Land Planning

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.

Development using Commercial Design Standards, Part 1

Commercial Design Standards have been a part of the City of Austin Design process for several years.  Cunningham-Allen embraces the concept of the standards and think there are many ways of complying with the intent of the ordinance while continuing to achieve our clients’ goals by producing a project of excellent quality.  This is the first part of several upcoming articles about the Design Standards.  

How do you determine how the Commercial Design Standards (CDS) will impact your project?

If your property is located within the Austin City Limits, you will probably be affected by the Commercial Design Standards unless your property falls under some of the exemptions which include:

  • development in a Traditional Neighborhood district,

  • development built prior to the overlay provisions of the university neighborhood overlay district, or

  • development built prior to an adopted transit station area plan.

The first thing a property owner should do when designing the project site plan is to determine exactly how many of the CDS apply to the particular project by asking some of the following questions:

  • What land use is being proposed?  

If the project is single family residential, it is exempt from this ordinance.  Any other use: commercial, office, multifamily, or industrial will all require compliance with all or varying parts of the standards.

  • What type or types of “roadway or roadways” as defined by the standards, provide access to the project and what happens if the project is fronted by more than one roadway?

The impact of each of the varying roadway types on which your property has frontage determines the relationship of buildings to streets and walkways; whether you will have to “pull” your building up to the property line with room for sidewalks and tree/furniture zones, or whether you can have parking located between the street and the building.  If your site has frontage on more than one type of roadway, the highest level of roadway is the roadway that determines your building and parking placement.

There is a hierarchy of street types listed in the Design Standards.  The most important to least important in the city’s design strategy is as follows:  Core Transit Corridor, Internal Circulation Route, Urban Roadway, Suburban Roadway and Highway or Hill Country Roadway.  There are several maps at the beginning of the Commercial Design Standards section that depict Core Transit Corridors, Future Core Transit Corridors, Urban Roadways and Suburban Roadways of the city.  

  • Core Transit Corridor:  If your project fronts on a Core Transit Corridor, it means the property is located on a street that the city has determined to be a roadway with enough population to encourage transit use and therefore, the relationship of buildings to the streets and walkways is of great importance.  City of Austin - Core Transit Corridors

  • Internal Circulation Routes:  Any public or private street in a development.

  • Urban Roadway:  Any street that is not a Core Transit Corridor that is located in the center of the Austin City Limits as shown on Figure 1 of the Design Standards (See Image).

  • Suburban Roadway:  Any street that is not a Core Transit Corridor that is located outside the boundary of the Urban Roadway area.

  • Highways:  Includes all the freeways, expressways, parkways and frontage roads listed in the Austin Metropolitan Roadway Plan, except for Core Transit Corridors.

  • Hill Country Roadways:  If your project fronts on a Hill Country Roadway as defined by the list of Hill Country Roadways within the Design Standards, the first 1000 feet of your project will have to comply with Hill Country Roadway standards of the Land Development Code in conjunction with the Commercial Design Standards.

For example, if your site is located on Lamar Boulevard, your site faces a Core Transit Corridor.  Building placement on a Core Transit Corridor requires the creation of a 15 foot wide sidewalk and tree/furniture zone between the street and building, to provide an environment that is supportive of pedestrians.

If your site is located on a suburban roadway, public sidewalks are required but you have choices as to whether to place your building adjacent to the sidewalk and street or to have parking between the sidewalk and building.  If you choose to “pull” your building up to the sidewalk and locate the parking behind and beside the building, you will be exempt from connectivity requirements.  Connectivity is described as the internal circulation system for a large site.

At this point, the size of the site (number of acres) will help make the location decisions of the building and parking with reference to the roadway frontage.  If your site is five acres in size or larger, you may choose to design the site with buildings fronting on internal circulation routes created by dividing the site into blocks no longer than 660 feet by 330 feet.  On sites larger than 15 acres, the site may have one block with a maximum dimension of 660 feet by 660 feet for each 30 acres.  Corporate Campuses are exempt from the maximum block length requirement.

The following sketches illustrate some of the possibilities of building placement along some of the different types of roadways and along the internal circulation route of a larger site.

Remember, the goal of the Commercial Design Standards is to provide guidelines enhancing each project and helping create a community with multiple land uses, utilizing pedestrian access to provide enjoyable living environments.

Next time we will discuss more specifics about building placement and building design requirements.