Lewisville, Flower Mound and Highland Village officials have come out against a new law they say hinders their ability to preserve the visual character of their communities.
The law, authored by state Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, nullifies any local ordinances that regulate building and design standards that are stricter than national standards.
The new law came about after concerns were raised regarding the “elimination of consumer and builder choice in construction through overly restrictive local municipal zoning ordinances, building codes, design guidelines, and architectural standards,” Scott Houston, deputy executive director and general counsel for the Texas Municipal League, stated in an informational document about the law.
“Critics argue that these restrictive ordinances, codes, guidelines, and standards create monopolies, increase the cost of construction, and ultimately price thousands of Texans out of the housing market,” Houston stated.
The new law will benefit communities across the state, said Phil Crone, executive director of the Dallas Builders Association. The association represents thousands of builders in the region, including in Lewisville, Flower Mound and Highland Village.
“A lot of times, those aesthetic choices that were made by city council—the city staff [was] out of touch with what consumers want,” Crone said. “At the end of the day, builders want to … make sure that you have not only the designs people are looking for, but in this market—affordability concerns, making sure that we offer the prices that people can afford, so they can have access to great schools and communities.”
Local officials speak out
Opponents of the new law say it is an example of state overreach.
“It is one of the worst pieces of legislation in several sessions,” said Jimmy Stathatos, Flower Mound town manager. “And I think it undermines local control. It just really oversteps in terms of dictating what cities can and can’t do with development standards.”
Stathatos said many of Flower Mound’s urban design guidelines are now null because of the bill. One of the most notable set of guidelines invalidated by the new law dictates what percentage of masonry different types of buildings must have.
“It’s not just about the building materials—it’s about the aesthetics and the architectural controls [the town can enforce],” Stathatos said. “And so, I just think it’s really going to have a negative impact on Texas communities, obviously including Flower Mound.”
Highland Village City Manager Michael Leavitt said the new law is concerning to his city as well, even though Highland Village is “substantially” built out. There is little undeveloped property left within the city, he said.
“We’ve got so much of our community that has been built to a high standard—why would we want to lower that standard for remaining development when it has been accepted and received by the community, by developers, by the builders and by our residents?” Leavitt said. “This is our identity.”
Leavitt said he believes when cities have the ability to enforce stricter building and design standards crafted and accepted by their own communities, they have greater opportunity to produce quality developments.
“We want buildings that will stand the test of time, that are low maintenance for the long-term, that aren’t going to deteriorate, that are going to be there for 40, 50 or 100 years,” Leavitt said. “We want a quality product out there, and we feel that that is the right direction for us to go. And to lower those standards at this time—you’re not going to have a product that can stand the test of time.”
Lewisville City Manager Donna Barron said the city’s legal team is still reviewing the law, and she does not yet have anything to say about it publicly.
Thirty-three Lewisville city staffers, elected officials, and organization representatives signed a petition asking Gov. Abbott to reject the legislation before it hit his desk this summer. As of June 2, the petition had 936 signatures from city representatives and affected organizations across the state.
Lewisville Economic Development Director Jason Moore and Lewisville Mayor Rudy Durham both signed the petition.
“Texas has always stood for being the best,” Lewisville Parks and Recreation Director Stacie Anaya said in a statement accompanying her signature on the petition. “HB 2439 will handcuff municipalities who have been striving to meet the historic Texas standard of excellence. This bill lowers the bar so much Alabama will probably surpass us.”
Nine people associated with the town of Flower Mound also signed the petition. Seven signatures came from people associated with Highland Village, including Leavitt.
New law in practice
Municipalities are still grappling with how to move forward under the new law.
Leavitt said, per the advice of Highland Village’s general counsel, the city is not going to take any action to change or amend the city’s building and design standards, though it recognizes that the local ordinances will go unenforced so long as the new law is in effect.
“But our goal is to maybe wait this thing out, and hopefully, next legislative session, we can get this reversed [and] push to see if there may be a way we can get this changed or amended,” Leavitt said.
Stathatos said Flower Mound is still ironing out the details on how to move forward under the new law.
He said he could see the town’s interest in doing more development agreements increasing in the meantime. Development agreements provide municipalities with opportunities to negotiate with developers for stricter building and design regulations in exchange for other variances or incentives. Stathatos said development agreements could potentially provide the town with opportunities to implement stricter design standards on projects.
“We still want to make the best decision for the town, but I think that’s the best way really to get compliance,” Stathatos said. “And so, I think as long as it’s a deal that makes sense for the property owner and the town, we should definitely explore it.”
This story features additional reporting by Cassidy Ritter.