by the Austin City Council limited home sizes on all three criteria–an effort to stem new construction not in keeping with the character of Austin’s more established neighborhoods.

Ned Munoz, director of regulatory affairs for the Texas Association of Builders, says the group has been lobbying for legislation that would ease restrictions on new home construction. TAB also supports another bill filed by Kuempel, House Bill 1732, which would require a municipality to give proper notice before changing housing regulations. Munoz emphasizes that both bills would apply to municipalities across the state that might try to place so much restriction on new construction that it takes away from property value.

“What has happened with this ordinance is that people who own land are very limited on what they can do with it,” Munoz says.

The ordinance is essentially a one-size-fits-all law, says Munoz, putting the same restrictions on both small and large lots and penalizing the owners of smaller lots.

“This is impacting property values,” Munoz says. “People will not be able to get the same price for their land.”

Both bills are currently pending before the Land & Resource Management Committee.

“The impact of the bill is to gut the ordinance,” says Austin Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman. “This won’t allow us to regulate in areas covered by the ordinance.”

Huffman says the city council put together a 16-member taskforce comprised of people representing development and neighborhood interests. “That strikes a balance of those who are interested in remodeling homes, constructing new homes and protecting the character of our urban neighborhoods.”

Huffman says the taskforce held meetings for five months before making its recommendations to council in June 2006. The ordinance’s implementation was delayed until October to give the city time to get the word out to stakeholders and ensure staff was prepared to process requests based on the changes.

Huffman says Kuempel has asked the city to participate in discussions on the bill, but she adds that the city is opposed to any legislation that would gut its own ordinance.

Kuempel could not be reached for comment.

6 thoughts on “Austin McMansion Ordinance May Be Undone by TX Leg”

  1. “the law was a compromise between many different factions with opposing interests”

    No, it wasn’t; and the task-force really was stacked with the worst, most irresponsible, end of the neighborhood spectrum; and at least a few of the “builders” were really people who specialize in small home renovations – meaning they stood to benefit dramatically from the new operating conditions.

  2. “I” didn’t take it to the Lege, bonehead. I’d rather the state stayed out of it, even though I stand to get back the right to develop my property like all my neighbors already have.

  3. Latest news looks like the legislator who is contemplating this is trying to use the threat of a bill as leverage to get the City of Austin to rethink the policy. It is a tough issue. I lean toward property rights. On the other hand, I’ve personally seen and been inside some monsterous homes that are indeed to large and out of place for the setting they are in.


  4. The setback envelope itself would have addressed the “too large for the setting they are in” considering existing impervious cover limits. The FAR was just mean-spirited – designed to discourage duplexes and garage apartments, at the behest of a group of people who are wealthy enough (or have been here long enough) to own disproportionately large lots in central Austin (like Karen McGraw, Mary Gay Maxwell, Danette Chimenti – look in traviscad).

  5. I have first hand experience with the MMO and it is poorly written contradictory in nature and punishes those who wish to build progressive modern style homes.

    The rehab I’m doing in clarksville has a mostly sub grade 1st floor and by the MMO it counts as SF against far. I’m trying to build a flat roof but by MMO I will have to make it a shed for it to protrude 1.5 out of the building tent. I would love to just call a flat roof a really shallow shed since in actuality it is. There is no such thing as a flat roof. Oh well, I hope it is struck down and people are allowed to do what they want with their land.


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