Whether you are a current property owner or in the market to buy a property, understanding Austin’s zoning code is a crucial step to understanding your property’s value.

According to the City of Austin, the purpose of its zoning code is to create compatible land uses, ensure proper design and construction standards and promote the overall public good.

In other words, zoning tells you how big of a building you can build on your property and what the use of your building can be, i.e. residential, commercial, etc.

In this article, we will explain:

  • Zoning districts in Austin, Texas
  • The three main components of zoning
  • Development restrictions within zoning districts
  • How to find out what a property is zoned
  • What zoning could mean for you and your property

 

Zoning Districts in Austin, Texas

Each property in the City of Austin is assigned a zoning category, known as zoning districts.

Every property in Austin has a base zoning district; most districts are based on allowed use types, but some are location based. Each zoning district is represented by a code, such as CS (General Commercial Services), a use-based category, or CBD (Central Business District), a location based category.

There are 39 base zoning districts in Austin, that can be grouped into four different categories: Residential, Industrial, Commercial and Special Purpose.

Residential Zoning Districts

The Residential category includes 16 zoning districts pertaining to everything from ranches (Rural Residence – RR) to lake houses (Lake Austin – LA), and to single family houses (Single Family – SF) to multifamily (MF).

The City has seven different districts for single family properties and six for multifamily that dictate the size, density and type of construction allowed for each.

And although most commercial uses are restricted in residential zoned sites, civic uses are usually allowed to accommodate for schools, churches, daycares and even agriculture.

Industrial Zoning Districts

The Industrial category consists of the four zoning districts for warehouses, manufacturing, and research & development.

Although the industrial districts are intended to be used for manufacturing and warehousing, most commercial uses are allowed on industrially zoned sites. Residential uses are almost always restricted in these districts.

When compared to commercial districts, the height restriction and FAR max are quite a bit lower, resulting in a lower maximum density and height. Since developers almost always value a site based on what they can eventually build on the site under the site’s current zoning, these properties are typically less valuable than a commercially zoned property of the same size in a similar area in the eyes of a real estate developer.

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Commercial

The Commercial category has the most diverse set of development standards and is made up of 13 zoning districts, ranging from limited density categories such as Neighborhood Office (NO) with a FAR max of .35:1 to the Central Business District (CBD) category with a FAR max of 8:1.

The commercial districts have a wide range of permitted commercial uses, including offices, retail, hospitality and more.

In some commercial zones, industrial and residential use are also permitted while other areas restrict alternative uses.

Special Purpose

This category is rare to see and includes sites zoned for Airports (AV) and public areas (P) which are reserved for a civic or public institutional purpose.

A Planned Unit Development (PUD) is also in the Special Purpose category. The City defines a PUD as a large or complex single or multi-use development greater than 10 acres, planned as a single contiguous project that would otherwise exceed the standard development regulations. A good example of a PUD in Austin is the Mueller Development in East Austin

Combining Zoning Districts

The City of Austin may also combine districts to encourage multiple uses in a single development. In this case, when reviewing the zoning chart, you’ll see a series of codes like ‘CS-MU’ which indicate that the zone is designated for commercial services, but mixed uses (such as residential) are also permitted.

There are a variety of combining zoning districts you may encounter in Austin, but the three most notable are Conditional Overlays (CO), Mixed Use (MU) and Capitol View Corridor (CVC).

The full list and descriptions of the Combining Zoning Districts can be found on the City’s website.

Conditional Overlay

A conditional overlay is a modification to the existing zoning based on the specific circumstances presented by a site. The conditional overlay is more restrictive than the other restrictions that are already applicable to the property.

A conditional overlay may, for example, prohibit a permitted use authorized in a base district or restrict access to adjacent roads and require specific design features to minimize the effects of traffic.

Mixed Use Combining District

The Mixed Use Combining District can be applied in combination with a base zoning district to allow a combination of office, retail, commercial and residential uses within a single development.

Capitol View Corridor

Capitol View Corridors limit the height of structures within specific corridors around Austin. They are meant to preserve views of the State’s Capitol from publicly accessible landmarks such as the French Legation and the Texas State Cemetery.

City of Austin Zoning - Capitol Views Corridor

Courtesy of City of Austin.

 

Three Main Components of Zoning

The City of Austin breaks down its zoning code into three elements – Allowed Use, Site Development Standards and Geography.

Allowed Use

The Allowed Use specifies the type of property that can be built on sites within a certain zoning district. Each zoning district typically allows for a variety of complementary uses such as single family residential, food sales and professional office.

Additionally, most Allowed Uses are not exclusive to a certain zoning district and are allowed in several zoning districts.

Uses can either be permitted, meaning they are allowed by right with no review required by the City; conditional, which needs Planning Commission approval or City Council approval; or Restricted, which means the use is not allowed under the existing zoning.

Site Development Standards

Site Development Standards are regulations that guide how buildings may be built on a site. They cover everything from building design to size and required landscaping.

Height Restriction

There are limits on building heights in all zoning categories in Austin, aside from the CBD (Central Business District) zoning district which does not have height restrictions. The height restrictions vary based on zoning category, but are typically 35 feet for single family zoned properties and range between 40 to 60 feet for commercially zoned properties.

Floor to Area Ratio (FAR) Maximum

FAR limits the density of a building and is stated as a ratio. The total size of the building that can be built on a site can be found by multiplying the lots size by the FAR.

The higher the ratio, the more dense the building will be. These higher ratios are typically found in urban construction.

Building Size = Gross Lot Area x FAR

For example, if the lot is 50,000 SF and the FAR is 2:1, you can build a building with 100,000 rentable square feet.

Surface parking and parking structures are not considered in FAR.

Setbacks

A setback is the required distance from the front, side and rear of a lot’s boundaries where a building is not allowed to be built.

Setbacks allow for space between adjacent buildings, as well as between the building and the streets around, typically for reasons of safety, privacy and environmental protection.

Courtesy of Underbuilt.

Neighborhood Compatibility

If two neighboring sites have different zoning districts, additional rules may be set by local officials to ensure that the adjacent sites are compatible.

For example a commercial services zoned property is next to a single family zoned property, rules may be put in place to  limit the development potential of the commercial lot such as additional setbacks and height restrictions (As Illustrated in the diagram below).

City of Austin Zoning - Neighborhood Compatability

Courtesy of City of Austin.

Impervious Cover

Any surface that prevents water from seeping into the ground like buildings, driveways and garages is considered impervious cover. The City caps the ratio of impervious cover-to-lot size based on zoning districts as a means of flood prevention.

Geography

Of course, like everything in real estate, location plays a primary role in determining what type of zoning a site is given. All property within the City of Austin, plus land within Austin’s limited purpose jurisdiction, falls under the City’s development regulations and land use code and location is another important factor in how properties are zoned.

 

Zoning Districts Development Restrictions

In Austin, the following development restrictions apply.

Residential Zoning Districts
Zoning District District Title Minimum Lot Size Max Impervious Cover Max Floor to Area Ratio Max Units Per Acre Max Height
MF 1 Multi-Family Residence – Limited Density 8,000 SF 55% n/a 17 40 ft
MF 2 Multi-Family Residence – Low Density 8,000 SF 60% n/a 23 40 ft
MF 3 Multi-Family Residence – Medium Density 8,000 SF 65% .75:1 36 40 ft
MF 4 Multi-Family Residence – Moderate-High Density 8,000 SF 70% .75:1 54 60 ft
MF 5 Multi-Family Residence – High Density 8,000 SF 70% 1:1 54 60 ft
MF 6 Multi-Family Residence – Highest Density 8,000 SF 80% 70% X>54 90 ft
Industrial Zoning Districts
District Code District Title Minimum Lot Size Max Impervious Cover Max Floor to Area Ratio Max Height
IP Industrial Park 43,560 SF 80% 1:1 60 ft
LI Limited Industrial Services 5,750 SF 80% 1:1 60 ft
MI Major Industry 50 acres 80% 1:1 120 ft
R&D Research & Development 5 acres 50% .25:1 45 ft
Commercial Zoning Districts
District Code District Title Minimum Lot Size Max Impervious Cover Max Floor to Area Ratio Max Height
NO Neighborhood Office 5,750 SF 60% .35:1 35 ft
LO Limited Office 5,750 SF 70% .7:1 40 ft
LR Neighborhood Commercial 5,750 SF 80% .5:1 40 ft
CR Commercial Recreation 20,000 SF 60% .25:1 40 ft
GR Community Commercial 5,750 SF 90% 1:1 60 ft
L Lake Commercial 5,750 SF 50% 8:1 200 ft
CBD Central Business District n/a 100% 8:1 n/a
DMU Downtown Mixed Use n/a 100% 5:01 120 ft
W/LO Warehouse/ limited Office 43,560 SF 70% .25:1 25 ft
CS General Commercail Services 5,750 SF 95% 2:1 60 ft
CS-1 Commercial Liquor Sales 5,750 SF 95% 2:1 60 ft
CH Commercial Highway Serv 20,000 SF 85% 3:1 n/a
GO General Office 5,750 SF 80% 1:1 60 ft

 

How to Find Out What a Property is Zoned in Austin, Texas

If you are interested in determining the regulation around a specific property, you can look it up on the City of Austin’s Zoning Profile Report.

Once you’re on the zoning page, the search process is very straightforward. Type the property’s address into the “Address Search” bar and click the magnifying glass.

Address search for City of Austin Zoning

Your Zoning Profile Report will display your property profile, including the Zoning District as well as any zoning overlays that affect the site.

City of Austin Zoning Profile

In an area with simple zoning requirements you will most likely see a simple code like “CS” or “LI”.

In a more diverse area, you may see a complex code which gives guidelines for each land use situation. For example, you may see a combined district “GO-MU-MF-5”. In this case GO (General Office) is the base zoning district that dictates the Site Development Standards, and the following codes set the overlays on the site. MU (Mixed Use) tells us that a mixed use project may be developed within the General Office site development standards and the MF-5 (Multi-Family Residence – High Density) overlay dictates the multifamily guidelines the developer must build within if multifamily is developed on the site.

 

What This Means For Sellers

If you are considering selling your property and believe it has development potential, the property’s zoning will be a big factor in its market value as developers usually value sites on a per buildable foot basis instead of per land foot. In some cases, it may be beneficial to consult a real estate professional to explore your options to rezone the property to maximize its value.  

 

What This Means For Buyers

It is important to understand the zoning of a property prior to closing, not only if you are planning on building additional square footage or changing the current use, but it will also impact the future resale value of the property.

If a property you are considering purchasing will need a zoning change, there are a few different ways to structure the acquisition to limit the amount of entitlement risk you assume when purchasing the property.

Whether you are buying or selling, it is important to remember that while zoning is a great place to start when evaluating a site, there are several other factors that could inhibit the development potential and permitted uses on a given site. All of this is something your commercial real estate broker should be able to help you with, so make sure your broker understands your current and future needs on your acquisition.

If you’d like to discuss your zoning questions further with one of our commercial real estate experts, please schedule your consultation today.

 

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Andrew Reue | AQUILA Commercial

Andrew Reue

Andrew is the boisterous number-cruncher behind the AQUILA Investment Team. He’s our excel guru – modeling the financials, running the analysis and checking the facts to ensure that your investment is sound and that you’re getting the best return for your dollar.

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