How University Park...Uh..."Lost its Soul"
At a packed public University Park City Council meeting last night concerning the size of homes in the Park City, builders there probably felt like their neighbors were about to tar and feather them. People are mad as hell about the 12,000-square-foot houses being erected on lots where modest cottages smaller than 2,000-square-feet once stood. "It's been fomenting out there for a long time," said mayor James "Blackie" Holmes III, opening the meeting. "We want to hear what you think the problems are and what you think would fix them." Several dozen people signed up to speak.
A city staffer went over the current building regulations, which several architects and builders called the most stringent in the metroplex. The code is so complex—impermeable coverage, setbacks, ridge lines, development envelopes, average natural grades, size of side lots, front yards and back yards, sky visibility—that about 60 percent of new building permits are denied because of non-compliance. "It's the most difficult zoning I've ever worked with," said architect Michael Solari.
"The building committee has let a whole lot of rascals get away with violating the rules," said architect and resident Harry Hoover. "We need honorable, decent oversight. I encourage you to limit the mega-houses." He got "amens" from the audience.
"Harry Hoover, the rascals are still alive and doing quite well," said Martin Newman when it was his turn at the microphone. "The builders are coddled by the city for the most part." He cited home-buyers with "ostentatious" tastes. "It's not enough to jam these monstrosities onto these lots. But the city allows these violations."
"If those people want those large houses, they can go to Frisco or Prosper or Little Elm," said one woman. "I feel University Park has lost its soul to the builders."
It's not just size and density that bothers residents. It's the noise, traffic and crowding caused by the ubiquitous construction crews. "The builders clog the streets on both sides," said another longtime resident. "Sometimes I can't get out of my driveway. You're sitting on a time bomb. A fire will happen and the fire company won't be able to get in, and it will be a disaster."
The pace of teardowns being replaced by McMansions is accelerating, said one woman, who added that she'd learned in the last two days that four new houses would be going up on her block in the next year. "It's changing the character of the neighborhood," she said.
But if the comments at the meeting are any indication, there's no easy solution. Builders who pay $500,000 to $1 million for a lot must put up large houses to make a profit. Buyers want big houses. And people still hanging on to small cottages don't want regulations that will lower the value of their property.
Architect Solari isn't sure the issue is as dire as his neighbors portray. "This is the No. 1 city in the metroplex, maybe in the state." said Solari. "Everybody wants to live here. We need to figure out if there's a problem and how many people are really upset with this. That's what I have to say. Please, no knives." And he sat down. --Glenna Whitley