West Lake Hills City Council considers options to manage length of residential construction projects, home sizes

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Discussion on how to address lengthy residential construction projects through the permitting process continued at the West Lake Hills City Council meeting Jan. 9.

The issue was brought up at the Dec. 12 meeting where city staff were asked to create possible strategies to present at the next meeting.

The options for council’s consideration are meant to encourage homeowners and project applicants to complete residential construction projects for new homes in a timely manner and avoid numerous permit extensions,  a staff report stated. Another benefit would be to help offset the impact of construction on city infrastructure and other resources.

Proposed permitting strategies presented to council:

  1. If a project requires more than one permit extension, the owner and contractor must attend a city council meeting to explain the circumstances and the reason an extension is needed before the City will issue another permit extension.
  2. Escalating permit fees – Additional fees could be imposed for permit extensions and would increase for each additional extension requested. For example, the first extension could cost half of the original building permit fee, the second extension could cost full amount of original building permit fee, and so forth.
  3. Adopt impact fee that would be charged based on a project’s impact on roadways and public services. Assistant City Attorney Laura Mueller is reviewing this option further.
  4. Require on-site construction supervisor to be present for certain amount of time during construction process. Mueller is also reviewing this option further.
  5. Require project applicant to submit a proposed construction schedule and periodically provide an updated schedule to staff.

Mayor Linda Anthony said the city wants to ensure it focuses on encouraging and speeding up projects and not getting into the construction management side of things.

Council Member Brian Plunkett pointed out that some builders and architects have done a great, efficient job with projects in the area.

Anthony added that because West Lake Hills’ projects are custom homes with intricate details and tricky foundations, it takes particular expertise to tackle them.

Council agreed that getting input from several builders on how effective timelines are maintained would be a good next step. Council Member Darin Walker agreed to head up the initiative and will come back with feedback at the February 13 council meeting.

Limitations on home sizes considered

Also regarding residential construction in West Lake Hills, council talked about the fact that current code does not limit home sizes.

Limiting factors now only relate to building setback requirements and impervious cover, a staff report by Building and Development Services Coordinator Anjali Naini stated.

“Home sizes in West Lake Hills have been increasing as older, smaller homes are being torn down and replaced with larger new homes,” the report stated.

Naini also cited a U.S. Census Bureau 2017 statistic showing home sizes have increased from an average of 1,660 square feet in 1973 to 2,631 square feet in 2017, an increase of 58 percent.

Anthony said she brought up home sizes six years ago, but the idea didn’t gain much traction at that time.

“Maybe the sentiment has shifted as home sizes have increased over the years,” she said. “There is more and more pressure on neighborhoods where smaller and older homes are getting torn down, and something larger is taking the place.”

Anthony said over the last couple of years residents from various area streets have said the character of their neighborhood is changing. The goal at the Jan. 9 meeting was not to decide anything, but to get a sense of if and how council wanted to pursue the issue.

Like the agenda item on permitting, council was provided with proposed strategies for limiting home sizes in order to lessen the impact of new homes on neighborhoods and preserve the characteristics of West Lake Hills.

Proposed home size limit strategies presented to council:

  1. Adopt overlay zoning districts on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis at homeowners’ request to limit home sizes. The city’s neighborhood boundaries would need to be defined, and staff would need to research how many requests per neighborhood (percentage of homes) the city would need to receive to consider creating the zoning overlay.
  2. Establishment of Floor to Area Ratio – Floor to Area Ratio (FAR) is measured by floor area divided by lot area. For example, FAR of 1.0 means that a home could cover the entire lot 100 percent with a single-story home; a 2-story home could cover 50 percent of the lot; or a 4-story home would cover 25 percent of the lot.
  3. Amend building setbacks to be a certain percentage of lot width to preserve more open space on each property. While the city already regulates setbacks based on lot size, these regulations can be reviewed and amended if they are not effective in regulating maximum home size.
  4. Establish a square footage threshold that would trigger special review for proposed residential construction meeting or exceeding the threshold. This could include review/approval by the building design committee and potentially also the zoning & planning commission and city council.

The most flexible approach would be implementing overlay zones, Anthony said, as it would keep the city from having to create a singular acceptable size.

“Westlake has varied lot sizes and neighborhoods,” she said. “To say one size fits all really doesn’t work with some of our setbacks and other requirements.”

Another benefit is neighborhoods could approach the city regarding what limits they wanted to establish, rather than have it dictated to them.

Ridgeline protection zones, canopy preservation, and energy efficiency requirements or incentives are all other approaches that could be taken to regulate home size, Anthony said.

“We need to preserve and protect what makes Westlake special,” she said. “But we need to balance that with private property owner rights, which are substantial.”

Council members agreed they wanted to pursue the issue and will read a large report on the matter compiled in 2006, when Anthony first brought up the topic, and do other research. The discussion will continue at the Feb. 13. meeting.

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Sally Grace Holtgrieve
Sally Grace Holtgrieve solidified her passion for news during her time as Editor-in-Chief of Christopher Newport University's student newspaper, The Captain's Log. She started her professional career at The Virginia Gazette and moved to Texas in 2015 to cover government and politics at The Temple Daily Telegram. She started working at Community Impact Newspaper in February 2018 as the Lake Travis-Westlake reporter and moved into the role of Georgetown editor in June 2019.
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