The cities of Tomball and Magnolia are working to maintain managed, controlled growth with larger lot sizes and increased impact fees, policies that could also affect housing affordability for future prospective homeowners.

Tomball City Council voted unanimously April 18 to oppose an ordinance change that would have allowed 4,950-square-foot single-family lots in a David Weekley Homes proposed development on 70 acres at FM 2920 and FM 2978.

“I would like council to consider making it larger lots ... even larger than the 6,000 [square feet]. ... I think that putting that many lots in that small of area, we’re going to have overcrowding,” Council Member Dane Dunagin said in an interview.

This development’s request for smaller lot sizes is among a growing trend nationwide and in the Southern United States, where minimum lot sizes are shrinking. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction showed homeowners across the country are increasingly purchasing homes on smaller lots—those less than 7,000 square feet.

Data shows 33% of homes sold in 2011 across the country were on lots spanning less than 7,000 square feet compared to 45% of homes sold in 2021.

“The market demand dictates what builders and developers are going to make available in order to stay in business; that’s a smaller-lot product,” said Matthew Reibenstein, owner of AR Homes-Rural Design Build and secretary of the Greater Houston Builders Association.

He said he believes a larger lot size causes home prices to increase, and therefore fewer people to be able to afford a home.

“We’re just making it harder for people to own a home, and all that’s really going to do is push people into an apartment or a rental situation,” he said.

Tomball Mayor Lori Klein Quinn said in a phone interview the minimum lot size in the city is 6,000 square feet. Magnolia City Administrator Don Doering said in an email the minimum lot size for semiurban residential in the city of Magnolia is 5,000 square feet.

“From my conversation with council, they’re not against smaller lot sizes,” Tomball City Manager David Esquivel said in a phone interview. “They’re wanting to be sure on what impact a more dense development is going to do to our ability to provide those services, whether it’s infrastructure or public safety.”

Meanwhile, the city of Magnolia raised its impact fees May 10, which could also affect the affordability of homes as developers sustain higher costs.

Market challenges

Esquivel said he does not see the city changing its minimum lot size, partially because the market changes constantly.

“It’s the location, the market and product they are building. The size of the lot does play a part [in price] if you look at the [difference] of a 7,000-, 6,000-square-foot lot or an acreage lot. Then obviously that’s a big price difference, but when looking at regular single-family homes that you see, there are other factors that determine that,” Esquivel said.

This was seen with the increase of average market value of properties in Harris and Montgomery counties from 2021 to 2022, which increased by 21% and 29.8%, respectively, according to data from the counties.

Klein Quinn said council members are not opposed to smaller lot sizes. She said they want to ensure there is not overcrowding and there are still parks and trees.

“It is providing infrastructure to all of those developments,” Klein Quinn said. “Whenever you look at times of rapid growth, you also have to make sure that you can provide all of the city’s [services], that the schools are ready to take on more students, that the infrastructure is there, that we’re not destroying someone else’s quality of life to do this.”

Keeping up with development

To keep up with the rapid development, both Tomball and Magnolia are reassessing their impact fees to help pay for additional infrastructure.

Magnolia voted to raise impact fees May 10, which raises the cost for developers. Impact fees are one-time fees collected to fund a new water user’s share of the city’s water or wastewater capacity, •Community Impact Newspaper• reported.

The impact fees were raised to $7,400 total from $4,800, Doering said.

Tomball Assistant City Manager Jessica Rogers said Tomball also plans to adjust its impact fees for fiscal year 2022-23 as fees have not been raised since 2019. Esquivel said because of inflation, the city is now near the bottom of what cities typically charge for impact fees.

“The city’s master fee schedule will be reviewed and updated as part of the annual budget process during the next few months,” Rogers said in an email.

Anna Lotz contributed to this report.