A plan that could have made building custom homes in Leander easier was halted last week when the city council balked at paying a consultant $78,000 to create a pattern book.
The pattern book, similar to ones used by a number of cities around the country, would expand on current city building standards and allow homebuilders more freedom to build and design outside of Leander's type A and type B building restrictions. Both types regulate the amount of masonry such as brick, stone and stucco required on exterior walls and the various design elements allowed, said Assistant City Manager Tom Yantis.
The stoppage came after months of developing, studying and workshopping a pattern book. Several developers had participated with city staff in discussions earlier this year.
After a series of 3-3 votes, the council couldn’t reach a majority on looking at revising the cost estimate. Motions also failed on tie votes to seek new proposals for the pattern book plan and to ask the consultant to make a presentation on his work to the full council.
The council informally agreed to ask representatives of the Home Builders Association to attend a workshop session in January to discuss the need for a Leander pattern book. Several developers had participated with city staff in discussions earlier this year.
Mayor Pro tem Jeff Seiler, Place 4 Council Member Ron Abruzzese, and Place 6 Council Member Troy Hill voted against payment to architect Michael Watkins to prepare the pattern book. Mayor Chris Fielder, Place 1 Council Member Andrea Navarrette, and Place 3 Council Member Shanan Shepherd supported payment. Place 2 Council Member Michelle Stephenson was absent from the meeting.
Without an approved pattern book, builders have to get approval from the city council on a case-by-case basis to build homes that are outside of city restrictions. A pattern book allows the builders to select from the approved options and start building without additional approvals.
For example, homebuilders such as the retro-themed Starlight Village and the Cottages at Crystal Falls had to take the more costly route of getting permission from City Council through a planned unit development (PUD) process to build outside of the city restrictions. With a pattern book, those developments would have had the ability to opt in and utilize the book instead of building a zoning district.
Shepherd said she thought a lack of information about pattern books contributed to hesitation of some council members to approve the expense. She said the books give homebuilders more options for the appearance of their products.
“The point of the pattern book was to open up the opportunities and different choices for the builders who feel like they have been constrained,” Navarrette said.
After motions by Navarrette and Shepherd to either pay Watkins the full $78,000 or to ask him to lower the cost failed, Fielder proposed that the council seek brand new proposals for the pattern book. But that motion stalled at a 3-3 vote like the others. The three “no votes” on this motion were from Abruzzese, Navarette and Shepherd.
Yantis said the council allocated $50,000 in the current budget to create the pattern book.
The council has worked with Watkins since 2013 when the architect updated the city’s SmartCode and he is the city’s current contract urban design officer.
Yantis said Watkins has been helpful in getting homebuilders engaged in the pattern book project which began to take shape during a two-day workshop in September.
“What Mike had to say really resonated with the homebuilders,” Yantis said. “He took building plans from the builders and offered advice to make them work in the pattern book.”
Yantis said the $78,000 requested by Watkins was justified by the amount of work needed. He explained the council had made the pattern book expense part of a $100,000 budget item including the Old Town Master Plan.
Hill said he was told the pattern book would result in a “minimal expense” for the city. He said even the original planned amount of $50,000 was too much and questioned why other cities in Texas had not adopted pattern books.
“For this amount of money, we could buy two squad cars,” Hill said. “If every other city in Texas has managed to do without it, I think we will be okay without it.”