Woodlands DSC pondering changes in light of development challenges
The Woodlands Township’s governing committee for design standards is in the midst of revising several aspects of the township’s complicated covenants as challenges have arisen from short-term rentals as well as the recent trend of tearing down older homes and replacing them with new structures.
Walter Lisiewski, the chairman of the seven-member Development Standards Committee, presented an update to township directors on Wednesday, April 24, explaining how the committee and its legal team are coping with the increase in short-term rentals in the township — a development that has irked many residents who feel homes in their neighborhood are becoming hotel-like in nature — as well as tear-downs and rebuilds of older homes.
“We’ve been working on an update of the standards,” Lisiewski said. “As The Woodlands grows and gets older, redevelopment is a very vital part of sustainability and keeping property values up.”
The committee heard 268 variance applications in the first quarter, which was a more than 35 percent increase from the same time period in 2018.
New changes to the covenants include requiring mandatory drainage engineering plans for swimming pools; a new prohibition on filing for a design variance if a home or business owner has an existing outstanding covenant violations on their record; the official OK to use the controversial Edison lights as well as LED lights — with the caveat the lights do not negatively affect a neighbor. Artificial turf-like will also be allowed now in limited areas, specifically in side yards and in backyards, and must be professionally installed. Some standards governing tree removal were clarified and strengthened to prevent unneccessary cutting down of trees.
“We’ve updated our standards on new (building) materials. There is a lot of new product out there now, roofing, solar panels … so , we updated that,” Lisiewski said. “Home fueling stations … after Harvey, everyone has one now. We want to make sure everyone realizes there are state codes governing that and make sure the fire department knows there is a storage tank and where it is.”
Short-term rental policy being developed
Lisiewski said the legal staff that works with the DSC as well as the six other members are waiting until the Texas legislative session ends in May or June before making any final decisions on short-term rentals, notably because two possible pieces of legislation have yet to be acted upon and whatever happens with the two proposals, it will likely affect the DSC’s policy on the issue.
“As you know, short-term rentals have been a big topic of discussion. We have all the (short-term rental) standards updated, but there are two bills in Austin right now,” Lisiewski said. “We’re going to wait until those are resolved. It doesn’t make any sense to change the standards and then have to change them again to comply with a new law. We think we’ll be able to control short-term rentals.”
Tear-downs & rebuilds a concern
As The Woodlands ages, especially older neighborhoods in original villages like The Village of Grogan’s Mill, Lisiewski said it is natural for new home buyers to possibly want to merely destroy an old, out-dated home and rebuild a totally new structure. The issue has become controversial in recent years and flared in mid-April when two residents of the Village of Grogan’s Mill made accusations during public comment on April 18 that a new homeowner was not following covenants and had plans for a building that did not fit the area.
Lisiewski said some of the comments the resident had made to the Board of Directors on April 18 were not accurate, and that the home in question had not had construction started on it. He also said accusations that DSC member Robert Heineman had been disrespectful to homeowners was false.
“The Woodlands is getting older, and there is redevelopment taking place — not only residentially but on the commercial side,” he said. “We’re going to see more and more of that. You have to redevelop.”
Township board Chairman Gordy Bunch said he is aware of the need to redevelop older, aging homes, especially ones that may not have been maintained or have suffered wear and tear over the decades since they were first built.
Lisiewski said the DSC will ensure all covenants are followed, but in reality there will be new homes with different designs than what was popular in the 1970s or 1980s. Another factor in trying to replicate the style of older homes on a street is that many of the materials, colors and other elements used in construction of homes in the 1970s is simply not available anymore.
“It is not going to be exactly the same,” Lisiewski said of rebuilt homes. “There are some cases that came out recently in Grogan’s Mill and Panther Creek for redevelopment. We go by the standards on that, we make sure there are some people who are not going to like it. But you have to redevelop.”