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Zoning Requirements

A strong understanding of zoning requirements can make all the difference in commercial real estate transactions. Zoning depends primarily on the type of development or usage anticipated for the specific location, and these requirements can hold sway over a property’s future. Commercial real estate owners and buyers should also consult the neighborhood plan, which could potentially hinder or prohibit rezoning and construction attempts.

Most communities have local zoning ordinances dictating the specific uses for its land, and which are structured to maintain the integrity of a project or community. Zoning codes—stipulations prescribing compliance with zoning requirements—usually provide a minimum lot-area designated by square footage, and contain information such as usage guidelines, minimum area per unit, building height requirements, and set-back requirements.

Developing cities establish zoning districts to promote compatible patterns of land use within the city limits, and institute site-development regulations and performance standards appropriate to the purpose and uses allowed in each district. Distinctive zoning districts exist for residential, office, retail, and industrial uses, and the City of Austin has 16 residential zoning districts and 13 commercial zoning districts, 4 industrial, and 5 special purpose base districts, including:
  • Limited Office (LO)
  • General Office (GO)
  • Commercial Recreation (CR)
  • Neighborhood Commercial (LR)
  • Community Commercial (GR)
  • Lake Commercial (L)
  • Central Business District (CBD)
  • Downtown Mixed Use (DMU)
  • Warehouse Limited Office (W/LO)
  • Commercial Services (CS)
  • Commercial-Liquor Sales (CS-1)
  • Commercial Highway (CH)
  • Industrial Park (IP)
  • Major Industrial (MI)
  • Limited Industrial Services (LI)
  • Research and Development (R&D)
  • Development Reserve (DR)
  • Aviation Services (AV)
  • Agricultural District (AG)
  • Public District (P)
  • Planned Unit Development (PUD)
  • Neighborhood Office (NO)
Specific use restrictions, site development regulations, or performance standards may apply to zoning districts combined with special overlay or combining districts. “Combining districts” can be combined with a base zoning district to alter permitted site development characteristics and uses permitted on a site. Additionally, a “special overlay” modifies and restricts the use and site development regulations authorized in the base districts. Austin overlay districts include:
  • Congress Avenue Zone (CAZ)
  • Capitol Dominance Zone (CDZ)
  • Criminal Justice Center Overlay Zone (CJC)
  • Conditional Overlay (CO)
  • Capitol View Corridor (CVC)
  • Central Urban Redevelopment (CURE)
  • Downtown Creeks Zone (DCZ)
  • Downtown Parks Zone (CPZ)
  • Historic (H)
  • Mixed Use Combining District (MU)
  • Neighborhood Conservation Combining District (NCCD)
  • Planned Development Area (PDA)
  • East Sixth / Pecan Street Zone (PSZ)
  • University Neighborhood Overlay (UNO)
  • Waterfront Overlay (WO)
As part of the zoning process, appropriate land uses for an area are identified based on such factors as the intensity, density, height of proposed project, surrounding land uses, traffic impacts and access to a site, environmental concerns, and overall compatibility.

Zoning changes may be required for a change of land use or alteration of a building or site within the city limits. Rezoning involves drafting and submitting an application to the Planning Commission, and a subsequent public hearing in front of City Council to rule on the application’s acceptability. Investors interested in this process would be well advised to become closely acquainted with the requirements of their particular area, and to seek professional assistance during this process. For a quick reference, see the list of common zoning terms provided below this article.

Buls Hodge Consulting is well-acquainted with zoning districts and regulations, and this experience benefits our clients when navigating through these often confusing issues. For more information on zoning codes in Austin, Texas, please contact us at (512) 480-3131 or fill out our online form. We can help.


Conditional Use: A use allowed within certain zoning districts under certain conditions. It is listed in the regulations for a particular district as a conditional use within that district, authorized solely on a discretionary and conditional basis by the Planning Commission, or the City Council on appeal.

Historic Landmark Commission (HLC): A representative board of the community, appointed by City Council for two or three year terms, responsible for all activities regarding landmarks. Their recommendation on all historic zoning cases is forwarded to the Planning Commission and to City Council prior to a final decision on the disposition of a case.

Historic Zoning: A supplemental designation to the base zoning district adding some additional requirements to safeguard a property or an area as a landmark.

Illegal Use: A use not permitted by right or as a conditional use by the Land Development Code.

Landmarks: Distinct, important elements of the City's and State's architectural, archeological, cultural, social, economic, ethnic and political history, which are to be maintained for posterity.

Legal use: A use permitted by the Land Development Code.

National Historic Register District (NHRD): Areas of historical significance with the rules for historic zoning apply, and with supplemental regulations to a defined area, not only to individual structures. Changes in the area must be based on the Historic District Preservation Plan, which must address zoning, building code requirements, sign regulations, parking, architectural regulations, transit and traffic issues as well as any public improvements.

Non-Complying: A building, structure or property not complying with applicable site development regulations for the zoning district, but having complied with applicable regulations at the time of its construction. Legal, but not a non-conforming use: the use of land, building or structure, which does not comply with current applicable use regulations, but which complied with the zoning regulations in effect prior to March 1, 1984. Legal, but not a non-complying structure: a building, structure or area, which does not comply with current applicable site development regulations for the district in which it is located, but which complied with the zoning regulations in effect prior to March 1, 1984.

Non-Conforming Use: The use of any land, building or structure not conforming to current applicable use regulations, but which complied or was not under requirements to comply with regulations at the time the use was established.

Permitted Use: A use defined by the Land Development Code, listed as a permitted use in the use regulations for a particular district, and authorized as a matter of right when conducted in accordance with the requirements of the Code.

Planned Unit Development: A Planned Unit Development (PUD) is intended for large or complex developments under unified control planned as a single continuous project, to allow single- or multi-use projects within its boundaries and provide greater design flexibility for development proposed within the PUD. This zoning is appropriate if the PUD enhances preservation of the natural environment; encourages high quality and innovative design and ensures adequate public facilities and services for development within the PUD.

Protest Provisions: Commonly referred to as “petition rights,” this provision generally provides that a three-fourths majority of all members of the Council is needed to approve and pass certain rezoning requests, or to uphold a written protest against a proposed rezoning.

Transportation Impact Analysis: A Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) provides information on the projected traffic expected from a proposed development, and evaluates the impact of proposed development on the roadways in the immediate proximity of the proposed development. The TIA should identify any potential traffic operational problems or concerns and recommend appropriate actions to address such problems or concerns. TIA requirements apply to each individual lot when an application is made to zone or rezone the lot or for site plan approval to develop the lot. (A neighborhood traffic analysis is a simplified TIA that assesses the impact of a proposed project on residential streets.)

Zoning: The division of a jurisdiction into zoning districts, within which permissible uses are prescribed and restrictions on building height, bulk, layout, parking and other requirements are defined.

Thomas N. Thurlow and Associates
We first allowed Bryan Bell to renegotiate for more time on our present office lease. He later assisted in an expansion and another renewal. He most recently aided in the search and negotiation for office space in Denver. One of our attorneys had found a space and I dispatched Bryan to negotiate a fair price. While in Denver, he found more suitable space and a much lower rate (sublease) which ultimately saved forty five (45) percent on our lease rate.
- Thomas N. Thurlow, Managing Partner

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