By Matt Goodman
Fort Hood Herald
The Killeen Planning and Zoning Commission will submit an ordinance to the City Council in 2010 that would force multi-family home developers to rethink how they design the properties.
Commission members said they drafted the ordinance to cut down on monochromatic building design among fourplexes, which are often highlighted by vehicle clutter rather than green space.
But developers maintain that market demand guides their design; if fourplexes that look alike are selling and are not a hazard to public safety, why should the city be involved?
"If it's not a safety issue, the market should define the product," said Jay Manning, owner of Manning Homes in Copperas Cove. "That's how I know what to build. I'm not the authority on it; the people who are spending the money are the authority."
The ordinance was originally drafted by the Land Use Development Committee, which includes council members Juan Rivera, JoAnn Purser and Ernest Wilkerson and representatives from the home-building community. It was passed off to the Planning and Zoning Commission, which will presented it to the council, said city planner Tony Mcllwain. The ordinance will be brought before the council at a workshop in January.
"This ordinance is a long time coming," he said. "There have been public hearings and it's been talked about for a while."
In need of green
Ray Shanaa, director of planning and development services in Killeen, said that dense development on city blocks with multi-family homes devoid of green space spurred the ordinance.
A multi-family home is defined as a structure containing three or four separate dwelling units. The proposed ordinance also includes apartment complexes.
"The front of those fourplexes, of course, are concrete parking lots that extend all the way to the street," Shanaa said. "Unfortunately, the appearance has not been as good as the residents and the city would like them to be."
Shanaa said that it's not uncommon for the streets to be a "sea of cars," especially in the evenings. Thus the ordinance would require developers to move parking beside or behind the home to allow 25 feet of green space in front of the unit.
"This would enhance the appearance of the development and the quality of life for the residents of those apartments," Shanaa said. "It would also help maintain the value of the property."
The ordinance also requires 20 feet to be set aside for a backyard, where no storage or similar uses are allowed. With the additional requirements, the minimum size of the lot is 10,000 square feet, bumped up from 7,000 square feet.
"I think it's going to drive up the cost so much that we will not see a new fourplex in Killeen," Purser said. "I don't know that it's not a form of discrimination against an investor who cannot afford an apartment complex and also tenants who may not want to pay the exorbitant fees of apartment living."
Is it affordable?
Multi-family homes grew in popularity because of their affordability and because owners could live in one unit and rent out the other three. And with the area's close proximity to Fort Hood, soldiers could rent out the unit while overseas.
"You might have a single captain and he can move in there and if he gets transferred he still has a nice piece of rental property to rent out all four sides," said Patsy Craig, 2010 Central Texas Homebuilders Association president. "The city got upset about the cluster … where it's just so many (occupants) and there wasn't any green space."
The ordinance is the most recent attempt city officials to govern the appearance of future developments.
Fourplex production picked up steam in the mid-1990s after demand from individuals increased, Manning said. In 2000, investors began to dominate the market, he added. Manning said each developer began building fourplexes on similar designs, and investors responded positively.
The new ordinance would no longer allow this practice. Exterior walls must be constructed with 50 percent native stone or brick. The same front elevation may not be used within a grouping of five lots.
And variances in elevation must meet at least three different standards in five categories: variation in color and materials; variance in depth, length and width of banding or wall plane projection or recessions; canopies; windows and doors; and roof lines.
The commission wants to promote variation among design in neighborhoods. This would, in the group's mind, increase quality of life and make it easier to promote the city's neighborhoods.
"The intent is to make larger lots give the appearance of a less clustered development," Mcllwain said.
But this is where frustration builds for developers. They believe demand still exists for similar units. If the ordinance passes, they worry that costs will increase and cause the demand to decrease.
"If the building is more expensive to build it's going to make the rent higher," said Randy Reding, owner of Reding Construction in Killeen. "But the objective is to build the building at the most reasonable price to keep the rent down so the most people can afford it."
Beauty versus budget
For other groups, such as the volunteer organization Keep Killeen Beautiful, any attempt at increasing beautification within the city is welcomed – even with the possibility of increasing development costs.
"There might be better design options to help offset the new requirements," said Colen Wilson, chair of Keep Killeen Beautiful. "People want to live in more attractive places that have things that enhance the residential living experience."
Purser said she plans to ask Shanaa to create a mock plat of land that illustrates the potential effect the ordinance will have on the developments.
But, she said she remains skeptical that residents in the multi-family market will be able to afford to live in fourplexes that meet all of the new requirements.
"I think that's the key: what is it that our average median income level is," she asked. "I have to focus on the income level in this area ... if 75 percent of the market is this price point, we have to service this market. We have to have clean, new updated product for that person."
Contact Matt Goodman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7550.