Ordinance Targets Demolitions Posing as 'Remodels'

Remodeling projects must fit narrower definition

A new city remodel ordinance went into effect this month and is expected to prevent protracted neighbor vs. developer battles over construction projects that appear to be stretching the definition of a remodel. Cases such as the contested (and recently withdrawn) site permits for 1915 David have angered neighbors, exhausted the resources of neighborhood associations, and needlessly sapped the time of city staff and officials. (For more on the David Street project, see "Showdown at David Street," April 30.)

The new rules provide a more narrow and specific definition of a remodel while avoiding use of the "R" word. Rather, ordinance No. 20100624-149 defines when "modification and maintenance" actually constitutes demolition – in which case, all work must comply with current code. Now, no more than 50% of exterior walls can be removed or demolished in a remodel; previously, only one wall (or a portion of it) had to be left standing. Foundation work can't change the house's elevation by more than a foot. To prevent McMansionesque projects (in more restrictive zoning districts), homes with lots too small to comply can't gain more than 20% in value through improvements. In addition, if a noncomplying portion of a structure is demolished, it must be rebuilt according to current code. Other restrictions also apply.

"I think it's going to be a great help," said Council Member Laura Morrison of the ordinance. In discussing the process that led to the version adopted by council, she said, "It was a great collaborative effort that really crystallized what the problems were." After a staff-led project proved unsatisfactory to neighborhood advocates, said Morrison, planning commissioners Danette Chimenti and Clint Small provided leadership for a group effort that focused on noncompliant residences – projects seeking grandfathered entitlements (such as more square feet and occupants) beyond what's granted in current code. The process included city staff, home builders and remodelers, and the American Institute of Architects Austin, said Morrison. "It was a true group effort." Planning and Development Review Director Greg Guernsey has said he also advocated for the new ordinance as a solution.

The Austin Neighborhoods Council supported the ordinance, which was passed by City Council on June 24 and became law July 5. "At least in its wording and intent, it should solve the worst remodel abuses," said ANC President Cory Walton.

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1915 David, Laura Morrison, Austin Neighborhoods Council, remodel ordinance

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