While some might say that basements in West U., or anywhere in Houston, are a bad idea, council has declined to prohibit them and decided instead to regulate them.
With land at a premium and regulations on how far out and how far up residents can build, several have decided to build down. In the past two years, the city has seen three “basements” built in the city, with no regulations to adhere to and no rules in place concerning the 80 percent rule, which dictates how much house can be built on a lot.
FEMA restricts basements in homes built in the 100-year flood plain – which includes parts of West U. and almost all of Southside Place – but there are no restrictions for the 500-year flood plain, which includes other areas of the city.
Wine cellars, large open rooms and small bathrooms seem to be the purpose of the underground “extra” square footage. Lack of regulations have lead to situations like one that occurred in April, where the basement area of a new home came within inches of the driveway of the neighboring residence.
Members of the Planning and Zoning and Building and Standards commissions have been concerned that the underground structures could not only place the occupants in danger due to flooding or fire, but also undermine the driveways and structures on neighboring properties.
At Monday night’s council meeting, council was asked to either deicide to prohibit basements, or give the commissions the green light in devising regulations, which will be presented to council and subject to public hearings at a later date. Council decided against prohibiting subterranean structures.
“To me, I believe in property right,” said Councilman Michael Talianchich. “I have no problems with basement, all that has to happen here is have a structural engineer design retaining walls and have a second structural engineer inspect it. With two engineers involved, there’s no problem with the structure failing.”
Talianchich also said he thinks the underground square footage should be included in the 80 percent rule. If the city doesn’t include it, he believes almost all homebuilders will include basements to get the “extra” square footage.
At the beginning of the meeting, Councilman Chuck Guffey opened with the tongue-in-cheek opinion that “the first amendment in this needs to be ‘anyone who builds a basement on a house in Houston out to be declared criminally insane.’”