County Rule Making? – Nope, thanks to the Builder’s Lobby

You bought land out in the country outside of the city limits and built your dream home there, calling it Green Acres. Or you bought into a subdivision just minutes away from the city where land prices made homes more affordable. Then, after spending the money and settling in, you find out that the land next to you was sold and will now become a trash dump, hog farm, chicken ranch, gravel dump, or concrete plant. What can you do? 

Not much; you’re unfortunately out of luck. You can complain to the city planning office, but it’s out of their jurisdiction, so there’s nothing they can do. And the county has no ordinance-making authority to enforce building codes or adopt zoning regulations. 

Nearly 25% of Texans live in unincorporated areas that lack any real power to prevent undesirable businesses from being located near homes and neighborhoods. 

So why don’t Texas counties have ordinance-making authority? It’s quite simple. Over the years, in consecutive legislative sessions, the Texas Association of Builders and their allies, such as Bob Perry, have blocked proposals to grant counties such authority. Homebuilders like having little regulation when building in Texas and even less in the counties. They want to keep it that way.

Homeowners are the real losers when counties have no authority to determine what’s built within their jurisdictions. Just as homebuilders can develop entire subdivisions with no oversight or environmental controls in unincorporated areas, gravel and concrete plants can be built adjacent to existing neighborhoods, creating imminent threats to health and safety. 

There's an ongoing controversy in eastern Travis County where Texas Industries wants to build a concrete plant directly across the street from a relatively new subdivision. The homeowners are distraught because their property values will plummet if the concrete plant is built, and in addition to the pollution and noise from the plant, they must contend with over 40 concrete trucks a day driving past their neighborhood. The Travis County Commissioners don’t want the plant to be built, but the last we heard, they felt they were powerless to stop it. 

As we recall, similar problems exist in Williamson County, where the location of a landfill caused residents a lot of grief. Counties with rapid growth, such as Williamson County, will likely suffer the most serious consequences from the lack of ordinance making authority thanks to the Texas homebuilders lobby.

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