In response to recent requests by developers for Manvel city council to consider smaller lot sizes, long time council member and mayor pro-tem Melody Hanson took to a PowerPoint presentation to encourage her fellow members to stand firm in the lot size requirements as provided in city ordinances.
Developers favor smaller lots for a variety of reasons. Recent years have seen a continual increase in the costs of subdivision development that challenges home affordability. Manvel is seen as a particularly formidable market due to the many requirements the city expects from new development. Costly infrastructure installations such as roads, utilities, parks and green spaces, and homeowner amenities like community recreation centers increasingly stress project margins. Smaller lot sizes allow a greater distribution of those costs. Developers also claim from market evidence that evolving demographics among home buyers has made smaller lots in demand from millennials and older baby boomers who desire a lifestyle requiring less maintenance demands.
Despite the on-going lament of developer anxiety, Hanson remains steadfast and consistent with most in city leadership in affording little regard to their concerns. She believes the city “must not lower the current standard (60 foot width). We’ve got to consider the long-term ramifications of the decisions that we are making today. While a developer concentrates on a single parcel of land, we as council members must look at the impact on our community as a whole.” Hanson made clear her opposition to undersized lots goes beyond a personal preference and aesthetics. She believes higher density of development produces negative consequences for the city. Promoting development that favors grass and greenery over concrete would provide space to better facilitate drainage, require less demand on city services, less stress on school facilities, less traffic on roadways, fewer parking challenges, and less light and sound pollution.
Hanson went on to express the benefits of a lawn that is maintained in a responsible and sustainable manner. “Lawns are host to many beneficial organisms and microbes that beak down chemicals into harmless material.” Turf grass, such as grown in most front yards, “serves as one of the best defenses against soil erosion.” Hanson cited a claim that “six billion tons of soil wash or blow away each and every year.” Because of its extensive root system, “grass binds the soil more effectively than any other plant and sustains our little earthworms.” Hanson earned smiles from fellow council members as she confessed to being a “worm saver,” explaining that she actually saves the earthworms deposited on her walkways after a rain by putting them back on the lawn.
She went on to describe a major water problem as attributed to the runoff of contaminants from hard surfaces such as concrete. Increasing lot sizes reduces the harmful runoff by providing additional green space that allows the water to soak through. She described turf grass as “an ideal medium for the breakdown of all sorts of environmental contamination. Healthy dense lawns absorb rainfall and prevent runoff and erosion of our precious topsoil. Turf grass, because of its root system, purifies the water that leaches through it and down into our underground aquifers.” Hanson explained that as important to many in Manvel who depend on private wells for their water. She also attributed cleaner air to turf grass, saying dirt, dust, and smoke are trapped and washed in the soil system. “Grassy areas significantly lower the level of atmospheric dust and pollutants.” Particulate matter is left behind from trucks and vehicles traversing SH 288 and “lawns actually act as natural filters taking up that dust, pollutants, and particulate matter from the air and in our water.”
Turf grass also helps moderate temperatures, according to Hanson. “You know that nice cool feeling when you take off your shoes and you put them on your grass? That is the significant role that turf grass plays in regulating our climate. It actually lowers the temperature at the ground level by absorbing the sun during the day and slowly releasing it during the evening. The cooling properties of turf are so effective that temperatures over a turf area on a sunny summer day will be 10 to 14 degrees cooler than over concrete or asphalt.” Hanson encouraged fellow council members “to think about that as you reduce those yard sizes, you are getting more concrete and less grass.” Turf grass also reduces traffic noise, as Hanson claimed, “lawns significantly reduce noise pollution, particularly in an urban area.”
Her presentation was concluded with a reminder that council decisions must “consider the broad range of our collective decisions. We have to think long term. I urge you all to consider the facts and not be pressured to make rash decisions. Be impervious to those who ask you to alter our ordinance. We must not cower. We’ve been given a very important task to help shape our community and public health and safety must always come first. All the ordinances and procedures we have drafted do not matter if our residents here in Manvel can’t have fresh water and clean air. God created this incredible planet and I feel personally that it is our responsibility to be good stewards of it. And we can do our part here in Manvel by maintaining reasonable lot sizes and not squeezing even more residents into our city than our finite resources can handle.”
Manvel sets at the precipice of significant changes to its character. The rural small town atmosphere that attracted property owners in past years is being challenged by large land acquisitions that threaten the country lifestyle. The city has invested large sums of taxpayer money and relied on many hours of citizen volunteers to develop plans for growth. Some feel those plans have overreached with an idealism that is incompatible with the economic reality of development. Hanson well represents most on council and involved citizens who disagree, feeling Manvel’s location offers too great an appeal and that developers will find a way to make the economics work. A member of the city’s Planning, Development, & Zoning Commission (PD&Z), Brian Wilmer, expounds that prevailing view: “This land WILL be developed, and soon. It is in too strategic a place not to be. There is oodles of money to be made by the property owners if they develop the land and none if they do not.”