May 16, Tues
– Planning Commission Public Hearing, 6:30 PM, Town Lake Center (Austin Energy building), Assembly Room (1st floor), 721 Barton Springs Road (near the South First Street intersection).

May 25, Thurs
– City Council Public Hearing, 6:00 PM,
City Hall Council Chambers
City Hall is located at 301 West 2nd Street. Free public parking is available in the City Hall parking garage, which must be entered from the Lavaca Street side.

What follows is a note from Chris Allen posted to the listserve regarding progress of the Single Family Task Force: 

Below is an update from the Laura Morrison, co-chair of the Single Family Task Force, along with some added notes from me.

The next few weeks will be very busy, and we will be looking for support from the community as we get this information out to the public and before City Council for consideration.


Chris Allen

Last Thursday the Council voted to extend the current, interim regulations to June 23 (from June 6), and to set a public hearing on the new regulations.  The schedule at this point has us taking the recommendations to the Planning Commission on May 16 where there will be opportunity for public comment, and the Council will hold a public hearing on May 25. Because there may be a need for consideration at 2 council meetings, the extension of  the interim regs to June 23 will allow council to also hear and or consider the issue also at their June 8 or June 22 meetings if need be.

So yes please, mark your calendars for May 16 (Planning Commission) and May 25 (Council) as opportunities to weigh in on the subject.  I’ll keep you posted of any changes to the dates.  The TF continues to meet on Fridays, from 1:30 to 4:30pm at City Hall (usually in the Boards and Commissions room).  All are welcome to attend and can offer comments during Citizens Communication at the beginning of each meeting.

Needless to say, this is a challenging issue that requires careful balancing of different inputs and viewpoints.  The TF adopted a goals statement that you can view at

Many members of the task force have been working arduously to address the areas of concern that have been raised.  We are zeroing in on some recommendations for new regulations, and below I have listed out the ideas that have majority support on the TF, but we are continuing to work on all of it to see if we can’t reach 100% consensus.

Here’s a run down of where we are.  This doesn’t include all the details but I hope it provides a good overall picture of where we are and where we’re heading.


Vertical Setbacks:

One of the areas of common concern is to ensure that the mass of new or remodeled structures do not loom over existing adjacent houses. Incorporating a vertical setback had been suggested as a solution such as requiring an extra 10ft setback for the second story.  Rather than imposing a discrete solution, the task force has come to agreement on the concept of a setback envelope that allows for more flexibility.  The concept for this envelope has been used in many other cities.  Basically, you can think of it as a tent sitting over the property, with the sides of the tent sitting on the property lines, and then moving in from the sides at a 45 degree angle.

The structure then has to be "under" the tent except for an allowance for protrusions for dormers etc.  What this gets you is the closer a structure is to the property line, the lower it must be.

We are also looking at either a similar approach from the rear property line or a fixed, lower height limit (such as 22′) on some rear percentage of a lot.

The height of the sides of the envelop is a topic of discussion and currently a majority of the TF recommends a 13ft height there, which allows for an 18ft height (traditional 2 story) of the structure on the 5ft side setback line.  Discussion on this continues though to see if we can reach a solution with even broader support.

In order to encourage/accommodate remodeling projects, we’re considering allowing up to 10′ of added wall height above the existing first floor ceiling elevation for second floor additions (since existing homes can’t be moved away from the setback lines, in some cases the setback planes might make it too difficult to add a second level to homes).

I’ve posted some illustrations of these setback planes at:

Floor Area Ratio:

The addition of a floor area (FAR) limit then controls the total mass of the structure under the tent.  We are looking at exclusions in the FAR calculation for habitable attic space and basements since they do not add to the perceived mass, and also the exclusion of 450sqft of a detached garage which helps break up the mass and encourages garage apartments.  Under consideration for inclusion in the FAR calculation are items that do add to the mass – attached garages and 2nd & 3rd story covered porches. 

Currently a majority on the TF support a city-wide FAR based on the above set of inclusions and exclusions of .4, along with the addition of an opportunity for individual neighborhood areas to have a different FAR limit since the average FAR across the city varies widely, essentially by a factor of 2 from .15 to .3 (with a small number of outliers on either end of this range).  Again, discussions are continuing to see if we can adjust the recommendation to find a solution with 100% consensus.


Adjustments to side setbacks have been discussed but with the above items, the TF appears to agree that they remain at 5ft.  Same with rear setbacks at 10′.

For front yard setbacks, the consensus seems to be centering on maintaining a standard 25ft setback with allowance for decreasing that if your adjacent neighbors have smaller setbacks.


The majority of the TF favors a 30ft height limit (down from 35′ for single family dwellings right now) although this is under further investigation to make sure that a 30ft limit will not make attic space uninhabitable. 


The TF is also discussing the idea of a waiver process to these limitations according to some well specified design criteria, that would be heard by a residential design review body (not yet identified).


The work of the TF in conjunction with staff from Watershed Protection has led to a recommendation (endorsed at this point by a majority of the TF) that leaves the impervious cover (IC) and building coverage limits unchanged at 45% but introduces a new incentive system that would typically require new projects over 35% total Impervious Coverage to implement on-site runoff mitigation measures.  The measures that projects can choose from would include for example, credits for leaving existing trees in place or incorporating a French drain.

The details of the mitigation measures and a full report on this concept are available at


One major issue is the stealth dorm/"McDorm" problem and the possibility of lowering the occupancy limits is being looked at but this must be balanced with the issues of affordability and must take into account enforcement problems that exist with even with the current limits.  Because this is a very complicated issue that needs some broad public input and careful study to find an successful solution, the TF believes that this may need more time than a June 23 deadline allows and may continue this effort beyond that date.


This topic covers many different issues.  For example, we are working with staff on adjustments to the definition of height so that it references natural grade, to close a loophole whereby projects fill some portion of the lot or add a planter box to "lower" the height of the building.  We are also addressing the problem of "remodeling" permits that have in the past led to demolition the house without a demolition permit.


David Arscott (representing the Home Builders Association) and Laura Morrison I are co-chairs.

Representing Neighborhoods:
Danette Chimenti
Melvin Wrenn
Chris Allen
Noah Kennedy
Michael Cannatti
Karen McGraw
Mary Gay

Representing the Development Community:
Terry Mitchell (RECA)
William Burkhardt (AIA)
Doug Marsh (NARI)
Clint Small
Michael Casias (infill developer)

At large:
Dennis McDaniel (Heritage Society)
Silver Garza (at large).

Many members of the task force have been working endless hours – researching approaches, analyzing data, getting inputs from around the community, discussing, looking at examples and reviewing their setbacks, heights and FARs, modeling different scenarios etc.   There is a real commitment to finding a very workable solution and I think we are well on our way.