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Thread: Restricting developer-built homes

  1. #1
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    Restricting developer-built homes

    I'm working with a community that is only interested in allowing new residential subdivisions to be the type that sells vacant lots off, instead of selling cookie-cutter model homes that are already built. They feel this would virtually guarentee no more cheaply-made homes, and it would ensure that the new neighborhoods have more character and variety. I tend to agree with them, but I've never seen an ordinance that regulates this.

    Are any of you familiar with anyplace that allows just owner-built homes?

  2. #2
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    What???

    Good luck regulating that. I don't see any possible connection between quality of construction and the size of the constructor.

    I have never heard of this, and can't really help, but I would offer some questions for consideration:
    • How does one define "owner built" versus "big developer built"?
    • Can't the issues ("poor" quality construction, repetition) be better managed through building and zoning code changes (regs for all brick, anti-repetition regs, etc.)?
    • How would one track the ownership of the lot?
    Last edited by mendelman; 26 May 2011 at 1:51 PM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Every day is today. Yesterday is a myth and tomorrow an illusion.

    You know...for kids.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    Maybe it is more of a problem here than in other places. Developers just try to put the homes up fast and cheap. There are like 5 homeplans with 3 different colors of vinyl siding, in a subdivision. And they skimp out on using quality materials. If the homeowner is the one having the home built, they would tend to choose homeplans that are more interesting, and better quality materials.

    BTW this is for a rural township, that is hesistant to allow any new residential development at all. But if it is built, they want to make sure it will be a quality home. But the idea of amending their building regs is a good idea. Anybody have any examples of places with an anti-repetition reg?

  4. #4
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by cch View post
    Anybody have any examples of places with an anti-repetition reg?
    From our building code:

    Section 23-203 Repetition of Design. No contractor or builder shall construct two or more buildings of like exterior design on the same side of any street unless such buildings are separated by two or more buildings or building sites, or a combination thereof, of completely dissimilar design. Buildings of like exterior design may not be erected directly across the street from each other.

    All buildings shall be considered to be of "like exterior design" unless they have substantially different floor plans, elevations, and are substantially different in exterior appearance in the opinion of the Code Official.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Every day is today. Yesterday is a myth and tomorrow an illusion.

    You know...for kids.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Reductionist's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    What???

    Good luck regulating that. I don't see any possible connection between quality of construction and the size of the constructor.
    • I have never heard of this, and can't really help, but I would offer some questions for consideration:
    • How does one define "owner built" versus "big developer built"?
    • Can't the issues ("poor" quality construction, repetition) be better managed through building and zoning code changes (regs for all brick, anti-repetition regs, etc.)?
    • How would one track the ownership of the lot?
    Traditionally that is how most neighborhoods were built, certainly almost all of the beloved historic neighborhoods evolved that way. A landowner would plat and subdivide a property and then sell off lots individually. The city made sure the subdivision connected with the existing street network (or enforced a street plan if it already had one) with appropriate connections available for future development.

    It wasn't until the 1960s and the first "planned developments" that the master developer and private regulatory controls (a la covenents) became popular. While such top down planning offers many advantages in terms of efficiency and economy of scale it also unfortunately produces a sterile, mediocre development pattern that doesn't age very well. I've often thought that this is the biggest objection most people have to New Urbanism - the top down nature which produces an instant city of sorts - and that NU would be much more effective if it advocated a decentralized build out process.

    Unfortunately the reality is that most local building cultures are impoverished. They tend to be dominated by big national builders who specialize in churning out cheap, stucco covered snoutboxes or small, local builders who seem to be content to be producing even cheaper copies of the big boys. Custom building, basically anything qualitatively different, is increasingly a luxury item that only the rich can afford.

  6. #6
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Reductionist View post
    Traditionally that is how most neighborhoods were built...A landowner would plat and subdivide a property and then sell off lots individually.
    Well, true, but not exactly.

    In newly opened land adjacent to major cities in Europe (18th and 19th cent.) many buildings were built at a scale of 2-10 units at a time (esp. when speculative). This persisted into North America and up through the Depression. The increments were small (by today's standards) because the construction methods were more labor intensive and financing mechanisms were much less liberal than today.

    Lastly, by the early 1950s (not 1960s) the industrialization of house building became feasible (due to federal subsidy of home construction and homeownership, and rethinking of how to build houses), so the scale of edge housing development increased almost infinitely to the point that a subdivision of 500 units is probably considered "small" today.

    Back to the topic, I don't think that limiting who can develop what and how many will really affect the "quality" of the construction. That can really only be done through the implementation of stricter building codes for construction and materials.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Every day is today. Yesterday is a myth and tomorrow an illusion.

    You know...for kids.

  7. #7
    There is nothing wrong with repetition.



    Unfortunately you cannot regulate against being ugly and cheap. It's a purely qualitative standard. If you don't like the way developers are building, ya gotta do it yerself.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    These single-family housing design issues always give me a headache. The self-centered homeowner part of my brain immediately agrees & I want to keep all those "ugly" cheaply built houses as far away from my castle as possible, but then the other public-sector planner part of my brain says, now wait a minute, I'm sure that's exactly what all the have-it-alls in their mansions up on the hill are thinking about my little "ugly" hovel, even though its all I can afford. The builder is building those cookie-cutter things because someone is buying them, and that may be all the roof that those someones can afford. Is banning "cookie-cutter" incipient architectural classism? I don't know the answer.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    I am not sure about regulations, but I have platted 7 subdivision in this area since 2000. 5 were for developers who builds spec homes as you mentioned. 2 were for land owners that wanted to sell vacant lots for people to build their own home. Those two are still empty and one just sold their entire subdivision to the spec home guy. The others are nearing full.

    There doesn't seem to be any money in the sale of vacant lots. This is because the developer has to cover the cost of subdivision infrastructure (roads, utilities etc.) in the cost of the lots. It is much easier to do this when you put a $200,000 home on a $50,000 lot.

    Once spec houses start filling up, the "cookie cutter" subdivisions do seem to start to attract some "custom" houses. But without some starter homes, the subdivision sits empty.

    I would think if you were to successfully regulate these kinds of sales, you would stifle development in the community.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    How do you force someone to sell a vacant lot?

    I buy a 100 acre parcel. I subdivide it into 100 1 acre lots, per the zoning ordinance that was written and adopted by YOUR township. I put up 100 houses that fit neatly within all the setback, design standards, etc...that YOUR township established.

    Hmmmmm....???

    I'll see you in court.

  11. #11
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    We have some anti-monotony rules for tract subdivisions...

    However, our building official has stated on numerous occasions that the large-scale builder-developers have fewer red tags for failed inspections and generally do less griping about regulations than many of our "small timers". I'm not sure you've got a solid correlation between contractor size & build quality.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Reductionist's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jeff View post
    How do you force someone to sell a vacant lot?

    I buy a 100 acre parcel. I subdivide it into 100 1 acre lots, per the zoning ordinance that was written and adopted by YOUR township. I put up 100 houses that fit neatly within all the setback, design standards, etc...that YOUR township established.

    Hmmmmm....???

    I'll see you in court.
    You are correct that there is no way legally you can force someone to sell a vacant lot.

    Really it's a good example of how market efficiencies don't always produce the most desirable outcomes.

    So we end up with 100 super-sized houses on a sprawling network of cul-de-sac streets that are utterly mediocre in design and only serve to further degrade the public realm.

    Isn't freedom great?

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    The purpose of your zoning, SALDO, Comp Plans, etc are to prevent the above referenced instances. If you are getting a product in your township that you are unhappy with, someone is not doing their job.

    A developer only builds what and where he is told to.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    I live in a subdivision simiplar to what you propose.

    There was a choice of 4-5 builders, or you could purchase your own lot and build something (in comformance to the PUD design criteria).

    This has left our neighborhood built-out with a nice variety of homes, home prices, demographics, and economic backgrounds. For a new subdivision the street scape is decent (a relative term with us...) as many of the houses are not next to one of the same builder. I can probably count 6 different builders (whether corporate or self-built) within a 5 house radius of my place. (Of course, mine is the only energy-efficient one).

    I think that neighborhoods like that work well, but the caveat to all of this is the regulation.

    There is no way to regulate this and my example is one of the developer choosing it himself, not accomplished by city regulation.
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  15. #15
    Quote Originally posted by Reductionist View post
    You are correct that there is no way legally you can force someone to sell a vacant lot.

    Really it's a good example of how market efficiencies don't always produce the most desirable outcomes.

    So we end up with 100 super-sized houses on a sprawling network of cul-de-sac streets that are utterly mediocre in design and only serve to further degrade the public realm.

    Isn't freedom great?
    If you don't like the product the market is providing, you can provide it yourself.

    That is what is great about the market.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally posted by cch View post
    I'm working with a community that is only interested in allowing new residential subdivisions to be the type that sells vacant lots off, instead of selling cookie-cutter model homes that are already built. They feel this would virtually guarentee no more cheaply-made homes, and it would ensure that the new neighborhoods have more character and variety. I tend to agree with them, but I've never seen an ordinance that regulates this.

    Are any of you familiar with anyplace that allows just owner-built homes?
    I don't think the problem is that the developer builds the homes, nor would some sort of law requiring "owner-built" homes necessarily improve the quality or variety of a neighborhood.

    I agree with mendelman and others that an anti-monotony code, combined with other improvements to your zoning laws and housing code, could solve this problem.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian vagaplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    From our building code:

    Section 23-203 Repetition of Design. No contractor or builder shall construct two or more buildings of like exterior design on the same side of any street unless such buildings are separated by two or more buildings or building sites, or a combination thereof, of completely dissimilar design. Buildings of like exterior design may not be erected directly across the street from each other.

    All buildings shall be considered to be of "like exterior design" unless they have substantially different floor plans, elevations, and are substantially different in exterior appearance in the opinion of the Code Official.
    Is this a new requirement? Did it reduce the number of units being built in your jurisdiction? Have you had interpretation problems with the language such as "like exterior design", "substantially different"?

  18. #18
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by vagaplanner View post
    Is this a new requirement? Did it reduce the number of units being built in your jurisdiction? Have you had interpretation problems with the language such as "like exterior design", "substantially different"?
    From my understanding it has been in our building code for awhile (at least 1980s), but since our last large scale subdivision finished in the mid-80s, it wasn't around to for mushc of what was already built.

    In the mid-90s we created a Design Commission that reviews all new construction for design, and we have also had a wave of teardowns in certain neighborhoods. The anti-monotony code was purposely made to be seemingly "vague" so that our staff would have more leeway in decision making. It, coupled with other efforts, has really helped up the quality of the design for new construction.

    Sometimes, in planning, you need to have "vague" code requirements to give staff flexibility with review. If everything was black and white, then you could just have a machine do it and wewould be out of jobs.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Every day is today. Yesterday is a myth and tomorrow an illusion.

    You know...for kids.

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