Hard Ball For Hard Wall

The Texas Legislature was on track to close its 2009 session without action on three egregious bills that would have disrupted the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex portland cement supply

Don Marsh, Editor [email protected]

The Texas Legislature was on track to close its 2009 session without action on three egregious bills that would have disrupted the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex portland cement supply and engaged Texas Department of Transportation in a procurement conspiracy of questionable legality (note Restraint of trade, Texas style, April 2009, page 4). Bills Sen. Wendy Davis and Rep. Vicki Truitt tried to advance in Austin followed nonbinding resolutions or motions through which six Texas county or city governments have attempted to stifle cement commerce.

While these shenanigans show some Lone Star State public officials aiming low, a recently settled federal court case sees their Kyle, Texas, peers reaching high. Early this spring, the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, sided with the City of Kyle in a lawsuit over revised zoning ordinances requiring new single-family homes: a) be a minimum of 1,600 sq. ft., up from 1,400 sq. ft.; and, b) constructed with exteriors of 100 percent masonry, encompassing clay, concrete, cement-based, or stone options.

The Home Builders Association of Greater Austin (HBA), National Association of Home Builders, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches and Austin Branch of NAACP claimed the ordinances violated the federal Fair Housing Act. Using data collected after the ordinances’ November 2003 adoption, opponents contended that the masonry and minimum size requirements had resulted in Kyle entry-level homes increasing from $100,000 to $133,000, a swing disproportionately impacting minority buyers. Home Builders and NAACP representatives staged a February 2005 press conference in Austin, just north of Kyle, to announce findings from their statistical analysis of entry-level home price trends.

Later that year, Kyle Û likely facing legal challenges instigated by the press conference hosts Û passed an ordinance raising residential building permit fees 25 percent. HBA, NAHB, NAACP and its Texas affiliates then filed suit in District Court, charging that the 2003 and 2005 revised ordinances violated the Fair Housing Act. Judge Lee Yeakel oversaw a February-April 2008 bench trial, denying all claims a year later. He found that plaintiffs failed to conduct a proper statistical analysis that would yield evidence of entry-level home affordability and availability, or prove claims of violations tied to the building permit fee increase. HBA and NAHB proffered evidence that the City sought to increase residential building-permit fees to pay the cost of this litigation. The increased fees are borne not by HBA’s or NAHB’s members, but are passed on to end consumers ÷ [and] apply equally to minorities and nonminorities.

Those who recognize the value of local government and question the motives of political grievance peddlers will appreciate Kyle officials’ response to the court findings: This is a clear and decisive victory for cities everywhere, said City Manager Tom Mattis. We believe this [case] was a thinly veiled attempt by the HBA to thwart a city’s right to decide how to best plan and direct growth. It is also clear to me the Austin HBA thought they could intimidate the City of Kyle with this lawsuit. I guess they know better now.

Had the HBA prevailed, every city would have been in jeopardy of losing their ability to make decisions on how to best plan and direct growth based on the [community’s] special needs and circumstances, said Mayor Mike Gonzalez.

The City of Kyle is to be commended for promoting sound building methods and materials that contribute to community character and protect the investment of owners, regardless of their socioeconomic position. Whether or not the building permit fee increase was linked to costs of potential Fair Housing Act litigation, let’s hear it for a would-be defendant hedging its bets against grandstanding plaintiffs with nonpersuasive arguments.
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