Round Rock city leaders are addressing housing issues in the city including passing an ordinance to allow garage conversions to homes built before 2002.
Council Member Frank Leffingwell said the way people are using their homes is changing, and he expects changes to come to other land-use ordinances in the future.
“Affordability is something I think every council across the country hears about all the time, and we’re no exception to that,” Leffingwell said. “Not only our council will need to keep an eye on changing needs and uses and making accommodations in our land-use restrictions; I think councils across the country are going to be put to that task because of how quickly they are changing.”
The ordinance passed by City Council on Jan. 28 allows garage conversions to homes built before 2002, which is when the ordinance prohibiting them was passed.
Round Rock Planning Director Brad Wiseman said a garage conversion can be an economical way for residents to add living space for an expanding family without buying a larger house.
Mayor Alan McGraw said the conversions will help residents who take in aging relatives or have an expanding number of children.
Wiseman said most of the surrounding cities—including Austin, Cedar Park, Leander, and Georgetown—allow garage conversions in some form. He said Austin goes the furthest by allowing garages to be turned into separate dwelling units. He said only Pflugerville effectively outright bans the conversions.
McGraw said the idea behind the ordinance was to address the practice that had been happening illegally for years.
“If it’s going to be done, how do we do it safely?” he said.
McGraw said the ordinance cannot override homeowners association rules in specific neighborhoods because those are agreements between private parties.
Renting living space
Wiseman said the ordinance is narrowly written to prohibit attached but separate living spaces that could crowd a neighborhood. The ordinance does not allow an exterior door on the converted living area. Council members said they wanted to prohibit residents from renting the converted areas because of safety concerns.
Outside of residents renting their homes full-time, McGraw said the issue of short-term rentals is one the council might look at later. Councils throughout the nation have had to decide how they want to address residents renting out their homes to visitors.
“It’s one thing to occasionally rent your home out, [for instance if] you wanted to rent during F1 weekend,” McGraw said. “It’s something else we need to look at when you’re essentially running a hotel business in an area that’s zoned single-family.”
McGraw said he does hear about affordability concerns from residents, but the issue is specific to a family and their circumstances.
“Our goal is to find the balance between affordable and quality of life,” he said. “You could make things very affordable by taking away quality of life amenities, but you're taking away the livability.”