Zachary said his bill would lower housing costs

Farragut-area developers who have heard that Tennessee General Assembly House Bill 0362 has cleared a subcommittee are hopeful of regulatory relief.

If the bill sponsored by Rep.Jason Zachary, [R-District 14 including Farragut], passes the state House and Senate before the end of this session, stormwater regulations imposed on homebuilders will be relaxed because the bill will end the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s “excessive” requirements that have become expensive for builders — and ultimately, homebuyers, Zachary said.

“That kills jobs in the state and makes housing unaffordable,” Zachary said, “whether it’s for Knoxville or Knox County, this puts a serious burden on our counties.”

Farragut resident and developer Bob Markli, a town of Farragut alderman, has been in the business for decades and has built subdivisions including Wyndham Hall, Berkeley Park and Smithfield. “Not having read the text of the bill, I can’t comment on the bill itself,” he said.

However, “anything that reduces the regulatory burden will ultimately benefit the end-user consumer, in this case, the Farragut homebuyers,” Markli said “... I’ve never seen a retention pond full in my 30 years of building around here. They have probably been over-zealously engineered and it would probably be good to review the current stormwater rules.”

Dan Mitchell, president of Knox County Homebuilders Association, said the availability of new construction lots in Farragut is rapidly declining and without this bill to reduce stormwater retention acreage, higher lot cost and higher home prices would result. “For example, [the price would increase from] $11,000 per lot up to $18,000 per lot because you have less lots to sell,” he said. “The real numbers are $80,000 to $90,000 per lot. A lower income home that was going to sell for $150,000 now sells for $180,000, and $250,000 is now $280,000 to $290,000.”

Homebuilders in Tennessee have been taking it on the chin, said Zachary last week from Nashville, but now a subcommittee has stepped in with a right hook of its own.

“We passed Bill 362 unanimously out of subcommittee and it goes to full committee next week. This bill originated from a conversation between legislators and homebuilders back in January just before the session started,” Zachary said. “TDEC is not adhering to a state law we passed last year requiring them not to exceed EPA standards regarding stormwater retention.”

“They [the homebuilders] brought some serious concerns to us regarding TDEC. They told us that TDEC has overstepped their bounds…they are single-handedly driving prices up for builders.”

Basically, TDEC has ignored the law and has become an excessive rule-making entity of its own, continuing to create higher standards than the EPA, Zachary said.

“The homebuilders told us that the cost to them was $240 per linear foot in 2010,” Zachary said. “In 2017, the cost is nearly $600 per linear foot and 70 percent of that increase is due to government regulations. I was shocked to hear about that increase and we had a meeting with TDEC to discuss the regulations that are driving up the costs of houses that you and I buy. We met with them one more time and told them if they did not fix this problem, we would fix it in the legislature. They did not do that, so today out of subcommittee we passed a bill that will go to full committee next week. Permits now have to come through the legislature for approval.”

Scott Davis, owner of Eagle Bend Development, was one of the homebuilders who went to Nashville in January. He has built homes in the Farragut area for the last 20-plus years, he said, including Jefferson Park next to the Davis Family YMCA, which was named for him after he donated land there.

“I think it’s great,” he said about the bill. “Representative Zachary obviously is held in high regard by his colleagues down there. I understand the bill passed unanimously, even with TDEC aggressively fighting it. It’s my hope that it gets through both the House and Senate this session. It will be voted on in the House next week and we hope to get it to the Senate floor before they convene toward the middle of April.”

“Now every subdivision you see, you have these big, huge retention ponds,” Davis said. “They’re a huge expense, take up a huge amount of land and are an environmental hazard because of Zika and mosquitos.

“They could take up five lots,” he said. “At $60,000 a lot, you’ve lost $300,000. If you have a 50-lot subdivision, that $300,000 is divided up among 45 lots. The HOAs are responsible for maintaining those. Dues that could be used toward a swimming pool or basketball court are being used for ugly retention ponds.”

He said the bill would significantly reduce the number of required retention ponds.