Developers and builders can reduce material costs and finish projects sooner thanks to recently enacted Texas laws
Changes in state laws that impact the permitting process are bringing cost and time savings into new developments.
Two major changes include the expanding of exterior building material options (HB 2439) and the deadline by which municipal permitting agencies must approve a proposal (HB 3167). The change for exterior building material specifies that any exterior building materials permitted by national codes must be accepted and cannot be overridden by local governments. For the deadline to approve projects, local governments now have 30 days to consider a request and must reply in detail when denying a proposal.
“These changes are going to make it better for our customers,” said Mark Duvall, vice president of Bob Moore Construction, a general contractor and design-builder based in Arlington, Texas. “They’ll have the ability to pick materials for the exteriors of their building, and they will like increasing their speed to market.”
Local governments resisted the changes, which took effect through legislation that was enacted last September — and they are still adjusting. The local governments are looking for ways to regain some of the control over the appearances of buildings in their communities that they lost under HB 2439 as well as options for meeting the “shot-clock” that HB 3167 imposed on planning processes.
Builders gain more flexibility in materials
“It gives builders and contractors the latitude to explore different building materials so we can find the most economical external skin,” Duvall said. “It will lower costs. But I don’t think there’s a real risk in contractors building unattractive or subpar products because the market is still going to require them to build attractive projects.”
Communities fearful of cheap homes eroding the value of expensive ones will look to take back control by probing the statute for exceptions, or perhaps even litigating, said Andrew Piel, an attorney with Harrison Steck who also is a member of the Arlington City Council. “Cities aren’t going away without a fight.”
Developers could have difficulty getting relief if a local government violates the statute because only the state’s attorney general office could recoup legal fees if it were to take the matter to court, said Piel’s colleague Michael MacQuaid, also an attorney at Harrison Steck. “A developer could spend $50,000 or more in legal fees, and if they can’t convince the attorney general to bring the action, then they have to come out of pocket with this, and there’s not much chance of getting the attorney general to go after a city,” he said.
Builders, developers, and cities will have to work out their differences, Duvall said. “We need to balance what the cities want with what a developer wants to build.
“Technically, the developers might have the leeway to do something the city opposes, so there could be some friction. The challenge is how we are going to work together given this new latitude.”
“Shot clock” pushes cities to act quickly
The `new “shot clock” also is forcing adjustments. Though HB 3167 does help keep the process moving for owners and developers by setting a 30-day timeline for the approval or disapproval of proposed plats and plans, the additional staff that cities may need to hire could be an example of unintended consequences, Piel said.
“Theoretically, it will make things faster. But it also increases the size of government [needed] to comply with the time requirements mandated by the legislation.”
Arlington, for example, is adding planners to process proposals by the deadline. “A lot of cities are moving to a front-loaded process to make sure that the plat is submitted right the first time,” Piel said.
Arlington also has updated its design criteria manual to help developers and is holding pre-submission meetings with applicants so that there will be no reason to deny them, Piel said. “You want to know everything you have to do to build in a city upfront.”
Cities have 30 days to either approve a proposal, approve it with conditions, or disapprove it. If a city disapproves a proposed plat or plan or approves it with conditions, they must provide detailed reasoning in writing, citing the specific code, law, or ordinance with which it does not comply, MacQuaid said. They did not have to do so previously.
“Clear communication with the city benefits all builders,” Piel said.
Contractors should focus on preparing quality construction documents, Duvall said. With thorough documentation, “it’s easier for the city to review and faster for us to get approval.”
Communication and cooperation between builders, developers, and government officials will be key in determining how effective the changes made by HB 3167 and HB 2439 are in streamlining construction projects without compromising communities’ building standards or increasing government payrolls to act on proposals sooner.
As seen in the Dallas Business Journal