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Answer Line: Living in a backyard storage building? Not so fast

Dec. 21, 2017 at 12:13 a.m.


QUESTION: I've been noticing a lot of storage buildings being used in the city for homes in the backyards of homeowners. These units have no electricity and no water or sewer for them. Is this legal to do?

ANSWER: It's not legal as you're describing it, but there are situations in which something like that could be allowed. Longview Development Services Director Michael Shirley went over some of these rules for me. Here is some basic information:

People may not use a travel trailer or recreational vehicle to live in or for overnight stays at their homes. They can store them at their house (specific guidelines apply), but they cannot live in them. Mobile homes also cannot be placed in a single-family home neighborhood.

Storage buildings could be converted to living quarters, but their construction style is "very different" from what would normally be considered a detached bedroom or dwelling (like a mother-in-law or guest house). The building code would have to applied to the modifications to convert a storage building into legal living space.

"We do allow accessory houses like pool houses and mother-in-law suites so long as they're not being rented out or don't violate the multi-person rooming house ordinance," Shirley said. "We have had a few times where someone wants to take the prefab storage building and convert it into a mother-in-law suite or pool house."

In such cases, the structure must have a permanent foundation, insulation and other features required for a dwelling in the building code.

Shirley said the city hasn't seen such situations often.

"It's doable, but it's probably easier just to start from scratch with that idea in mind and build it from scratch as an accessory dwelling," he said.

Complaints about such situations can be reported to the city's code enforcement office at (903) 237-2760, the planning and zoning office at (903) 237-1072 or by using the city's online and mobile application CitySend. Visit longviewtexas.gov for information.

Q: What is the real reason Johnston-McQueen Elementary is the only school that has pre-K and kindergarten other than the new Montessori school in Longview ISD?

A: Some information on this topic is found in documents the school district filed this spring in federal court as part of desegregation efforts. Keep in mind the filing was before the new Montessori campus opened in the fall.

To summarize, the district said residents in the Johnston-McQueen attendance zone were happy with the traditional kindergarten program, and it was performing well, so the district left it alone.

As part of its "continuing effort to promote diversity and success within its school," it said it has conducted planning workshops, town hall meetings and gathered other feedback.

"Those activities and the input received revealed a strong community desire to build upon the district's current successful magnet program," the district said in court documents.

"Specifically, the district, its stakeholders and the community seek to enrich and extend Montessori programming," and implement and expand additional special programs at other campuses.

The district said that in the past it had experienced "white flight," with "a considerable number of white students" having left for private schools, other area districts or to be home-schooled. But the district says its "innovative" offerings are "promising."

"In the 2016-17 school year, the district accepted 645 interdistrict transfers, of which 49 percent are white, 25 percent are African-American and 15 percent are Hispanic. The district believes that locating innovative new programs at elementary schools with high percentages of African-American students will continue to attract more white interdistrict transfer students to LISD, thereby reversing the effects of white flight," the court filing says.

The district's prekindergarten/kindergarten Montessori program, which started at a single school in 2002, expanded to all but one of the elementary schools and then to a new single campus for all but those students at Johnston-McQueen.

Parents at Johnston-McQueen were satisfied with the traditional kindergarten offered there "and did not demand a Montessori environment," the district said. Its program is well established and the highest performing in the district.

"Existing families zoned to Johnston-McQueen are content with the program," it said. The other reasons are simply a matter of size and location. Johnston-McQueen's capacity and layout are such that it is well-structured to house the traditional program.

— Answer Line appears Thursday and Saturday. Email questions to answerline@news-journal.com, leave a message at (903) 232-7208 or write to P.O. Box 1792, Longview, TX 75606.

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