Development Process in the City of Austin, Brentwood and CODEnext

March 27, 2014

This article will attempt to explain the development process in the city of Austin for the owners of residential properties within the Brentwood neighborhood. Further, it is hoped, this information will reduce fear of new development, and allow our neighborhood to be better equipped to engage with the City of Austin Land Development Code rewrite team, through the CODEnext project.

ZONING REGULATIONS
First, homeowners must understand that their properties have a zoning category attached to them that regulates the amount, size, setback, utility service and land coverage that is allowed. Most single-family lots in Brentwood have SF-3-NP zoning. A homeowner can find out what their property’s zoning category is, along with floodplain, topography, aerial photos, and adjacent property zoning information at the City’s GIS database. Go here:
www.austintexas.gov/GIS/DevelopmentWebMap/

The SF-3 zoning category restricts development to 45% impervious cover, and 40% building cover, with a Floor to Area Ratio (FAR) of .4. Floor to area ratio is your Gross Building Area divided by your lot area. Our recent “Mcmansion” ordinance set this limit, along with many other restrictions, including the Tent, the Sidewall articulation, and the calculation method defining Gross Building Area. The SF-3 category also defines your building setbacks from the property lines. These are typically 25 feet for the front yard, 10 feet for the rear yard, and 5 feet for the side yards. The side yard setback is increased to 15 feet if your lot is on the corner facing a side street. For lot areas exceeding 7,000 square feet, a duplex can be built. Duplex development has its own set of restrictive guidelines, including common wall requirements and additional parking requirements. Zoning and regulatory ordinances can be found in the City of Austin Land Development Code: specifically, Chapter 25. The Land Development Code is the subject of the CODEnext project. Go here:
www.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll/Texas/austin/thecodeofthecityofaustintexas

The NP portion of your zoning indicates that a Neighborhood Plan is in effect. The Neighborhood Planning process occurred in Brentwood several years ago and, after much input from property owners, our NP was adopted in May of 2004. The NP established a Future Land Use map, as well as analyzed the neighborhood character, and targeted potential improvements such as sidewalks and traffic calming. During this process the Neighborhood adopted a few of the “Infill Options” that City Staff had promoted to ease development restrictions. One of the Infill Options was the Secondary Apartment Special Use that allows an 850 square feet additional living unit on lots exceeding 5,750 square feet Further, the NP implemented some “Design Tools,” including the Garage Placement Restriction, Impervious Cover in the front yard limited to 40%, and the reduction of the front yard setback from 25 feet to 15 feet for a front porch open on three sides. Any changes to the adopted neighborhood plan, or the Future Land Use Map, can only occur through a zoning change request that must be submitted to City of Austin staff at the beginning of each calendar year. The Brentwood Contact Team is the first neighborhood group to hear zoning change requests. The Brentwood Steering Committee is a group of concerned neighbors directing development within our neighborhood, and the Brentwood Neighborhood Association is our governing neighborhood group. The Brentwood/Highland adopted neighborhood plan and links to the Infill Options and the Design Tools can be found here:
www.austintexas.gov/department/neighborhood-planning

No new development can exceed the limits defined by the associated zoning and our NP without a variance request. In order to be granted, a variance must have several qualities including some form of hardship (not economic), and prove consistency with the surrounding neighborhood context. A variance will also require notification of all individual properties within 300 feet of the subject property, and notification of the neighborhood association. The public has an opportunity to argue against any variance or zoning change request made by a property owner.

PERMITTING
Next we can look at the permitting process. If you want to develop your property, either through a simple remodel, an addition, or a demolition and new build, you will need the appropriate permit (or permits). With very few exceptions, all work on your property must have a building permit. When an application is filed for a building permit a series of reviews takes place at the City. The first review is, whether the property is legally subdivided and what zoning applies. Next, the city checks to see if there is a floodplain within 150 feet of the property. If so, then a floodplain review is initiated. Then, if there will be any demolition, even partial, an historical review of the proposed work will take place if the existing structure is over 50 years old. Next, a review of the protected trees on the site will be undertaken. Finally, documents must be provided to the City Permit Reviewers that demonstrate that the project meets all requirements of the City Land Development Code and Neighborhood Plan. This process of review can take anywhere between 2 weeks to 2 months. These documents become part of the public record and any new residential permit can be reviewed here:
www.austintexas.gov/page/interactive-development-review-permitting-and-inspection

After a permit is issued, building construction can begin. During construction a project will have numerous inspections to prove that its construction complies with the City’s adopted Building Codes. Currently the City of Austin has adopted the 2012 International Residential Code for One and Two Family buildings, as well as the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code. Information about the adopted Building Codes, and the City of Austin specific amendments to those codes, including our visit-ability(accessibility) ordinance can be found here:
www.austintexas.gov/page/technical-code-amendments-interpretations

A NEW LAND DEVELOPMENT CODE
It has been several decades since the City of Austin has taken a look at their Land Development Code, and the multitude of ordinances that provide the guidelines to development. The neighbors of Brentwood should know about a project to review and rewrite the Land Development Code called CODEnext. The city has hired Opticos Design to conduct this rewrite process that is still in the beginning stages. All indications are that the existing neighborhood plans will be respected and reinforced in any proposed changes. However, there is a critical opportunity for public involvement. CODEnext is currently soliciting information regarding our neighborhood that will be used to supplement the information found in the NP. This request is called Community Character in a Box, and asks neighbors to photo document conditions in the neighborhood that best define its character. Several Brentwood neighbors are currently engaged in this process and if you would like to get involved you can request information here:
www.austintexas.gov/codenext

The development process and permitting can be very difficult and time consuming. The variety of ordinance, the complexity of the code, and the layers of information one needs to wade through to get the answer can seem daunting. However, this process is the same for homeowners and developers alike. When we consider the fact that developers created our neighborhood in the late 40’s, a lot has changed. Brentwood is a vibrant, living neighborhood with multi-generational families, new young couples, and elderly pioneers. To keep it so, we should do our best to be informed about the processes that shape and direct the changes to come.

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The Frequently Asked Questions that will become part of the Website

January 29, 2010

ABOUT

PUG is an innovative Austin-based company made up of Architects, Designers and Builders dedicated to creating innovative, unique, residential structures.  PUG partners have spent the last 18 years designing, constructing and financing residential architecture throughout the City of Austin.

PUGs are “A Lot of House, in a Small Package,” and represent Positive Urban Growth.

  1. PUGs provide small-scale (550sf – 850sf) living units on existing lots, thereby doubling the density without sacrificing the character of the neighborhood.
  2. PUGs utilize existing infrastructure (plumbing, electrical) and are built on land with existing development.  Further, PUGs have a minimal impact on the surrounding environment and participate in slowing urban sprawl.
  3. PUGs provide homes for extended family, guests or renters, and can provide supplemental income for property owners, as well as home offices to reduce commute times and costs.
  4. PUGs conform to the City of Austin guidelines for Secondary Apartments and the Smart Growth amendments adopted by Austin’s existing neighborhoods.

PUGs are quick to construct, economical, and benefit from the latest building science for energy efficiency, water conservation, construction waste management, indoor air quality, and low maintenance and operation costs.

PUGs are dedicated to providing affordable housing within the City of Austin, and economical versions of the plans are available Free of charge to those who wish to build through the Non-profit organization “The Alley Flat Initiative”.

FAQ

Q:  PUGs are cute and I want one.  How do I get started?

A:  We must determine if your lot has the proper zoning (SF-3 or less restrictive) and if you are a suitable candidate to build a PUG.  An initial phone call can answer many of these questions quickly and is no charge.  An onsite consultation with our Architects will cost $100.

Q:  Can I afford a PUG?

A: A PUG will cost between $100k and $200k.  We can evaluate the financing options available to each Owner in our initial meeting.

Q: Why are PUGs modern looking, instead of traditional?

A: The PUG Company hopes to create architecture that is worthy of preservation in the future.  To accomplish that, we use the latest design and building methods, and feel that local materials, flexible space and contemporary aesthetics represent our time and place.

Q: What if my property does not have the proper zoning, or is not within one   of the neighborhoods that have adopted the Smart Growth Amendments?

A: Contact us anyway, there might be some other options depending on your situation that will allow the PUG to exist on your property.

Q: Are PUGs customizable?

A: Yes, within reason – different materials, colors and custom features are available within the floor plan options.  All PUGs are adapted to their individual sites to best compliment, privacy, view, and affordability.  All Owners will have the ability to visualize their PUG on their site through computer modeling, and edits will be approved prior to construction.

Q: What if I want my PUG to provide truly affordable housing?

A: The PUG Company has partnered with the Alley Flat Initiative to provide economical versions of our plans that can be built to meet the 80% of Mean Family Income or better criteria for Affordable Housing.  Please go to: http://thealleyflatinitiative.org/ for more information.

Q: Everyone talks about “Green Building”, are PUGs really Green?

A:  Beside the obvious advantages of developing within existing urban conditions, the construction of every PUG will result in a 5 star rating with the Austin Energy Green Building Program.  The AEGBP is one of the premier programs in the United States and was a progenitor of the LEED rating tool.  PUGs are VERY sustainable, and are designed to meet Austin’s Climate Protection Plan by being Zero-Net-Energy Capable.

Q: What if I want to remodel my house as well as build a PUG?

A:  The PUG team can provide full architecture and remodeling services for any of your residential needs.

Q: Isn’t a PUG a small dog?  What’s with that name?

A: Yes, the PUG is also the name for the largest of the toy breed dogs.  They are known for being a small dog with a big dog attitude. Pugs are also known for their compatibility with the urban environment, for being loyal to their owners, and friendly to their neighbors.  We think that sums up the PUG company philosophy very well.

PUG PLANS

The PUGnacious”

Stats:  550s.f efficiency apartment above with carport and storage below. Features include rainwater and gray water collection, FSC certified lumber construction, spray foam insulation, and reclaimed wood flooring.

“The PUGalley”

Stats:   840s.f. Two story, two bedroom, 1 – 1/2 bath, with covered carport, highly efficient windows, optional vegetative roofing, and custom graffiti mural by Nathan Nordstrom, AKA “SLOKE”

“The PUGhat”

Stats:  850s.f two story, one bedroom w/ loft, 1 – 1/2 bath, with covered carport, reclaimed wood flooring, metal and cement board rain screen exterior, and 18 SEER a/c heat pump.


The Austin of Change Part 1 of 4

September 11, 2009

By Travis G. Young, AIA

Principal, Studio Momentum Architects, PC

This is a partial response to an article posted by Roselind Hejl, CRS, concerning the effect of the McMansion Ordinance on the City of Austin.  I do not agree with all of her positions or arguments, however, she is correct when it comes to the costs associated with remodeling older, inefficient structures in existing neighborhoods.  My comments below are my personal take on the Residential Design and Compatibility Standards (RDCS) and how it affects Austin’s growth.

Having worked within the City of Austin central core since 1991, I have seen many of the changes and heard the arguments surrounding change, density, and growth.  Austin has a struggle with, and is constantly arguing about, how nostalgia for the past must trump vision for the future and vice versa.  I have found myself squarely on the “vision” side of the debate, and my reasons are many.  First, people want to live here, and as long as they keep coming here, we need to figure out how best to accommodate them.  Second, other cities within the United States have grappled with this problem, and we as Austinites should look to the most successful cities to create a roadmap for our growth.  Third, a vibrant city is one that is diverse and includes families from the widest possible spectrum of income, size, and employment categories.  And last, a healthy city is one that is sustainable, maximizes public and alternative transportation options, recycles, and uses water and energy wisely.

I intend this article to be the first of four concerning the points noted above, and how the RDCS is both a symptom and a reactionary response to a City in the throws of change.  As an architect, the complicated ordinance has become a source of work.  Homeowners must hire an advocate familiar with the ordinance in order to obtain the necessary permits to remodel and add to existing structures.  Further, size regulations force smaller, efficient structures that creatively share space.  In this regard the ordinance is a success.  In relation to handling the inevitable density that we need, it has become a roadblock.

People are moving to Austin.  It is one of the few cities in the nation that continues to experience consistent growth.  Even through economic downturns, depression and wars, Austin has grown.  It appears that this will continue to be the case.  Several studies and responses from local government address the issue of Austin’s consistent growth pattern.  Cid Galindo’s Sustainable City Initiative, The Envision Central Texas Plan, and Mayor Will Wynn’s Climate Protection Plan and currently, the City has embarked on a new Comprehensive Plan, that will shape our future.  Mr. Galindo, a former Planning Commissioner and local developer, created an insightful plan for focusing the population growth away from our vital resources such as the aquifer recharge zone, and toward a re-densification of the City core, and expansion to the less environmentally sensitive north east and south east.  This makes sense; unfortunately the exact opposite is occurring.  Austin’s highest growth rate is over the recharge zone to the South West part of town.  Chris Bradford the Austin Contrarian, makes note of this on his recent discussion of density and the Tale of Two Cities.

How do we accommodate this growth, and where will Austin’s future families live?  These are questions we can all grapple with.  Change is coming, and one can shape and embrace it, or tilt at windmills….so to speak.   More urban density will continue to result in fractious debate posing NIMBY’s against Developers, and Neighborhood Groups against Corporations.  But educated responses, and thoughtful consideration will trump angry outbursts from the “No-Changers”.

CURRENT CITY RESPONSES

So, exactly where are we supposed to put all of our incoming population?  Current emphasis within the City of Austin has been on the development of highly dense corridor streets with mixed-use buildings that line the perimeter of existing neighborhoods.  City Staff have implemented this strategy through the VMU overlay as neighborhood plans have been approved.  Steven Oliver, current AIA president, recently commented on this in his article on the Austinist Blog.

Also, we have seen pocket developments starting to occur around the hopefully future light rail.  Called TOD’s (transportation oriented developments) these typically have a required “affordability” requirement, in order to establish greater density than currently allowed in existing zoning regulations.  Numerous parking reductions, open space requirements, and pedestrian linkage to the associated train stations, are intended to minimize reliance on the car, focus participation in public transportation, and provide mixes of commercial and residential structures.  The Triangle development, although sadly not the most inspiring of architecture, works from a planning perspective, and has resulted in vibrant “community-within-a-community”.

Hopefully these efforts will result in providing some of the housing stock we will need in future years, and provide the density necessary to support the public transportation infrastructure we are investing in currently.

Traditionally, there have been other methods to accomodate density within existing neighborhoods.  The City Land Development Code currently has three defined uses associated with these methods.  Those are:  Two Family Residential, Duplex Residential, and Secondary Apartment.

DUPLEXES AND SECONDARY APARTMENTS

Duplex and Secondary Apartment development have proven historically to be a method to obtain affordable rental housing, secondary income for property owners, and a means to house the extended family.  The new RDCS has severely restricted the options for duplex development, and redefined Two Family Residential to be essentially Single Family with a garage apartment.  Secondary Apartment is allowed only on lots of significant size, although a few neighborhood plans (Brentwood being one) have adopted the smart growth amendments that allow SA on smaller lots.  The RDCS, in failing to promote this type of development,  has missed a great oportunity in Austin’s progress toward a renewed, sustainable city.

The RDCS Ordinance not only affected the size of a single family home, it also rewrote the duplex ordinance language FOR THE ENTIRE CITY, even areas outside the central core.  Some of the changes include requirements for a common wall, perpendicular to the street address, and a common roof where living units must be connected by spaces other than carports or garages.  These two changes force the duplex structure to be a single massive building, as opposed to two smaller separate buildings.  Further the common wall and common roof requirements make access to daylight, cross ventilation, and privacy difficult—if not impossible, given the configuration of most existing lots.  The goal was to make the duplex look like a single house, however the negatives affect the quality of life of the occupants, and therefore make this type of development less desirable.  The density afforded duplex development, ie. two families on one lot, is compromised.  Further, the form and shape prescribed by the RDCS Ordinance has disregarded traditional forms for duplexes, and created something very prescriptive with little ability for the designer to innovate.  When one attempts to place duplexes on the inner city lots where the RDCS Ordinance has created it’s “tent” and FAR restrictions, it becomes even more difficult.

Secondary Apartments were described in Austin’s Smart Growth Amendments, and are defined in Austin’s Land Development Code, as small second living units on existing lots.  They are a maximum of 850 s.f. in size, and must be set in the “rear” of the lot, behind an existing house.  An additional parking space is also required over and above the minimum two spaces required for the single-family house.  Recently, Austin has embarked on the Neighborhood Planning Process, that enables neighborhoods to adopt the Smart Growth Amendments if they choose.  In regards to Secondary Apartments, the Smart Growth Amendments allowed the use on lots smaller than the LDC required 7,000 s.f.  This would open up the potential of secondary units on many more lots in existing neighborhoods.  Unfortunately many neighborhood plans were being resolved while the Mcmansion debate raged.  Therefore the smart growth amendments in many neighborhoods were seen as further disruptions to the existing housing morphology.  The tent and far restrictions of the RDCS have a detrimental effect on even these small structures unless a lot is significantly larger than average, or the lot backs up to an alley.

That’s enough for now.  In my next article, we will look at cities that have embraced density and have attempted to control inevitable development in interesting and progressive ways.


PUG [scope]

July 29, 2009

PUG [scope] is officially under construction on lake marble falls, texas.  offering the option to custumize each PUG per owner, this particular client chose to customize the function creating boat storage, murhpy bed for guest overflow, laundry, bath, and kitchenette on the ground floor…saving the second floor for living and capturing the amazing view of lake marble falls.   the rotation of the second floor box is perfect…(see construction images below)