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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.