Officials: New law to hinder local cities’ visual character


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.”

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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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