San Marcos city officials want to crack down on ‘stealth dorms’

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Neighborhood commission chair says homes zoned as single family are many times rented out to several families or individuals

SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — City officials in San Marcos want to crack down on what they call “stealth dorms.”

Those are homes built and zoned as single family but the design inside might suggest otherwise.

The city’s neighborhood commission chair says it’s gotten complaints from neighbors about a home going up on Sturgeon Drive.

“When I first saw it, I was happy because that lot’s been empty since I’ve been here,” says Stephen Wall, who has lived next door to the property for about a decade.

But once the building went up, Wall worried that what was being presented as a single family home may not actually be one.

“The fact that this is a four-bedroom, four-bath means this is not a single family dwelling, which is what all this is zoned for,” Wall says.

Elizabeth Dobbins is the chair of San Marcos’ neighborhood commission.

San Marcos’ neighborhood commissioners and some neighbors are worried about the layout of this house on Sturgeon Drive. (KXAN/Tahera Rahman)

She says the fact that each bedroom has it’s own bathroom, with no common access, raises a red flag.

“A lot of the times the homeowners that are using these buildings, what they’re doing is differing their own costs because then they rent out the bedrooms individually to whomever and they make more money off of them,” Dobbins says.

That’s what the city calls a stealth dorm.

“Something that is being built ostensibly for the purpose of a single family and instead it’s housing unrelated people within it’s structure,” Dobbins says.

But the building on Sturgeon is technically following code.

So KXAN asked Dobbins why the permit was granted, in the first place.

“I’m not too sure it would’ve come up on the radar screen, per se. It’s a learning process,” she says.

Now, her commission has drafted up a resolution to change the code so that another permit doesn’t slip through the cracks.

“What tweaks need to be done to the code to prevent this type of housing in a single family neighborhood, again?” Dobbins says.

City officials say building permits for the lots next to the home on Sturgeon haven’t been requested yet. The goal is to have city code changed before that happens.

Wall wants to make sure of it.

“I plan on getting a more active role to see what we can do to get them to stop building further giant houses that are not actually houses,” Wall says.

Dobbins says the city of San Marcos has reached out to the developer.

“Sent him a letter and said, ‘We just want you to be aware that this is a single family neighborhood, that you can only have so many individuals living in the home that are unrelated.’ He responded immediately and said that he was aware,” she says.

KXAN has requested that correspondence, as well as the name and contact information of the developer.

City officials have not yet fulfilled that request.

San Marcos City Council members have instructed city staff to research the issue.

From there, they’re expected to make recommendations on how council members can change city code.

Dobbins hopes to have something passed by the spring.

Other concerns

Dobbins says neighbors are also concerned that the design of the new house on Sturgeon does not fit the character of the neighborhood.

“They really are intense about having something that’s so alien come into their neighborhood and changing the basic characteristic of where they live,” she says.

Dobbins says it’s architectural design and height make the house stick out from neighboring homes.

“The biggest problem for me personally is the fact that it’s not going to be a part of the community,” Wall says.

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