Building standards in Frisco to change under recently passed law

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The majority of Frisco has been developed under specific and strict building standards. But a new law that takes effect Sept. 1 could change the look, safety standards and price of incoming homes and commercial buildings on Frisco’s remaining quarter of undeveloped land.

Signed June 14, House Bill 2439 will prohibit governmental entities from regulating building materials and construction methods for residential and commercial buildings. As long as builders follow the national model code, the building standard established for the entire nation, cities can no longer set a standard for a building’s aesthetic. The law will not affect developments that are in progress or completed.

Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney said building regulations for Frisco should be made at the local level.

“Not every city adopts the same levels of standards that Frisco does,” Cheney said.

The mayor and the city were so concerned about the effects of the bill that they reached out while the proposed legislation was still in committee.

A statewide application of the model code is “unrealistic,” Cheney wrote in a March 27 memo sent to Dade Phelan, the chairperson of the House Committee on State Affairs.

Resident expectations are best set by the city, he said in an interview with Community Impact Newspaper.

“Our residents have come to expect a level of standard,” Cheney said. “I’d say that the people that live here appreciate the fact that the city has held to these high standards.”

Now that the bill has become law, city officials are looking at what changes they need to make.

“Our City Council will be working with city staff to determine how the new legislation will impact Frisco and what our city will need to do moving forward as we work alongside our development community,” he said.

Building quality

Under the new law, the city will not be able to hold developers to a higher standard, Cheney said. That becomes an issue, for example, as the city looks to revamp its historic downtown. He said the bill could have “unintended consequences” for redevelopment projects.

State Rep. Justin Holland, R-Rockwall, shared similar sentiments. Holland represents 12% of Collin County, including Frisco. He and state Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, were the only two lawmakers in a House committee to vote against the bill.

Holland said removing city requirements could lessen the aesthetic integrity Frisco has “carefully considered” in its development planning.

“It worries me that these destination spots with historical feels are just going to look kind of normal,” Holland said. “We don’t want our cities to look normal; we want them to look exceptional and strive to be something other than a cookie-cutter-type thing that you might see somewhere else.”

The bill does not apply to buildings located in an area designated as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places or a building designated as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark.

One ordinance in particular that the city noted would no longer be enforced under the law is the requirement of at least 75% masonry on the first floor of a home.

Justin Webb, vice president of the Dallas Builders Association and owner of Altura Homes, said he does not predict Frisco will see any immediate changes when it comes to appearance.

Cement-like siding, stucco, engineered wood and other exterior materials could become more common without the city’s regulation, he said. But builders and developers would then have to build a home not widely accepted by the market, he said. Webb said he predicts traditional building and home aesthetics common to Frisco will continue.

“The market really does decide what’s acceptable and what’s not,” Webb said. “And I think this bill reiterates that private developers and builders should build what the market demands instead of government agencies mandating specific products and specific things that national codes don’t require.”

Affordability

Scott Rose, CEO of Collin County Construction, said homebuilders these days already have to deal with a lot of regulations.

“You really have to be, as a contractor, more diversified nowadays in order to survive the regulation and the oversight,” Rose said.

The new law targeting city regulations could potentially reduce builders’ costs, he said.

The bill is a “huge win” for real estate affordability, said Adam Majorie, the chief advocacy officer for the Collin County Association of Realtors.

In general, he said, “when the city increases its building code above what is already fine for the health and safety of the residents, we do know that it comes with an increased cost.”

It’s too early to say how the new law will affect the price of new homes.

Data shows the number of Frisco residents struggling to afford a home in the city is increasing. Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs are considered cost-burdened, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In 2017, about 18.7% of homeowners were cost-burdened, according to HUD. Last year, the number was 19.2%.

The average cost for a home in Frisco in May was about $470,000, according to a Collin County Association of Realtors Pulse report.

Safety concern

The new state law affects more than the appearance and cost of homes. Cheney said some of Frisco’s biggest standards are related to safety. In his memo to Phelan, Cheney listed 13 of them.

For instance, one prohibits natural gas risers with compression-type connections. This is because of frequent leaks due to some North Texas soil types that are acidic and corrode the connection.

The city also requires bonding for all metallic piping, including corrugated stainless steel tubing, or CSST. In the memo, Cheney stated the national model code bonding methods are not effective in preventing stray currents, or electricity flow from wiring flaws or imbalances. Stray currents have caused fires in Frisco homes, his memo stated.

Holland expressed similar concerns about these pipes. He said a lightning strike on a house with this particular piping could cause a leak or corrosion in the line.

“When you’re constructing a house, the way the CSST is installed is very crucial,” Holland said.

Frisco has until Sept. 1 to figure out what changes to make to comply with the new law. City Council members received legal advice during closed session at their summer work session on June 27 but made no decisions.

“Our goal is to ensure and encourage safe, high quality developments,” Cheney said. “We believe our best practices enhance our reputation for building the best place to live in America.”

View our other Real Estate Edition coverage.

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  1. Mike Sunderland

    I suspect there could be some sort of accreditation where the city could give a rating as to how closely a builder stays to the previous codes when building. I can imagine some kind of color coded system. Let the buyer decide if they are willing to accept less when they see the rating for themselves.

  2. As someone who works in a trade specific field, consumers consistently seek the cheaper or “just enough to work… for now” route. There are exceptions, but its my experience, even here in Frisco, that the majority have this approach.

    Something else to think about: National codes are bare minimums. Building to national codes does NOT mean things cannot be safer or built better by going above and beyond code requirements.

    I can see the conversation now… consumer asks why builder doesnt bond like Frisco recommends. The builder replies “we bond to strict national code… it’s good enough for everyone else”. What’s “good enough” in one state is good enough for all states? I certainly dont agree with that. Think about environmental conditions such as soil or weather conditions.

    A great example in this article pertains to CSST(flex gas line). The number of house fires started due to lightning strikes and then the ignition of natural gas at the CSST tubing… its unsettling if not scary. Lightning storms are an extremely common occurrence in North Texas these days. I dont have any accredited, written, sources to back that up, but I do have 2nd hand knowledge from many reliable sources.

  3. As commented about the gas meters and the unstable ground, there needs to be a better code for the ground improvement than digging down 10 feet and added moisture. Slabs should have some form of piers under them during construction to help prevent slab movement. Frisco Lakes has to many slabs that have been or have to be repaired due to the unstable soil. The initial cost would be a lot less than having it repaired at a later day.
    I guess the builders are willing to gamble on how many they have to go back and repair in 10 years.
    Thanks for any thought.

    • Generally speaking, we have expansive soil which is why the moisture injection into the soil 10′ down does the job. Most developers, and most likely 98% of the developed lots in Frisco, are done with water injection which only lasts about 10 years. Ironically, that is the foundation warranty period as well. Chemical injection is a permanent solution to this issue. Piers don’t do anything for expansive soil and are a complete waste of money. Piers are only good for lots with backfill soil or non-compacted dirt where there is potential for the foundation to fall, not rise. On an existing home that has an issue they use piers since there are parts of the home that have fallen or there is an area that heaved and they want to lift the low areas to level with the heaved area. Either way, chemical injection with a thicker foundation beam from the start is the preferred solution in Frisco, not piers.

  4. property rights

    anyone who builds less than desirable products are doing just that and the market will respond

    anyone can STILL FREELY point out BAD or good issues with new builds

    it doesnt take the government to do YOUR JOB

    start holding the local realtors etc responsible for what they tell you

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