An Open Letter Against SB 12 and 13

I would like to share my deep concerns and objection to Senate Bills 12 and 13. SB 12 poses a grave threat to the health, safety, and welfare of Texans statewide via a heavy-handed and short-sighted gutting of the ability of Texas cities to control land uses. I have worked both as a public sector planner and a private sector development consultant for fifteen years now, and mark my words if this bill passes this is what Texans have to look forward to in the future:

  • Cities will not be able to enforce life safety codes such as the IBC, IRC, etc. As the name implies, these codes exist to protect life, safety, and welfare of individuals – parts of the police power, the government’s obligation to the public (Ambler Realty Co. v. Village of Euclid (272 U.S. 365, 1926).  Without the ability to impose life safety code requirements on developers and individuals, the number of potentially hazardous structures will increase exponentially over time.
  • Cities will not be able to regulate lot size, lot dimensions, or lot coverage. This means that much smaller than typical lots will be possible, thus leading to higher population densities and traffic congestion, air and noise pollution, and traffic accidents. Moreover, cities will have no ability to mandate minimum right-of-way dimensions, potentially limiting quick and efficient access by emergency vehicles
  • There will be increased flooding and erosion issues, especially in flood prone areas like Houston, because cities will have no ability to regulate pervious coverage. Rainwater tends not to sink through concrete paving or TPO roofs- and if that rainwater can’t seep directly into the ground, it will find somewhere else to go- such as right into people’s homes.  At the very least, it will not seep into the ground and recharge the state’s aquifers.
  • Cities will not be able to regulate how or where utilities are located, sized, or installed. In twenty years, all of these newly-created developments will be plagued by undersized electrical, storm sewer, sanitary sewer, and water services. Mark my words: developers don’t do anything they’re not required to do- and the next generation of Texans will pay for substandard utility remediation.
  • Cities will not be able to regulate floodproofing measures. This means that cities cannot require buildings to be wet or dry floodproofed in the future, leading to loss of property and higher insurance rates. Cities will also not be able to regulate building codes that affect windstorm construction, with great potential for loss of life and property.  Just look at post-hurricane Ike photos of Galveston, Texas- and compare them to post-hurricane Ike photos of unincorporated (and unregulated) Bolivar peninsula.
  • Cities cannot create historic districts, city landmarks, or enforce historic preservation guidelines. This lack of historic protections almost turned the Alamo- the Alamo– into a hotel in 1903, if not for the efforts of the Daughters of the Texas Revolution. If the Alamo was once endangered by development, then any other historic site in the state not currently protected has no chance, quite frankly –and once those artifacts are gone, they are gone forever. With them go tourism money and, once again, the property tax values of surrounding areas (this latter, by the way, can be objectively proven).
  • There is a second and equally misguided bill under consideration, SB 13. This bill requires that any building permit submitted for city review that is not acted upon within thirty days must automatically be approved. Normally, city governments review building plans and submit comments back to developers or builders noting nonconformity. Plans are resubmitted, and the process continues until the plans meet applicable codes and a building permit is issued. For large projects this can reasonably take more than thirty days. However, SB 13 would allow developers to submit substandard plans, wait thirty days, and automatically receive their permit. A city government’s only recourse to this and their only protection against liability would be to deny the permit over even the smallest mistake- which will be the exact opposite effect of SB 13! SB 12 will create a nightmare of legal nonconformities (grandfathering) by applying different land use laws from different time periods based on ownership, which will also increase the workload of city staffers, thereby dooming SB 13 even more.

SB 13 and especially SB 12 are dangerously short-sighted bills written by people who may have legitimate concerns about over-regulation and slow permit turnaround times, but eliminating a complex balance of laws and regulations in a system they obviously do not understand – city planning- is not the way to solve the problem. I hope that our state representatives will kill these two bills and protect the life, safety, and welfare of urban Texas residents.

 

 



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