« One Chance Is All You Get | Main | Letter to council member - and "compromise" »

Oppose the "McMansion Ordinance"

Just sent this to Council:

Council members: My name is Mike Dahmus; I own a condominium unit in Old West Austin and currently live in a house I own in the North University neighborhood. I'd like to ask you to oppose the "McMansion ordinance" at Thursday's meeting. I will be brief.

I've corresponded extensively with the task force on their bulletin boards, but frankly, there was little common ground to be had. Like many "smart growth" people, I think restricting residential density is exactly the wrong way to go. There wasn't any room to compromise with these people - because, frankly, I'd prefer to go in the entirely opposite direction.

In my own case, these rules will force me to choose between a garage apartment (every other lot on my block has at least 2 dwelling units) or the second floor we'd like to build someday for our family of 4 (currently living in 1200 square feet). My next-door neighbors, about to be a family of 5, face having to tear down an existing garage apartment so they could build their second floor under these proposed rules.

The most ghastly thing about all this, though, is that the task force members themselves are comprised mainly of two groups: childless couples living in small houses, and people who are living in very large homes which violate the spirit (but not quite the letter) of the proposed regulations. Two examples: (name), in my neighborhood, lives in a two-story home which, thanks to an incompatible front setback, 'towers' over the backyards of her neighbors (who have small one-story homes which are set much closer to the street, and are much more pedestrian-friendly). (name) lives in a home with 3600 square feet on a corner in Hyde Park; her immediate neighbors live in tiny, tiny bungalows.

The same people who opposed every single multifamily project in the urban core for decades with drastic unintended consequences like the explosion of single-family-homes converted into rental properties for students now want you to do even more to prevent the market from responding efficiently to the demand for urban housing.

What unintended consequences could one predict from _these_ rules? I can think of a couple: a net decline in central housing units (due to dilemnas like the one my neighbor and I will face), and a net INCREASE in impervious cover (it will now be even more proportionally difficult to build up rather than back).

Please do the right thing, and stand up to these irresponsible neighborhood groups for the good of the city and for the rights of property owners.

Thanks for your time,
Mike Dahmus

and this to some neighborhood groups in response to some pro-ordinance politicking:

The task force's work stands to destroy the rights to develop property for families like myself and especially my neighbors - forcing them to either tear down an existing garage apartment or move, since they're about to become a family of 5 in about 1050 square feet.

There are plenty of people opposing these regulations who don't want
to build McMansions and aren't developers. I'd like to eventually have
what every other property on my lot already has - a secondary dwelling
unit, while still maintaining the right to develop a second floor.
The task force's work absolutely precludes me from doing so.

Like previously foolhardy opposition to all multifamily development in
the urban core, this ordinance will likely have unintended
consequences which will be worse than the problem they tried to solve
- for instance, one could easily predict a decline in net affordable
housing units as people like my neighbor now must tear down their
garage apartments in order to expand their home to what was previously
allowed. One could also predict quite easily that the new 'building
envelope' rule will lead to a net INCREASE in impervious cover and
concomittant drainage problems, since it further incents property
owners to expand back rather than up.

My block consists of 6000 square foot lots - every single lot except
mine has multiple dwelling units on it already; and on one side of me
is a duplex full of undergrads - who are attracted to rental housing
like that because many of the same people who formed this task force
succeeded until recently in preventing the market from providing real
multifamily housing close to UT. If I want to build up AND build my
garage apartment, I can't see any reason why I should be forced
through the hostile variance process just to do what everybody else on
the block already _has_ done; but the task force sees no problem here.

This ordinance goes exactly the wrong direction for Austin in so many
ways. If you have any concern for families like ours, please express
your opposition.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , PS: I am not a crackpot , Urban Design , When Neighborhoods Go Bad