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Resubdivision reignites discussion at Planning Commission

Thursday, September 1, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

A section of the city code that periodically causes brows to furrow on the Planning Commission reappeared at the commission’s last meeting. And, although commission members were bound by law in this latest reminder, a vow to take another look at the code emerged, again.

It all restarted with a plan to resubdivide just over 4.6 acres into 30 lots at 2001 E.M. Franklin Road. The case met statutory requirements, and the commission was required to approve it. But Commissioner Karen McGraw questioned the subdivision and why some of the lots were smaller than Single-Family 3 zoning would allow. The resubdivision passed 10-1, with McGraw voting in opposition. It also sparked a discussion.

“It’s very strange. I’m not sure how that came about in the code, and I think we should have further discussion about what is happening with this subdivision process,” said McGraw. “I think I would like to know how it became allowed within our code. I think that’s an important topic, because what I’m seeing is: SF-3 is no longer a 5,750-foot lot. … I just don’t understand how we got here, and I think it undermines SF-3.”

Cesar Zavala, who is with the city’s Development Services Department, explained that the neighborhood allows cottage lots and that dividing that way “was just an option the applicant has” under the same zoning.

“So you could re-sub any SF-3 neighborhood in the city down to 3,000-foot lots?” asked McGraw. “I don’t think that’s the expectation I would have had for SF-3.”

McGraw noted that a switch to permit single-family attached uses “has morphed into something where we recut our city into tiny lots.”

Chair Steve Oliver noted that McGraw was not the first Planning commissioner “to recognize the subtleties – or nuances – of this type of subdivision.”

“It’s different than what we are used to seeing, but apparently it’s completely allowed within our code,” said Oliver.

In fact, spurred by a controversial development on Lightsey Road, the commission had previously requested a presentation on this section of code, which it heard at its Jan. 12 meeting.

At that meeting commissioners were told that, in 1986, legendary local builders Nash Phillips and Clyde Copus found themselves with a large inventory of duplexes. As a way to get them into the market, they worked with the city and helped create the “attached single family” section of the city’s code, which is also known as the “Nash Phillips/Copus Code.” Up until about four years ago, not many people took advantage of this provision, but more recently, developers have used it in new subdivisions to further resubdivide from duplex lots to single-family attached lots.

The provision applies to unplatted land, platted duplex lots and lots developed with a code-compliant duplex prior to March 1987. Those lots, if at a minimum of 7,000 square feet, can be resubdivided into lots that are at least 3,000 square feet.

Right now, the code is somewhat unclear as to what an attached home is. In his January presentation, David Wahlgren of the Development Services Department noted that there are “people who just have trellises across the top, where they are attached by a flimsy piece of wood.”

“I would say there could probably be some work done on the code to improve that,” he said.

That January presentation clarified that, in terms of the CodeNEXT Land Development Code rewrite, staff is recommending that attached single-family homes be allowed wherever duplexes are a permitted use.

On Tuesday, ex officio member William Burkhardt pushed for a harder look at the provision.

“This is a real planning problem,” said Burkhardt, who suggested it should go to the Codes and Ordinance Committee or be the center of a “much more in-depth discussion” about the overall planning implications for the city.

On the other hand, Commissioner Chito Vela said he was “fine with” the regulations as they stood, noting that the current lot size limits in the city were “extremely high.”

“I believe we have the highest lot sizes in the state of Texas,” said Vela.

Photo by IDukeFile:Markham-suburbs_id.jpg, CC BY-SA 2.5

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