Today's Statesman (Feb. 18) has an interesting article on the McMansion ordinance's impact.
A couple of quick reactions. First, the article implies that the McMansion ordinance has not affected property values:
The predictions were dire.
Rules designed to limit the sizes of new houses in almost 50 Central Austin neighborhoods would lead to plummeting land values, vanishing nest eggs and far fewer modern houses for buyers to choose from, warned Austin home builders and property owners opposed to the regulations.
But 16 months after the Residential Design and Compatibility Standards were put in place to limit the impact of large new houses on adjacent homes and the character of neighborhoods, and though concerns about the overall rules linger, property values haven't dropped, and construction activity has increased.
In fact, median prices of single-family homes in neighborhoods such as Hyde Park, Tarrytown and Travis Heights increased in 2006 and 2007, and the city issued 2,452 permits for new houses, additions and remodels in the affected neighborhoods last year, 455 more than in 2005.
For what it's worth, I never believed the McMansion ordinance would hurt the value of lots across the board. I thought (and still think) the McMansion ordinance has or will hurt the value of small lots relative to large lots. Given sufficient rising demand, the value of small lots may not have dropped. But they should have appreciated more slowly than larger lots.
(There's some anecdotal evidence this is true, incidentally: Steve Crossland compared the rate of appreciation of small homes and large homes in 2006 (see comments to Steve's post). He found that large homes appreciated 50% faster than small homes (14.63% to 9.65%) in 2006, the year the McMansion ordinance took effect. This is odd, because normally one would expect small homes to appreciate more rapidly, since most of the value is in the right to build, rather than in the size of the lot. This statistic is thus consistent with my claim, but hardly proof -- we used home sizes as a proxy for lot sizes, and did not control for the quality of the existing homes. Also, the numbers flipped in the first quarter of 2007.)
Second, it looks like I was right that the design review commission would become a vehicle for regulating aesthetics. Here's the article:
Home builder Glenn Reynolds of Cool River Custom Homes said that he isn't opposed to size restrictions but that the rules as written will ultimately lead to cookie-cutter homes.
"We're not a builder that goes out and says we want to take a 5,400-square-foot lot and put a 4,000-square-foot home on it. That's ridiculous," he said. "When it comes to things like 45 percent impervious cover and 40 percent (floor area ratio), those types of items I'm in complete agreement with. What scares me is the review board is taking that a step farther and is basically starting to determine the aesthetic effect for every single home."
The rule that has caused the most frustration for builders requires them to include design features to prevent a "billboard effect": huge, plain side walls looming over nearby houses. To follow that rule, many builders are breaking up the side wall by making the second story narrower than the first, one example of the kind of formulaic design that they say the ordinance has led to.
Builders and architects also complain that the design review commission that was set up to hear appeals regarding the new rules gives too much weight to the opinions of neighboring property owners.
"They have given power unduly to the residents in the neighborhood," architect Dean Rose of PFA Design Group said. "It's now a vigilante committee."
Here's what I wrote back in October 2006:
Anyone who's seen enough zoning hearings knows what this will degenerate into. The neighborhoods will use the waiver request to impose their taste. (They will quickly detect how far they can go before the owner decides the costs aren't worth the benefits of the waiver.) These hearings will rarely be about just massing, scale or compatibility. Owners who want a side articulation waiver will be told they should be using wood siding rather than stone, or stone rather than wood, or brick rather than stone. Or they'll be told to get rid of some windows on their proposed second story ("it's too intrusive"). Or they'll be told to add some windows ("it's too monolithic"). We'll hear complaints about roof pitch. Placement of porches. Design of the garage. Any design feature that can cause the slightest annoyance will be fair game. Neighbors can expect a sympathetic audience from the RDCC.
More later. Maybe.