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The Common Law

Does the McMansion Ordinance affect home remodels?

By Luke Ellis, Fri., March 10, 2006

I'm not a developer, but I've bought, fixed-up, and flipped two houses in the last two years. I'm looking at buying a third property but I'm worried about whether the new city ban on developing property stops me from doing this. I don't want to close on the property if I can't make the changes I want to make.

The McMansion debate has been a hot local topic for the past few weeks. While most people know that the city has taken temporary action to stop the building of oversized homes on small lots, they don't know the extent of the ordinance or exactly who it will affect.

On Feb. 16, the council approved Ordinance 20060216-043, dubbed by some as the McMansion Ordinance, which set out interim property-development regulations, including limitations on remodel projects. For example, the McMansion Ordinance states that if a remodel increases the size of a duplex or single-family structure, the structure's size after the remodel is limited to the greater of the following: a) 0.4 to 1 floor-to-area ratio, b) 2,500 square feet, or c) the existing size plus 1,000 feet (if the applicant has been granted a homestead exemption).

Accordingly, someone that is buying and fixing up houses should not be worried about the McMansion Ordinance if they are not planning to add square footage to the house. If add-ons are anticipated and the person remodeling the home does not claim it as their homestead, the total square footage of the remodeled house would be limited to either 2,500 square feet or the 0.4 to 1 floor-to-area ratio (depending on which is greater). The 0.4 to 1 floor-to-area ratio means that if the total lot size is 5,000 square feet, the remodeled structure would be limited to 2,000 square feet.

In short, the McMansion Ordinance does not cause major problems for most simple remodel projects. It does, however, significantly limit the building of entirely new structures. For example, if someone wants to build a new duplex or single-family structure on a lot where a structure has been or will be demolished or relocated, the new structure is limited to the greater of a) the 0.4 to 1 floor-to-area ratio; b) 2,500 square feet; or c) 20% more square feet than the existing or pre-existing structure. A full copy of the McMansion Ordinance can be found at www.ci.austin.tx.us/zoning/downloads/ordinance_2_16.pdf.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Dawson, Sodd, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.dawsonsodd.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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