FAQ – Planning 101

FaqsSome of the information below has been selected from the City of Austin’s Planning department website.

What is zoning?

Zoning establishes the types of land uses permitted on a parcel of land within the full or limited purpose jurisdiction of the City of Austin. Zoning also sets the development standards for a site, such as building height, setbacks, floor-to-area ratio, neighborhood compatibility, screening, landscaping, and impervious cover limitations.

The purpose of land use regulations such as zoning is to create compatible land uses, ensure proper design and construction standards, and promote the overall public good.

Zoning has three elements:

Allowed uses: Section VII of the City of Austin Planning: Guide to Zoning provides a list of allowed uses by category— Residential, Civic, Commercial, Industrial, and Agricultural. Each zoning district allows for multiple uses such as single family residential, food sales, retail, or religious assembly. Most uses are allowed in several zoning districts, and each zoning district allows several uses. Uses can be permitted (allowed by right, without any zoning review by the City) or conditional (which needs Planning Commission or City Council approval).

Site development standards: Regulations that guide how buildings may be placed on a site. This includes standards such as height, setbacks, floor-to-area ratio, neighborhood compatibility, screening, landscaping, and impervious cover limitations. Note that not all of the site development standards that may affect a piece of property are controlled by the zoning district (other examples include subdivision regulations and residential compatibility).

Geography: Zoning is applied to property within the City of Austin or its limited purpose jurisdiction.

What is a Base Zoning District?

A Base Zoning District establishes regulations governing land use and site development in a specific geographic area. Regulations may include:
• A minimum lot size
• A minimum lot width
• Maximum impervious coverage
• Maximum height allowances
• Required setbacks

How to read a zoning district

Zoning districts are generally represented by a code, such as SF-3 or NO-MU-NP. Every property in Austin has a base zoning district. The City has 39 base zoning districts; each base zoning district and its code is listed in Table 1. Other zoning districts, called combining districts, provide additional regulations to base zoning districts (see Table 2). If a property is part of a combining district, its zoning code will list the base district code, followed by a dash, and then the combining district. For example, a mixed use (-MU) combining district applied to a neighborhood office district (NO) is shown as NO-MU. The zoning of a property may include multiple combining districts: NO-MU-H-NP is a neighborhood office (NO) district that allows mixed use (-MU), is a historic property (-H), and follows a neighborhood plan’s requirements (-NP).

Table 1. Base Zoning Districts
Residential Commercial
LA Lake Austin Residence District NO Neighborhood Office
RR Rural Residential District LO Limited Office
SF-1 Single Family—Large Lot GO General Office
SF-2 Single Family—Standard Lot CR Commercial Recreation
SF-3 Family Residence LR Neighborhood Commercial
SF-4A Single Family—Small Lot GR Community Commercial
SF-4B Single Family—Condominium L Lake Commercial
SF-5 Urban Family Residence CBD Central Business District
SF-6 Townhouse & Condominium DMU Downtown Mixed Use
MF-1 Multifamily —Limited Density W/LO Warehouse/Limited Office
MF-2 Multifamily—Low Density CS Commercial Services
MF-3 Multifamily—Medium Density CS-1 Commercial-Liquor Sales
MF-4 Multifamily—Moderate Density CH Commercial Highway
MF-5 Multifamily—High Density Special Purpose
MF-6 Multifamily—Highest Density DR Development Reserve
MH Mobile Home Residence AV Aviation Services
Industrial AG Agricultural District
IP Industrial Park P Public
LI Limited Industrial Service PUD Planned Unit Development
MI Major Industrial TN Traditional Neighborhood
R&D Research & Development
Table 2. Some of the Combining Zoning Districts
Code District name
-CO Conditional Overlay Combining District
-H Historic Combining District
-MU Mixed Use Combining District
-NP Neighborhood Plan Combining District
-PDA Planned Development Area

What is the difference between zoning and land use?

People often confuse zoning with land use. In Austin, land use is a general indication of how land is used—residential, commercial, industrial, open space, etc. Land use defines broad categories; zoning is used to implement the land use plan. It further refines the permitted uses and standards for a site. The City of Austin has established a land use planning process with significant public participation to determine how land should be used both now and in the future through the development of the Future Land Use Map. This map, which is adopted by City Council, provides a framework for future zoning decisions.

What is my zoning?

To determine the zoning of your property, the City of Austin has created a map viewer available on the City’s website. This viewer enables you to type in your address and click on a button to retrieve zoning information (as well as other City GIS data).

The viewer can be accessed at: http://www.austintexas.gov/GIS/developmentwebmap/.

For information on the type of data available, and how to navigate the viewer, go to: http://coagis1.ci.austin.tx.us/website/COAViewer_dev/help.htm

Although this tool is intended for public use, it is not an official verification of zoning. Verification of zoning is required prior to issuance of a subdivision, site plan, site plan exemption, building permit or certificate of occupancy. You can request a zoning verification letter from the Development Assistance Center, 505 Barton Springs Road, 1st Floor.

What zonings are used throughout CNA?

Most properties within the boundaries of CNA are zoned SF-3, while a few are zoned MF-3. Some of the properties along the outskirts of CNA are zoned CS-MU, CS-1-MU, or LO-MU.

What are the zoning restrictions for SF-3 – Family Residence?

SF-3
Family Residence

Family Residence district is intended as an area for moderate density single-family residential use, with a minimum lot size of 5,750 square feet. Duplex use is permitted under development standards that maintain single-family neighborhood characteristics. This district is appropriate for existing single-family neighborhoods having typically moderate sized lot patterns, as well as for development of additional family housing areas with minimum land requirements.

Site Development Standards

Lot   Massing
Minimum Lot Size 5,750 sq ft Maximum Height 35 ft
Minimum Lot Width 50 ft Minimum Setbacks
Maximum Units Per Lot 1 Front yard 25 ft
Maximum Building Coverage 40% Street side yard 15 ft
Maximum Impervious Cover 45% Interior side yard 5 ft
Rear yard 10 ft

What are the zoning restrictions for MF-3 – Multi-Family Residence—Medium Density?

MF-3
Multi-Family Residence—Medium Density
Multifamily Residence Medium Density district is intended to accommodate multifamily use with a maximum density of up to 36 units per acre. This district is appropriate for multifamily residential areas located near supporting transportation and commercial facilities, generally in more centrally located areas, and in other selected areas where medium density multifamily use is desirable.
Site Development Standards

Lot   Massing
Minimum Lot Size 8,000 sq ft Maximum Height 40 ft
Minimum Lot Width 50 ft Minimum Setbacks
Maximum Units Per Lot 1 Front yard 25 ft
Maximum Building Coverage 55% Street side yard 15 ft
Maximum Impervious Cover 65% Interior side yard 5 ft
Maximum Floor Area Ratio .75:1 Rear yard 10 ft
Maximum Units Per Acre 36

What are the notification requirements for a zoning change?

The Applicant and his designated agent, as well as property owners, renters and utility account holders, registered neighborhood associations, community groups and environmental interest groups located within 500 feet of the zoning change are mailed an initial notice of filing within 14 days of application submittal. The notice includes the applicant’s contact information, descriptions of the existing and proposed zoning, and Staff contact information. Subsequent notice(s) identifying the date and time of the Land Use Commission and City Council meetings are also mailed prior to these public hearings. Signs which identify the case number are also posted on all properties under zoning review.

What is Density?

Density is the number of dwelling units (houses, apartments, duplexes etc), or buildings per unit of land. In Neighborhood Planning, this is often expressed as dwelling units per acre or units per lot.

What is Minimum Site Area?

Minimum Site Area limits the number of dwelling units on a site by requiring a certain amount of square footage at a site for a specific type of multi-family unit (efficiency, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, etc.). For example, if a zoning district for a 10,000 square foot lot requires 2,500 square feet for each two-bedroom unit, then four two-bedroom units can be built on that lot.

What is Building Coverage?

Building Coverage is a percentage limit on the amount of a lot that may be covered by a building.

What is Floor Area Ratio (FAR)?

The floor area ratio (FAR) is the principal bulk regulation controlling the size of buildings. FAR is the ratio of total building floor area in relation to the area of its zoning lot. Each zoning district has an FAR control which, when multiplied by the lot area of the zoning lot, produces the maximum amount of floor area allowable in a building on the zoning lot.
For example, on a 10,000 square-foot lot in a zoning district with a maximum FAR of 1.0, the floor area of a building cannot exceed 10,000 square feet.

What is Impervious Cover?

Impervious Cover is anything that stops rainwater from soaking into the ground, including roads, sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, swimming pools, and buildings. The allowable amount of impervious cover is determined by the more restrictive of the zoning district and watershed regulations.

What are Setbacks?

Setbacks are the minimum distance between buildings and any lot line.

What is Right of Way (ROW)?

The City’s right of way is typically the street surface, sidewalks and grassy areas between pavement and property lines.  Your property area does not include the ROW.

What is an Easement?

An easement is a certain right to use the real property of another without possessing it. A public easement grants an easement for a public use, for example, to allow the public an access over a parcel owned by an individual. For example, your water lines are placed within an easement.