By Robert Nathan
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS – Area developers expressed mixed feelings during Tuesday's City Council workshop as city officials discussed proposed zoning amendments and fire protection requirements for multifamily housing that will effectively cost developers and consumers more money in the long run.
The city is proposing increasing the minimum lot size of multifamily housing, changing its fire control measures and requiring more landscaping in these kinds of developments. The city also is proposing zoning codes that would limit parking availability in front of multifamily housing and change the number of required parking spaces in certain commercial developments.
The city urged developers to come to the meeting to get their input because changes to zoning and building requirements will effectively cost developers more to build and maintain multifamily housing.
The proposed landscaping requirements call for all yards to have vegetative groundcover to control erosion and for multifamily dwellings to have a minimum of two six-foot trees and eight three-gallon shrubs in front yards will likely cost developers more money. The minimum lot size of these developments would increase from 7,800 square feet to 8,400 square feet.
Developers did not disagree with commercial parking requirements, which would decrease the amount of parking at personal service shops, furniture stores and car washes and increasing the required parking at retail stores and places of assembly. They did however, feel the changes to residential structures will not only affect them financially, but they thought changes would make the Harker Heights' housing market less appealing because of a possible higher cost of living compared to other nearby communities.
"We just keep dragging up the cost and we're going to have to run to the consumer, as far as what he can consume," said Gary Purser Jr., one of more than a dozen developers at the meeting.
Councilman Pat Christ told Purser that the proposed changes mostly have to do with multi-family housing and would not affect everyone in the market.
Other developers argued not everyone wants a larger lot because they are harder to maintain. Developer John Reider said the larger lot size requirement would raise utility rates and residents wouldn't want to maintain the extra landscaping. Purser agreed with Reider and said maintaining the extra landscaping would likely fall into the developers' hands.
Purser and Reider said they would prefer more flexible zoning codes rather than the stringent codes the city is considering.
While the zoning codes seemed to be what would affect developers and consumers the most, it was the fire protection requirements the city is considering that triggered a lengthy discussion on whether the city should require sprinkler systems or three-hour firewalls on multifamily housing.
The international building code amended by the 79th Texas Legislature states that a city that adopts a more stringent commercial building code before Jan. 1, 2006, is not required to repeal that code and may adopt future editions of that code.
David Kingsley, the city's building official, told the council he checked with neighboring communities and found Temple and Belton were not making such a requirement for multi-family residential units.
We'd like to get something adopted as soon as we can so that we are in compliance with state law – whether it be with the sprinkler system or some other type of fire protective measure," City Manager Steve Carpenter said.
Fire Chief Jack Collier said he would rather see sprinkler systems instead of firewalls because sprinklers would limit the fire's spread before firefighters arrived on the scene.
"Any fire department is going to welcome a sprinkler system – that is another tool in our tool belt – it buys us time to get there (to the fire)," Collier said. " ... Ninety-nine percent of the time the sprinkler system will put the fire out."
Fire protection of multifamily housing is not new to the council as it was discussed at a workshop at the beginning of the month. Council members said the use of sprinklers could cause water damage and drastically increase insurance costs.
Collier told the council there is a misconception about sprinklers causing damage to an entire multifamily dwelling because in most cases, when one sprinkler goes off in a unit on fire, other units not affected by the fire will not necessarily be affected by the water.
"I think there are some insurance savings that we need to find out before we pass this ordinance one way or another," Carpenter said.
Developers said sprinkler systems for these structures cost between $12,000 and $15,000.
"I think there are some major issues here and I want to say as a property owner of multi-family (housing), we're spread pretty thin right now in multifamily (housing) with regards to property taxes and insurance," Reider said. "We're at the point where we are working six months out of the year just to pay that. It's going to be very cost prohibitive; firewall protection would be a good alternative."
In other business, the council decided to discuss the proposed new comprehensive plan at the next workshop because of a lack of time at Tuesday's meeting.
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