New Building Codes Will Change the Face of Tuscaloosa

Tuscaloosa City officials are preparing for a series of building code changes that will affect all future construction near the University of Alabama. Recently, the Planning and Zoning Commission passed a group of recommendations to improve the standards for exterior appearance of the buildings in the University Neighborhood Zone. The Council also passed amendments to relax the code for other residential structures, which will make it more cost-efficient to built multifamily arrangements in the area, including houses with multiple bedroom arrangements.

In an address to the Council’s Administration/Policy Committee, City Planning and Development Services director John McConnell said, “This is the Planning Commission’s recommendation to rewrite the entire University Area zoning text…There are no map (line) changes involved with this, there’s no new zoning involved — it’s just the text of the zoning ordinances.”

From a development standpoint, the new rules will permit developers to build town home-style row houses, as well as two-, three-, and four-unit structures well as single-family homes. But this diversity in housing types comes in exchange for sprinkler systems and other safety precautions which are currently required under the commercial building code.

Currently five-bedroom developments fall under the residential code, which has given rise to ugly, compact two-floor apartment-style buildings with five-bedroom units on each floor. Applying commercial standards to multifamily units governed by the less strict residential code allows developers more multifamily options for housing size.

Several of these welcome changes are aesthetic. Under the new rules, all future residential construction must meet certain architectural and site standards, regardless of the number of occupants. Currently, the standards are only in place for dwellings housing five or more occupants. Regardless of whether it is a single-family home, a duplex, or a small multifamily complex, the buildings must have a similar look and proper landscaping.

New materials standards require 75% of the buildings to be comprised of native stone, wood siding, shingles, brick-and-tile masonry, or other high quality materials. The allowable amount of inexpensive pre-fabricated cast stone, vinyl clapboard, split-faced or glass blocks, and pre-cast metal siding has been reduced to 25%.

Overall, McConnell says that “The original idea here was to allow some traditional density and better student housing while maintaining the neighborhood character of detached, single-family developments that were there in the original [rules].”

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