Tuesday, October 11, 2016 by Cate Malek

Council votes down attempt to revisit McMansion exemption

An amendment that some hoped would lead to more clarity in the McMansion Ordinance only seemed to lead to greater confusion at a City Council meeting on Oct. 6.

The McMansion Ordinance was passed in order to prevent developers from building oversized houses on small lots. But the complicated ordinance has led to some confusion, especially over which exemptions to the ordinance homeowners are able to claim.

At its last meeting, Council voted on an amendment that would have changed part of the ordinance that eliminated exemptions for carports when they are enclosed and turned into garages. The current language in the ordinance was causing confusion for homeowners who bought houses with unfinished garages, unaware that if they put a door on those garages their house would be out of compliance with city code.

Although city staff supported the amendment, Council failed to pass it in a tight vote of 5-5 with Mayor Steve Adler and Council members Greg Casar, Sheri Gallo, Delia Garza and Pio Renteria opposed and Ellen Troxclair absent.

Adler explained that he was voting against the amendment because the McMansion Ordinance was a hard-fought compromise and he was afraid of opening the ordinance up to more changes.

“I think there was a group that got together, and they made a compromise. I’m going to abide by that compromise,” he said.

Other Council members were concerned that trying to fix the carport exemption could cause even more unintended consequences for homeowners who had carports that they had no intention of turning into garages. Later in the meeting, Council members realized that city staff had proposed an amendment that could have addressed some of those concerns, but an attempt to reconsider the issue failed.

Those who supported the amendment said they were simply trying to get rid of a confusing exemption that could be used as a loophole for developers trying to increase the size of the property they could build on a lot.

“The exemptions are, in my personal opinion, one of the more complicated areas of the McMansion Ordinance,” said Development Services Manager John McDonald.

Photo by TerriersFan at en.wikipedia, CC BY 2.5,

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

McMansion Ordinance (subchapter F): In 2006, Austin implemented the McMansion Ordinance in an attempt to limit the mass of new construction in some areas of the city. The ordinance does so by limiting things like floor-to-area ratio and impervious cover, as well as establishing design standards for larger homes.

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