Officials: New law to hinder local cities’ visual character

Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 2439 into law in early June, affecting the design standards and causing some safety concerns for the cities of Tomball and Magnolia.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 2439 into law in early June, affecting the design standards and causing some safety concerns for the cities of Tomball and Magnolia.

Image description
Rob Hauck, Tomball City Manager
Image description
Unlocking House Bill 2439
Local ordinances implemented to preserve visual character and building safety in the cities of Tomball and Magnolia were voided by Gov. Greg Abbott’s signing of House Bill 2439 on June 14, city officials said. When the law goes into effect Sept. 1, the cities of Tomball and Magnolia will not be able to enforce their ordinances mandating certain requirements for how building exteriors should look, officials said.

“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,” Tomball City Manager Rob Hauck said.

HB 2439 preempts local ordinances aimed at regulating building materials for the construction, renovation, or alteration of residential or commercial buildings, the bill reads. Materials approved by a national model code can be used for construction.

Bradley Pepper, the director of government affairs for the Greater Houston Builders Association—which has supported the bill—said HB 2439 is intended to make homes more affordable. Cities can still make their own building regulations as long as the regulations are not stricter than the nationally approved codes, Pepper said.

“It’s about affordability, and when you take some of these tools out of the toolbox for builders, it really starts severely impacting affordability,” Pepper said. “The increasing price of land on top of lot size requirements and then you throw things like [building material regulations] on top of it, you’re just really driving people out of the market.”

Design standards


The city of Tomball adopted its facade standards in 2015 requiring certain masonry for buildings along the city’s business corridors, 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.

In Magnolia, city officials adopted a Unified Development Code in 2015, which imposed design standards, as a result of the city’s comprehensive plan process in 2013. The plan incorporates how residents wanted the city to look, said Tana Ross, the city’s economic development coordinator and planning technician.

“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,” she said in an email.

HB 2439 does not affect cities’ ability to restrict land uses, Pepper said, nor does it affect homeowner association or historic district standards.

“[Builders are] not just putting up whatever kind of product they want,” he said. “It’s customer driven, so they’re not going to put something up that’s not going to sell.”

Safety concerns


Ross said HB 2439 implements less restrictive standards for building materials and preempts the city’s masonry ordinance, which was created for safety purposes. Therefore, she said she believes the bill creates safety concerns for the city.

However, Pepper said the nationally approved codes with which builders must comply have been thoroughly vetted for safety aspects.

Although a shift in material regulations could increase fire risk, Jason Herrman, training and safety chief for the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department, said HB 2439 appears to focus more on exterior building regulations.

“At the end of the day if we [were] requiring concrete construction as a minimum and we now allow wood in its place, we are taking away from the fire resistant rating of the structure,” he said in a statement. “We will continue to work to ensure the highest level of safety for the members of our community and surrounding area.”
SHARE THIS STORY
By 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.


MOST RECENT

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, speaks to students at Covenant Christian School. (Andy Li/Community Impact Newspaper)
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady and others celebrate Covenant Christian School's FEMA grant

The event saw representatives from the city of Conroe, Montgomery County, the Texas Legislature and more.

Texas Central claims the $12 billion construction process would be privately funded, and the train would transport 6 million annual riders by 2029. (Courtesy Texas Central Partners/Community Impact Newspaper)
High-speed rail could break ground in 2020; opposition has doubts

Texas Central claims the $12 billion construction process would be privately funded, and the train would transport 6 million annual riders by 2029.

A portion of FM 1488 in Magnolia is scheduled to be closed this weekend. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
FM 1488 lanes closed Jan. 18-19 in Magnolia

East- and westbound lanes of a portion of FM 1488 in Magnolia will be closed daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 18-19.

Raveneaux Country Club was one of hundreds of properties that flooded during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. (Courtesy Harris County Flood Control District)
Cagle: Goal of Raveneaux acquisition is not to put an ‘ugly hole in the ground’

“The goal is to create something more along the lines of Kickerillo [Mischer Preserve] with beautiful park amenities—little fishing piers, boat launches and walking trails that go around it,” Cagle said.

A Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County study on eliminating ride fares left both METRO board members and officials seemingly unconvinced of the likelihood of implementing it in Harris County. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)
METRO board of directors say free fare 'not feasible' for transit authority

A METRO study on eliminating ride fares left board members and officials unconvinced of the likelihood of implementing it in Harris County.

Beazer Homes is planning a 110-home community on 69 acres in Magnolia, with plans to request a petition to be annexed into city limits at a future city council meeting. (Kara McIntyre/Community Impact Newspaper)
Beazer Homes to bring 110-home community to Magnolia

Beazer Homes is planning on developing a 110-home community in the Magnolia area near Kelly Road.

The deadline to pay property taxes in Montgomery County is Jan. 31. (Andy Li/Community Impact Newspaper)
Montgomery County Tax Office to extend hours for property tax deadline

The deadline to pay property taxes in Montgomery County is Jan. 31.

chicken salad chick tomball
JUST IN: Chicken Salad Chick announces Jan. 29 grand opening in Tomball

Chicken Salad Chick will open Jan. 29 at 14030 FM 2920, Tomball, and celebrate its grand opening with a number of giveaways.

(Jen Para/Community Impact Newspaper)
Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo concert tickets go on sale Jan. 16

Lower-level seating options are already very limited.

CVS said its new HealthHub concept will open at stores on Kuykendahl Road and FM 1488 this month. (Courtesy CVS Health)
CVS Health debuts new HealthHub concept at 2 south Montgomery County pharmacy stores

CVS announced the launch of 15 HealthHub locations in January, including two in The Woodlands and Tomball.

Applications for a place on the May 2 election ballot in Tomball and Magnolia may be filed starting Jan. 15. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Filing opens for May 2 Magnolia ISD election, race for Magnolia mayor, city council members

Applications for a place on the May 2 election ballot in Tomball and Magnolia may be filed starting Jan. 15.

Texas oil and gas industry could see a major slowdown in 2020

The oil and natural gas industry paid a record-setting $16.3 billion in taxes and royalties to local governments and the state in 2019, the Texas Oil and Gas Association announced Tuesday.

Back to top