The need goes on
For a long time now American cities, both large and small, have needed safe, clean, affordable housing for low-income families and minimum-wage workers. But we’re seeing little progress in that direction, and, if anything, our current economy has only intensified the need.
Now, possibly more than ever, we have singles, retirees and families looking for decent shelter they can afford because they have lost their jobs and/or their homes.
Several years ago, David South, Monolithic’s president, built a few small dome rentals in Italy, Texas as a trial project. He wanted to see if they would rent and if they would actually help people. They were an immediate success – both as rentals and as a help. So Monolithic built more.
Then others got interested in doing the same. Frank Smith is one of those others. But before I present his story, in his own words, you need to know about the area Frank wants to build in.
A sad irony
For some time now, Frank Smith has been struggling with politicians, city councils and business people, trying to get their approval to build drastically needed Monolithic Dome rentals in their communities. Those Texas communities include Corpus Christi, Ingleside and Aransas Pass.
All are in a hurricane-prone area – the same hurricane-prone area that made Woodsboro ISD eligible for a FEMA grant. Woodsboro is just 45 miles north of Corpus Christi.
That dome, completed in 2011, is now the designated disaster shelter for the school and the community. And, in case of an evacuation, it’s also the building that DuPont’s Ingleside, Texas crew of First Responders will head for.
But despite the proven benefits of Monolithic Domes and despite the obvious need for affordable rentals, here is how Frank Smith recounts his experiences:
The Saga of South Texas Dome Development written by Frank Smith, August 9, 2012
So after nine months of disappointment with the City of Corpus Christi, culminating in their desire to have me do about $100,000 of infrastructure upgrades, unnecessary parking spaces, fees for nothing, and donating part of the land I had purchased to the city right of way, I gave up and settled on building my first set of domes in an unincorporated part of San Patricio County, just east of Ingleside on the Bay.
Since I already owned a featureless strip of land there that was a weed and grass burr field, I laid out five, 20-foot domes in a straight line. As soon as the paint dried, they were rented!
I then set out to find a suitable spot for more and in October 2010 entered negotiations to purchase five acres of land with 330 feet of frontage on Texas Highway 361 in downtown Ingleside.
Having never done full-scale real estate development before, over the next six months, I found out and planned everything I needed, with the assistance of many, including the Ingleside building official, Robert Stoddard.
About the end of October 2011, on a Thursday, he called and said that I would probably want to attend the next Tuesday’s meeting of the city council, as they were to consider an emergency ordinance blocking the building of domes in the city.
I attended the meeting and they saw fit to pass the blocking ordinance, saying, “It was to protect the health and welfare of the city.” (Don’t ask me. I don’t know how that fits.)
Over the next five weeks, they went through a process of holding meetings of the planning and zoning board and finding a way to forever ban them. (I went through the process of having three heart stents inserted, dying, being brought back to life and getting on down the road.)
The (non-emergency) ordinance reads something like no dome structures under 1250 square feet allowed.
Speaking for the ordinance were:
A local real estate agent who claimed, “If you allow him to build those domes we won’t be able to sell a single house in this town.” She cited as her evidence to back this statement: absolutely nothing.
A local homeowner who said, “I don’t want to worry about one of those domes rolling into my home when a hurricane comes.”
A local citizen who said, “Those things just attract the wrong kind of people.”
A local citizen that said that the council needed to look into the zoning because we need to “keep this land for good development.”
With that I had to stand up and speak:
Turning to 1, I said, “If you have any evidence of domes like these making sales of conventional real estate unsalable, please present it now.”
To 2, I turned and said, “You obviously have not done any research or you would know that these weigh 12,000 pounds and the only way they are rolling into where your house is if we get a tidal wave from the thermonuclear blast.”
I then turned to 3 and asked if I had missed a meeting, or when did people who worked for a living and were retired become the wrong kind of people, because I considered them the right kind of people. (I did not tell them that, at that time, city of Ingleside workers occupied two of the domes.)
To 4, I said, “The land is zoned commercial which is the only zoning that I can build an extended-stay motel on.”
Then I turned to the city council and said that if they did not want good, honest, hard-working people living in their town, just go ahead with the ordinance, but don’t honor any of these excuses. I then sat down and watched them pass the ordinance.
The following morning, I called the city of Aransas Pass and talked with their building official. I asked if he was familiar with the hubbub in Ingleside over the domes. He said yes and that those people are crazy.
Not knowing which people he was referring to, I asked him why did he think that. He then went on to explain that concrete Monolithic Domes were energy efficient, and
since we are on the coast, one of the safest and most survivable buildings that exist.
I then told him that I was the dome guy and did he think that it would be a problem to build them in Aransas Pass.
He said, “No. Ingleside was supposed to get the new Lowes, and we got it. They were supposed to get the new WalMart, and we got that. We even got the Walgreens from Portland and almost got their Chili’s.”
I scheduled a meeting with him and, at that meeting, he recommended that I see the city secretary. I did so and she placed me on the agenda for the next council meeting.
At the meeting I introduced myself and my son, told them about the domes and went into a little bit of detail about the “construction method,”/stories/how-to-build-a-monolithic-dome as they evidently looked over the documents I had given the secretary, to include in their packets.
Some of the council members asked some questions and one even commented that he had a friend who had resided in one of the domes in Ingleside on the Bay. He thought they were small.
I said that they were small, but about the size of a good-size hotel room and since they were intended for a single occupant, many people found them and their pricing to their liking. “These are not some Taj Mahal; they are intended for low income workers and retirees to have a good, safe, energy-efficient place to live that they can afford.”
I closed by saying that if anyone on the council or anyone else had any questions or comments, at any time, to please call me and gave them my card with phone number.
I then set about the task of finding a suitable location.
I found five-something acres in between Aransas Pass and Ingleside. The plot lies outside the city limits of each, but within the area of convenience and necessity, as filed by Aransas Pass with the TCEQ (Texas Water Quality Commission). Simply put, I had to buy water from them and they had to sell it to me.
I met with the city manager and the head of public works several times and, at the last meeting, he asked me to be present the following Monday in case city council had any questions.
At the meeting when the item came up on the agenda, the mayor made the statement that he had heard from citizens and they did not want “those domes” in their community.
One council person made a motion to not sell me water; there was a second and vote in favor. I did stay around to the end public comment time and asked them to seek the advice of their learned legal council (who had been present for the whole meeting) because it was illegal to not sell me water.
I attempted to contact him and about a week later he told me he was not familiar with any such law. I did the legal clerking and turned into him, at the city office, a copy of the state statute and a copy of their filed map, showing I was in their service area.
Waited a week and called the city manager, Reggie Winters, who informed me there had been no change in their position.
May 2012: I then contacted my counsel, former District Judge Mike Westergren, and he placed a call to their city attorney, Mr. Lawrence. As I was flying out of town on May 10th, Judge Mike called me and said he had got a call from Mr. Lawrence who said he had told Reggie to “sell the man water.”
Since then, nothing. I did meet with the junior engineer at Naismith engineering who told me that they were studying the situation and should be able to get back to the city in a couple of months and once that got approved, then they would submit the plan to the TCEQ for approval and that could take 60 days or longer.
Taking that as a sure sign that they had no intentions to serve my needs, I have gone looking for either a piece of land where water is present so that all I have to do is tap it, or one that is served by another water provider.
Some closing comments
Regarding Frank’s report, David South said, "It illustrates a common problem. Most people do not want poor people living near them. It harkens back to Nero burning part of Rome. This is terribly unfortunate. Often the poor people are our children or parents who have fallen on hard times. They are generally good people – like everybody else. They just do not have money.
“The small Monolithic rentals give them a safe, secure place to live as they work toward the goal of something fancier. See domeliving.com for much more about this. Look at www.domeliving.com/stories/nickel-and-dimed It discusses the numbers.”