In light of a potential state law going into effect over the next 10 days, Little Elm officials are concerned about losing control over architectural standards in the town. Currently waiting on Governor Abbott’s desk in Austin, the bill, if signed, would strip a local council’s ability to regulate building codes beyond international code.
Mayor David Hillock directed the council to prepare for a potential workshop if the bill becomes law. Although some in the meeting said there was a “glimmer of hope” the bill might receive a veto, most agreed that they “would not bank on it”. There was also a general consensus this development would hurt the town in future and was a “bad law”.
“The potential is it would eliminate a town’s ability to require certain levels of masonry. I think it is a higher risk because you could potentially have a neighborhood that is almost entirely built out and four houses on a single block don’t match anything in the neighborhood,” Hillock said.
International code does not require for stone and brick houses and would allow owners to build “hardy plank” buildings. Although the potentially new operating code does have safety requirements, that is always on the back of officials minds. Safety, however, is less of a concern since international code does have relatively strong standards in that regard.
Town Manager Matt Mueller indicated there are other options to circumvent the effects of this new bill. These included development agreements, working with homeowner associations in the area and even tightening up consistency and uniformity standards. According to Mueller, the largest concern at this juncture is the Lakefront District and the residential overlay district.
“At the most risk is the Lakefront or Port Streets that don’t have HOAs. I would expect there is still some level of governance that there can be. When neighborhoods are typically developed in master planned communities, the developer will generally set a basic level of standard. They can still enforce them but our laws can’t,” Mueller said.
Officials in the meeting also indicated they would like to work with HOAs to make it “simple” for them to have standards that will meet what will be best for residents. If the bill passes, any empty lot or rebuilding house will now be able to use international code at this point. Residents themselves can also vote to have higher masonry standards and the mayor was hopeful they would. It would be for them to “protect their house” as he said in the council meeting.
“I have requested the staff to start researching different options on that today. I spoke with the development services director. We will look at different ways we can achieve that goal of insuring some partnership with the Lakefront district so we have the ability to at least review and guide masonry used,” Mueller said. “The development agreement is a good route to investigate.”
Little Elm is also at a somewhat lower risk for this to become a huge problem since the market will most likely demand higher brick and mortar standards. Experts said that customers will “demand it” so the market could “take care of itself”.
“It is a new track for Texas to acquiesce to international law. To just hand over something that makes cities better, in my opinion at least, and more aesthetically pleasing and creates some standards,” Hillock said.