The Austin Water Utility has reacted well to citizen concerns about residential water meters and tap lines. Recently one has had to provide a 3/4” meter when there were more than 3 bathrooms in a home. This often could necessitate increasing the tap line size. The significance of the tap line, is that recent policy shifted the responsibility of utility upgrades in the public right-of-way to the resident/developer. Residents have been experiencing utility sticker shock when making additions that increased bathroom count. A new water tap can cost up to around $25,000. The fees for utility upgrades can be a significant amount of the total renovation cost.
Even more problematic has been the requirement for garage apartments to install a second water meter and upgrade the tap line under the street. The city has been encouraging garage apartments, or accessory dwelling units as affordable infill that does not negatively impact existing neighborhood character. In my practice as an architect, I have found that a garage apartment project on an un-platted lot (platting not required before 1946 in Austin) triggers not only the tap/meter upgrades, but paying the 2014 increased rate for impact fees. In these cases, water utility upgrade costs can reach $35,000. This obviously makes a garage apartment or accessory dwelling unit financially unfeasible.
Delineate Studio, faced this harsh reality working on the design of an accessory dwelling unit recently. We worked with the water utility to explain the nuances of how a homeowner wishing to add an accessory dwelling unit was impacted.
After a lot of community concern and case studies on a few building projects, the Austin Water Utility has now revised their policy so that water utility upgrades are not disproportionate to the costs of project construction. They have also greatly reduced the disincentive to building an accessory dwelling unit.
Highlights of the new policy include:
- A 3/4” water meter can serve up to 4.5 baths for a single family home and that meter can connect to a 3/4” tap. (Many existing residential taps are 3/4”.)
- An accessory dwelling unit can now be granted a waiver from having to comply with the requirement of any dwelling unit (4 or less on a lot) having to have its own meter. (Secondary meters were bumping required tap lines to over 3/4”.)
The exciting result is that it is now much more financially feasible to build a garage apartment or accessory dwelling unit. Many thanks to other Austin architects and builders that faced this issue and helped in making the case that the policy related to residential water utilities needed to be updated.