Masonry Planning Policies Secure Wall Share In Texas

Imagine if you placed a bid on a large commercial job and received confirmation that you were the winning bidder and got the job. Now imagine if the General Contractor contacted you and said that the scope of masonry had suddenly tripled and they needed you to adjust your bid accordingly because you were still getting the job. How could that ever happen you may ask? In this case the architect turned the final plans into the local city planners and was informed that all commercial projects were required to have 80% of exterior walls constructed of masonry, not 25% as shown in the submitted plans. So, the architect adjusted the masonry percentages, and your job just tripled in size. Wow, what a dream come true. Well in Texas it’s not a dream, it’s a reality. And this actually happened to one of our members in December 2016.

For the past 6 years the Texas Masonry Council (TMC) has been busy operating a statewide program that focuses on the passage of Masonry Planning Policies (MPP) that require the use of true masonry products on the exterior of new single family, multi-family, commercial and industrial construction. Prior to assuming operation of the Masonry Planning Policy program from the Brick Industry Association Southwest (BIA-SW) in 2011, the BIA-SW had been operating the program for 7 years. That’s a total of 13 years of continuous programing focused on passage of local legislation mandating masonry construction.    

In 2003 there were less than 20 cities in Texas that had some type of masonry standards.   Intuitively, members of the BIA-SW board of director knew that cities with masonry standards meant increased use of brick, block and stone and more work for masonry contractors. In 2003 the BIA-SW started a pilot program promoting masonry construction standards to cities in the greater Dallas and Fort Worth markets due to the rapid growth taking place in the suburban areas of North Texas.   At that time the BIA-SW had no full time staff so they utilized the services of a contract lobbyist. After 2 years they had produced some collateral materials and a DVD promoting masonry planning policies to local municipalities.

In 2005, just two years after starting the MPP program, the BIA-SW Board came to the conclusion that Masonry Planning Policies were single most effective way to ensure that wall share was maintained and recaptured by true masonry products, stacked unit upon unit and joined together with mortar. This was a complete paradigm shift from their previous primary marketing philosophies aimed at influencing home builders, general contractors, architects and consumers. After over a decade of using those traditional marketing avenues, masonry continued to lose wall share across Texas. Thus, the Board decided to shift its funding towards expanding the MPP Program across Texas.

After a nationwide search that ended with over a hundred applicants, the BIA-SW Board selected Rudy Garza to serve as its new Executive Director in April 2005. Garza states, “I was hired and told that they had a new program that seemed to be gaining ground in North Texas. They wanted me to find ways to improve marketing the MPP program directly to municipalities and expand the program to the other major markets in Texas. Specifically they wanted to expand the program to Houston, San Antonio and Austin.” “Since it was pretty much a brand new program, I was starting from scratch”, added Garza.

Over the next year Garza researched the best and most effective ways to get in front of municipal decision makers. Obviously having professionals (Government Relations Specialist) on the ground in the targeted areas meeting with decision makers was a necessity.   But arming them with the most comprehensive and convincing marketing materials was going to be essential. The BIA-SW Marketing Committee, led by Bill Seidel from ACME Brick, developed collateral print materials, updated the DVD, created a website, developed case studies, created magazine ads, designed a folder to hold all the materials and DVD, and came up with the slogan “You’re Building a Legacy”. These items continue to be updated on a regular basis and the Texas Masonry Council is currently working on a four page handout that combines all the past materials into one printed piece.

Participating and attendance at the most relevant conventions and conferences attended by municipal decision makers. Conferences are the perfect opportunity to speak directly to a captured audience. They serve as the perfect conduit to spread the benefits of masonry construction to a large audience of decision makers from across the state. Garza identified that there were two primary conferences where the message about the benefits and importance of masonry construction could be shared directly with the municipal officials who impacted those decisions.

First was the Texas Municipal League (TML) annual conference, which is the premier annual gathering of municipal elected officials and senior municipal staff members from across the entire state. For the past 10 years the BIA-SW/TMC has been the Title Sponsor of the conference. This level of sponsorship comes with the benefits of multiple online, printed and on-site name recognition and also allows the Texas Masonry Council to gain access to the conference attendee list and comes with a large booth in the exhibit hall. Unique to this level of sponsorship is that TMC is the only sponsor allowed to host a training session during the convention. The training sessions usually draw a crowd of 300-350 elected and municipal officials who learn directly from their peers how masonry construction standards have positively impacted their cities and towns.

The second conference identified was the Texas Chapter of the American Planning Association. This annual conference brings together City Planners from across Texas, as well as, Planning Commissioners who are appointed by city council members to guide the planning process for the city and make recommendations back to the council. The Texas Masonry Council is also a top level sponsor of this conference gaining the same benefits as it does from the TML Conference. This year marked the 9th year of sponsorship and the ability to share the message about masonry to city planners from across Texas.

Texas presents a very unique challenge because it is such a large state and each metropolitan region of the state has a different municipal government cultural mentality. How big is Texas you may ask? Well if you flipped it upwards its southern tip would be in Canada. If you flipped it to either side, the tips would end up near the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. Just let that sink in. Experience over the years demonstrated that the personal pitch and approach would need to be different for each region.

For instance, the Dallas and Fort Worth area in north Texas seems to be more receptive to the idea of having building standards that ensures that no city is out done by a neighboring city. Almost every north Texas municipality seems to want to be the most progressive and visually desirable community in the area. The MPP message in north Texas is centered on the beauty, durability and increased tax property base that comes with masonry construction.

The greater Houston area is completely different when it comes to the attitude of dictating construction materials. The City of Houston has no zoning. Single family homes are built next to automotive transmission shops. Junk yards are built next to schools. And tattoo parlors on built on the same streets as churches! Yes as crazy as it seems, the lack of zoning or strict building regulations does attract a lot of development, albeit not the highest quality development.   And sadly the surrounding suburban communities in the greater Houston area look to Houston as their model to attract development and growth. The surrounding suburban cities fear “slowing growth” with regulations. That means the approach and message must be focused towards fire and windstorm safety, insurance savings, and increase property tax revenue generated through masonry construction.  Case studies of other Texas cities with very strong masonry standards that are still experiencing explosive growth also help convince leaders that masonry standards actually attract quality growth.

Finally in the Greater Austin and San Antonio region the municipal attitude tends to be one of slow and hesitant change. There is a more laid back attitude towards building regulations in central and south Texas. It is the job of the TMC Government Relations Specialist covering central and south Texas to point out the short comings and weaknesses of competing material such as EIFS and fiber cement siding. A strong message centered on the durability, sustainable, low maintenance and safety of masonry materials is most effective in convincing elected and municipal officials to adopt masonry construction standards.

So let’s fast forward to 2017. Has this comprehensive approach and strategy of changing local building regulations worked? After 13 years and millions of dollars spent on MPP programing are cities in Texas buying into the benefits of masonry construction? Absolutely positively yes they are, and they have. If you recall when the MPP program was started 13 years ago less than 20 cities in Texas had any kind of masonry construction standards in place and many of those included non-traditional masonry materials like EIFS and fiber cement. We are very proud to say that there are now 244 cities in Texas with masonry construction standards in place.

Currently within those 244 cities there are over 450 municipal regulations dictating the use of masonry for new single family, multifamily, commercial and industrial construction. These masonry regulations are making a huge impact on the masonry industry in Texas due to their high percentage of wall coverage. On average the single family regulations call for 80% of all four sides of the home. For multifamily construction the average requirement for masonry is 70% of all exterior walls. Commercial masonry requirements average 75% masonry construction of all four sides. Industrial construction averages 35% masonry on exterior walls.

As dictated in the TMC model ordinance, the materials are typically limited to brick, block, stone and synthetic stone laid unit upon unit joined together by mortar. Three-step integrally colored stucco is sometimes included as masonry, but in Texas it may be more expensive and time consuming to install than tradition masonry. And if a city allows tilt wall construction, they require it to be covered by a traditional masonry product.   Products prohibited by cities with masonry policies are EIFS and fiber cement siding, which are dominate competing siding materials in Texas.

None of this came easy. Masonry Planning Policies do not occur organically primarily due to the political volatility involved in getting one passed. Years of hard work and perseverance by the MPP staff focusing on developing relationships with decision makers has brought positive change. The commitment of industry leaders to spend millions of dollars over a long period of time is essential. It takes the willingness and fortitude by staff and TMC board members to understand and know that on average it requires 3-5 years to get a masonry planning policy adopted. Texas Masonry Council’s has the ability to stand up in public forums against local builders and influential local home builder associations, and sometime even architects, and argue that cheap non-masonry building materials would become a detriment to a community in the long term. It takes an understanding that once a policy is in place, it must be protected and even strengthened over time. TMC is fortunate to have brick producer, concrete block producers, stone supplies and masonry contractors all participating in the effort.

But as you can see in the most recent TMC advertisement aimed at city officials, Texas is, and remains, a strong masonry state thanks to the TMC MPP program. The masonry fight in Texas is alive and well and the benefactors of the MPP program are the entire masonry industry and cities and citizens. And as TMC always says, remember, “You’re building a legacy”.

Words and Photos: Rudy Garza, Executive Vice President Texas Masonry Council

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