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More Than One Way to Change Zoning

Tricia and I live in Southlake, Texas, the world’s best example of NIMBY, BANANA and all those other acronyms for “we are here and you can’t come in”. The average household income in Southlake is over $285,000 and the city is mostly large lot (minimum ½ acre) residential zoning with many 1 acre and larger areas. There is no apartment classification in the Southlake zoning ordinance. Southlake doesn’t want high density. Period.

A city of less than 2,000 residents 20 years ago, Southlake now has a population of over 30,000. Most of the growth in land mass was by annexation. During the annexation process, Southlake incorporated five mobile home subdivisions. A special zoning classification was created for these subdivisions, MH. MH allows both mobile homes and manufactured housing. Three of these subdivisions are shown as industrial or high tech manufacturing on the Southlake master plan and should go away soon. Two are still shown as MH on the master plan and they are surrounded by high dollar homes on minimum of 1 acre lots. Therefore, these subdivisions will never be zoned business of any kind. And, the simple economics dictate that the subdivisions will not be estate lots. So what do you do with a run down mobile home community surrounded by houses that sell for a minimum of $600,000 up to several million dollars?

First, the subdivision will never be rezoned to high density. Again, Southlake hates high density. The economics will not allow assembly and rezoning to large lots. Instead of rezoning the property, a friend of mine, David, elected to change the zoning ordinance itself, not rezone the property. Let me explain.

David, a local residential lot developer, was offered the opportunity to purchase a couple of the mobile homes (and the lots – remember, this is a subdivision, not a park – the lots are owned by the owners). He thought about it and decided that people would pay big bucks to live in more affordable housing in Southlake and attend our highly ranked school system. Once word got around that he had bought some of the lots, more were offered to him. David assembled the entire subdivision, 74 lots, without most of the surrounding homeowners even knowing what he was doing. OK, now what?

David originally thought he would move in newer doublewides. Then he decided he would make more money by developing a manufactured home subdivision on the lots. Then an upper end homebuilder that is active in one of his subdivisions approached David about the chances of Southlake allowing upper end high-density housing on the property. In that MH zoning does not allow site-built homes, and because the zoning would never be changed, David and his attorney petitioned the city to change the ordinance instead of the changing the zoning itself. The mayor and some of the council are elated. They see this as an opportunity to get rid of the mobile homes, get an elevation of several million dollars in the tax base, and restrict the high density zoning to only two areas, the two MH subdivisions.

This is an excellent example of someone thinking out of the box. Any property owner in Southlake has the constitutional right to petition the city to change the zoning ordinance. Because he is applying for an ordinance change, instead of changing the zoning of a specific property, the neighbors are not notified. The staff is in charge of spelling out the change at council and planning and zoning meetings. It made for much less citizens’ objections. And, besides that, the proposal makes sense. This process is liable to run into the fall. I will keep anyone that wants to know about it informed. In the meantime, where can each of us use this process to improve our position on a project? Any other ideas would be appreciated.

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