New law voids Tomball, Magnolia city ordinances aimed at preserving visual character, building safety

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Local ordinances implemented to preserve visual character and building safety were voided by Gov. Greg Abbott’s signing of House Bill 2439 on June 14, local officials said.

HB 2439, authored by state Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, preempts local ordinances aimed at regulating building materials for the construction, renovation or alteration of residential or commercial buildings, the bill reads. If a building material is accepted by a national model code published within the last three code cycles, this law makes it legal to use the material in all Texas cities, according to an April 25 bill analysis by the House Research Organization. In other words, governmental entities cannot enforce building material standards stricter than those set by a national model code once the new law takes effect Sept. 1.

“In this era of ‘village-based’ lifestyle, each town and city sets itself apart by reflecting its heritage and personality in its environment. I think it is a shame state lawmakers have taken this right away from our citizens,” said Tana Ross, economic development coordinator and planning technician for the city of Magnolia, in an email.

Supporters of the bill argued HB 2439 would reduce burdensome regulations by cities that require expensive and exclusive building materials to be used, favoring a particular material vendor or industry, according to the HRO analysis. This affects the cost of housing and other property, according to the analysis.

The city of Magnolia adopted its comprehensive plan in 2013 following town hall meetings with residents about what they wanted to see in their city, Ross said. As a result of the plan’s goals, city officials implemented zoning and created the city’s Unified Development Code, she said.

“Participating residents and citizens of the city contributed greatly to the city’s Unified Development Code, adding to the city’s ordinances,” she said in an email. “The code has a design chapter that clearly reflects the desires of the participants of the many town hall meetings.”

The new law hinders the city from enforcing these design standards suggested by residents. The design standards address “the quality and sustainable design of buildings and building sites to preserve and enhance the visual character of the city,” the code reads.

Ross said one of the standards adopted in the UDC is a masonry ordinance, which was created for safety purposes. As such, Ross said she believes the new law causes safety concerns, as HB 2439 implements less restrictive standards for building materials.

“The city will remain focused on safety for our residents as we work with our fire chief and building inspector to review city building standards. Specifically, the trend of larger homes on smaller lots is a fire risk with the lower building materials standards of HB 2439,” she said in an email.

For Tomball, HB 2439 nullifies the city’s facade standards adopted in 2015 requiring certain masonry for buildings along the city’s business corridors, City Manager Rob Hauck said. Although the law exempts historic areas, Hauck said the city’s Old Town area is not an official historic district but a “character” corridor.

“It would basically nullify our facade standards ordinance that requires certain masonry and stone on buildings on [Hwy.] 249 or [FM] 2920 [that] are able to be seen from the roadway, with the idea being to protect the character of our downtown corridors and protect people’s investments in the business corridors,” Hauck said.

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Anna Lotz
Anna joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in May 2016 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. In July 2017, she transitioned to editor. Anna covers education, local government, transportation, business, real estate development and nonprofits in the Tomball and Magnolia communities. Prior to CI, Anna served as editor-in-chief of Cedars, interned with the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., and spent time writing for the Springfield News-Sun and Xenia Daily Gazette.
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