LEHI, Utah (ABC4) – When Katelyn Strobel began building her house, she had a vision of what she wanted it to look like.
She wanted something modern, minimal, and mostly stucco- a style similar to many of the other homes in the Traverse Mountain planned community in Lehi, Utah where she is building.
“I think we knew what style of house we wanted to build. We researched a ton on our lots and the Covenant, Conditions & Restrictions, CC&Rs. This neighborhood in particular is really known for the modern style, and we knew that we would be able to build the house that we wanted to build at the price that we wanted to be at in this neighborhood because of the CC&Rs that were displayed,” Strobel explains.
“So, we spent six months designing based on those standards and the regulations that all of our neighbors followed in our community and built a house that we think would fit in really well there,” she says.
Below: The pictures show the original renderings of Strobel’s house
However, Strobel says after she submitted her building permits about three weeks ago, she heard back from Lehi City that the current design plans for the house would not work because they didn’t didn’t meet building material standards applied to buildings in planned communities like Traverse Mountain.
Despite her extensive research into the lots she purchased and CC&Rs for the neighborhood, Strobel says she never had heard anything about these requirements.
“These changes were not super well-known. None of our community heads or HOAs or anybody had heard about them before. The building department did let me know that they did contact some builders… so those people did find out about six months ago, but most of Lehi still has no idea what’s going on and what’s now being enforced, ” Strobel tells ABC4. So I think there’s a lot of confusion and a lot of miscommunication in Lehi City that is pretty dramatic as far as increasing the cost of housing here.”
The changes Strobel needs to make to her home in order to meet the city standards she had never heard of cost her an extra $36,000 she says.
She was told that her home needed to have 51% stone, brick, or cement on each exterior face, Strobel explains. She was also told if she could have her community present a signed letter that the community would abide by new standards, she would potentially be eligible to have that reduced to just 30 percent. However, no one from the community had been alerted about the standards until Strobel told them, she says.
“What they told me on the phone is they believe the materials like brick and stone have more durability,” she says.
Not a new requirement
According to Kim Struthers, Community Development Director for Lehi City, having 51 percent durable materials on each exterior face is not a new requirement. Rather, the city only recently began enforcing it.
“It’s something that’s been in our code for actually a number of years, but we hadn’t been implementing or enforcing it and so we decided if its in our code, we should be making sure its met,” Struthers says.
He explains that city officials tried to give as much warning as they could that they would begin enforcing specific rules like this one for new homes being built.
“Last year, we wrote some letters to as many homebuilders as we had on file that we worked with, trying to give them plenty of lead time,” Struthers says.
Below: Letter from Lehi City and new and old standards
But, he explains, the rules don’t apply to the whole city, just single-family residential homes located in Planned Unit Developments, Planned Residential Developments, or Planned Community developments in Lehi. Examples of Planned Community developments in Lehi are communities like Traverse Mountain, Ivory ridge, and Holbrook Farms, he says.
In addition to enforcing the regulations, Struthers says city officials worked on updating the standards to give them more flexibility.
For example, the “new” standards adopted by the city on July 28, 2020 say that “at least 30 percent of all homes, based on the preliminary plat, shall be 100 percent hard surface including brick, stone, fiber cement siding, and concrete. The remaining homes shall include at least 30 percent hard surface on the overall home.”
According to Strobel, since the 30 percent threshold is not currently met in her neighborhood, under these new regulations, all homes built in the area will have to have an exterior of 100% durable materials- if her community signs an agreement to follow the new terms.
For now, she is required to follow the “old” rules and make sure her home is constructed with at least 51% durable materials on each exterior face.
Struthers says the rules are being enforced to create high standard for Lehi’s master planned communities that will allow them to stand the test of time.
“Our opinion is when you have a higher architectural standard- and its not just the building materials- we also require a certain number of architectural features on the home like popouts, but it does add to the overall lasting value of the neighborhood when a builder takes the time to put some attention to the details of the house,” he says. “What it looks like, what the materials are… hopefully at the end of the day, in 20 or 30 years when you drive through these master planned areas, they’ll have that lasting quality that stands the test of time.”
Struthers explains that there are many residential areas in Lehi that do not need to meet these standards, but master planned communities do.
“I guess our thought is if you’re going to create a master planned community, that it should be master planned from everything from the roads to the layout. The homes should be a high standard of quality,” he says.
Increased prices for homebuilders
But for Strobel, a homebuilder in one of these communities, meeting the durable materials requirement raises housing prices in the midst of a housing affordability crisis. She says the exterior requirement from Lehi is “absolutely insane.”
“It is so much stress to put on a homebuilder right now because lumber prices on our house alone since we’ve been out and got our mortgage, lumber prices have increased by like 20,000, so this is an even a bigger hit than lumber right now… this also adds tens of thousands to homebuilding… I think this is important for people to understand how regulation can impact cost of housing as well.”
She also says it limits homebuilders’ choices.
“I think it is super limiting architecturally, especially for modern home design like ours and a lot in our neighborhood. Stucco is a very prominent feature in our neighborhood just because it’s a really popular design choice for those minimal, modern style.”
Strobel says she would definitely have decided to build her home somewhere else had she known about the regulations. What does she think Lehi City should do?
“I think that they should not enforce the policy until they’ve alerted and done the proper communication for everyone that’s going to be impacted so they knew about this six months ago. That was, even before I purchased my lot in my neighborhood, and I think they should’ve reached out to every community to update their CC&Rs to make sure they were in line with the new regulation,” she says. “They should’ve informed all of the HOAs, all of the architectural review committees inside of Lehi just so people could prepare homeowners to brace these costs. It’s outside of our loan at this point, so that’s a direct out-of-pocket cost for us, she adds.