Introduction to Zoning in the City of Austin



One of the first steps in the entitlement process within the City of Austin consists of zoning. Zoning imposes requirements, limitations, and restrictions for a property and defines “ranges” in uses. Residential, commercial, and industrial base districts are arranged in a hierarchy that begin with the Lake Austin (LA) base district as the most restrictive and ends with the Limited Industrial (LI) base district as the least restrictive district.

The purpose for zoning is compatibility in the most simplistic definition. A buyer or developer wants to know what is planned around them if they are investing in a property. This extends the spectrum whether one purchases a home or a commercial property. It’s more of “insurance” to know whether a home will be abutting a supermarket (commercial use), a school, a greenbelt, or another home in the future.  

Zoning defines what can be situated on the property.  There are allowable uses that can be placed on a zoning district that are more restrictive. I referred to these as “ranges” in uses. More often than not the allowable uses in less restrictive zoning districts are usually grandfathered structures/uses. Thus, allowable uses must be taken into account when determining restrictions based on zoning. An example would be a residential home located on a commercially zoned property. If the surrounding properties are all commercially zoned, the residential home would be considered as the more restrictive single family (SF) zoning.  

The City of Austin’s zoning (chapter 25-2 in the Land Development Code) does account for such cases, so the code must be delved into in order to determine the impacts on the property one is developing or rezoning based on the surrounding zoning and land uses. Thus, when you are buying or developing a property it is necessary to investigate not only the zoning and range of uses of your property, but also the surrounding properties.

by Rubén López, Jr., P.E.