House Bill 2439, authored by state Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, requires cities to adopt a standard national code for residential and commercial buildings. It also limits their ability to enforce stricter standards related to building materials, construction methods and aesthetics.
The law, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 14, went into effect Sept. 1. It saw majority support during this year’s legislative session—only 14 votes in both the House of Representatives and Senate were against it, according to legislative records.
A Texas House Business and Commerce Committee report said the law came about after concerns were raised about the “elimination of consumer and builder choice in construction through overly restrictive local municipal zoning ordinances, building codes, design guidelines and architectural standards.”
“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,” the report stated. “[The law] seeks to address these concerns and eliminate the ability of a governmental entity to enact overly restrictive, vendor-driven building regulations.”
However, the law drew opposition from outside of the Capitol. Abra Nusser, president and CEO of the Southlake-based boutique planning firm Ideation Planning, said local governments will have less control over the types of buildings developed in their communities.
Nusser launched a petition urging Abbott to veto the bill. It collected 1,607 signatures and 628 comments from Texas city officials, planners and architects who opposed the legislation.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t mobilize in time for it to get killed before it left the House and Senate because, honestly, everyone thought it was so absurd that it wouldn’t get legs,” Nusser said.
What builders are saying
According to Scott Norman, executive director of the Texas Association of Builders, some cities have building standards meant to benefit certain manufacturers and suppliers. He said the new law will give property owners and builders more options when constructing new homes or buildings.
“That’s going to have a positive effect on both housing affordability and the cost of projects,” Norman said.
He added that the law will encourage more collaboration as projects are designed and developed.
“Cities have design standards or they have a vision for the community or parts of the community,” he said. “The bill will encourage more cooperation between the building and development community and cities in trying to adopt that vision.”
John Delin is the CEO of Roanoke construction company Integrity Group, which works in cities including Fort Worth, Highland Village, Mansfield, Prosper, Roanoke and Rockwall. He said he expects the law to promote creativity, particularly with residential projects.
“Some cities want some kinds of materials where houses look similar. To say, ‘We want all homes to be brick or stone’—you end up with a monotonous look for housing,” Delin said. “[The law] would be great from that standpoint on the creative side.”
Integrity Group is currently constructing Roanoke City Center, a mixed-use development that will bring residential, retail, restaurant, office and entertainment space to the southern end of Oak Street in Roanoke. Delin does not expect the law to affect that project.
“We would still keep up with the standards in Roanoke because we’re in the downtown district, and that district needs to [maintain] its historic look,” he said.
Roanoke Assistant City Manager Cody Petree said it will take the city a couple of years to fully understand how HB 2439 will affect Roanoke’s building standards. However, Petree said he believes it will have a negative effect on the city’s ability to plan and implement its development goals.
“Every city has its own identity it is striving to achieve. The standards to achieve that identity have been adopted at the local level with community input and [are] ultimately implemented by local leaders who have been elected to make those decisions and implement the vision of the community,” Petree said. “We believe HB 2439 thwarts that process and is unnecessary.”
He said the city will work with developers to maintain the quality of new projects in Roanoke.
“My hope is we are able to work with developers and builders to keep building materials compatible with adjacent properties, which will be beneficial for appraised values and long-term sustainability,” Petree added.
Fort Worth City Council Member Cary Moon said the city worked with state elected officials prior to the law’s passage and that he is disappointed with the outcome.
“The local, city-elected officials in Tarrant County make good decisions and have been very fair to developers,” Moon said. “These state legislators continue to … say that the state knows best on local matters when they don’t.”
Keller officials say they are not worried about the law negatively affecting building standards in the city. Trina Zais, director of public services and economic development, said she believes the city’s land prices will lead builders to construct quality properties.
“I’m not that concerned about somebody trying to put up a metal building when they had to pay $200,000-plus per acre [for residential] and commercial property,” she said. “It would detract from their investment. They would get less in return than if they built something with stone or brick or some other long-term masonry product.”
While no plans have been formally submitted, Keller officials have already discussed with developers potential projects that would use materials the city would not have allowed before the new law passed.
If a proposed development does not meet Keller’s desired building standards, Zais said the city could offer the developers grants and economic incentives to help improve the look of the property.
Putting the law into practice
Roanoke City Council is set to discuss changes to its building standards after this edition’s press deadline. Petree could not say exactly what changes would be made, but he said they would reflect the new law.
Moon said the city of Fort Worth has amended its standards to comply with state law and national standards. “While we can control site plans and elevations, the city cannot dictate the building materials,” he said of the changes.
Randy Hutcheson, preservation and design manager for the city of Fort Worth, said the city will continue to enforce its existing regulations in historic, national register, form-based and design overlay districts. These areas are not affected by the new law.
Zais said Keller is not planning to change its building standards at this time. Instead, it is talking to legislators about the negative effects the law will have on the city’s development.
“We have had dialogue face-to-face with them about the impact … this would potentially have on the community and how much we embrace the ability to model our community in the way that we see fit,” Zais said.
Anna Herod and Renee Yan contributed to this report.