Multi-Family Apartments: Your Civil Engineer Matters

March 20, 2011 by Will Schnier P.E.

I read a market report last month which said there were approximately 7,500 multi-family apartment units built in each of 2008 and 2009. And that today, there is none to very few in the conventional apartment pipeline ready to begin construction by the summer of 2011. According to more recent reports, average occupancy in the central core of the City of Austin is nearly 98%, with rental rates increasing.

BIG RED DOG is currently the civil engineer for several multi-family apartment and mixed-use projects in the City of Austin, with projects both under construction and those currently in the entitlement and design stage.

Rendering Compliments of Meeks + Partners

Due to increasingly complex zoning regulations and overlays in recent years, such as Subchapter E (Commercial Design Standards), the University Neighborhood Overlay (UNO), the Waterfront Overlay (WO), and others, most of our clients are incorporating a mixed-use or vertical-mixed use component to their primarily apartment development project. A trend that typically includes ground floor retail uses on the primary street with living units above and behind, and full pedestrian streetscape sidewalk design – trees, benches, and bike racks. In most cases, the streetscape will require a License Agreement.

Our multi-family design experience has allowed us to identify over one hundred site development design-related items that are critical to the successful development of a multi-family apartment project.  We have shared ten of these items below:


1.    Improvements within public rights-of-way have been approved and fully coordinated in terms of material specifications by all governing authorities.

2.    The Construction Documents show water, fire, and sewer services to the building envelope, not 5-feet away, to the face of the building.

3.    The stacking for cars waiting to enter the project can accommodate a minimum required by the client (6 if no minimum provided).

4.    The vehicular gates do not swing in front of any garage doors, streets, intersections, etc. and the vehicular gates do not block a pedestrian pathway, etc. when in operation.

5.    The points of connection and the storm drain inlet elevations for all drain inlets have been coordinated between the landscape plans and the civil plans.

6.    There is a minimum 6% slope away from the buildings for a distance of at least ten feet.

7.    There is a clearly identified handicapped-accessible route throughout the project identified in the Construction Documents.

8.    There is ADA and Fair Housing compliant access to all amenities, including the pool area, laundry, mail kiosk, fitness center, trash compactor, trash dumpsters, etc.

9.    The turning radius concerns of the vehicle servicing the trash compactor or dumpster have been carefully considered in the curb radius design.

10.The details shown in the plan are not boilerplate details in that they apply specifically to these Construction Documents.  They have not been copied from previous plans and carried over into these Construction Documents, but rather made applicable to the specific Project.

Finally, a thought from “Master Builder” Trammell Crow who said of developers in an essay discussing architecture and how he chooses his design team members:

“We are all, those of us who survive, market controlled. We learn what the market will take, what reality will allow, and go for the best possible. Perhaps some can afford qualities at the ultimate top of market realities, while others cannot. Some, as surely do we, yearn to construct the finest. But the arrogant architect or engineer who considers a project commission a charter of rights to himself to ‘create, and then send a bill’ – not faithfully taking into account the judgments, needs and limitations of his client – is in my view, a charlatan, to say the least.”

Your engineer needs to understand the project scope and your budget when he/she writes the proposal, and if they don’t, are you sure you want them as your engineer? You don’t have to accept constant requests for scope creep and additional fees. At BIG RED DOG, we’ll give you your final lump sum price with the first proposal. We know that our value is earned when you feel like you have added a knowledgeable and trusted resource to your development team. Not just on the first project, but on every project.

Written by Will Schnier P.E.

Will Schnier P.E.

Will Schnier is the Chief Executive Officer of BIG RED DOG Engineering | Consulting. Will received his BSCE from Purdue University and co-founded BIG RED DOG Engineering and Consulting in 2009. Since starting the firm in 2009, BIG RED DOG has grown to over 100 team members with offices in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. BIG RED DOG has garnered awards for being one of the 50 fastest growing companies in Texas (Business Journal’s Fast 50 in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015) and an ENR top 100 Design Firm in Texas and Louisiana (2012, 2103, 2014, 2015). Mr. Schnier is very well versed in the project review and development permitting process having worked closely and very successfully with City and County review staff, neighborhood associations, environmental groups, and public boards and councils. He has been responsible for the project management, engineering design, and regulatory permitting of hundreds of single family subdivision projects, mixed use and multifamily residential developments, industrial facilities and oil and gas development projects throughout Texas. He is the author of two publications: “Land Subdivision – A Practical Guide for Central Texas” and “The Book on License Agreements in the City of Austin”. Will was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA) in 2014 and served as Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s appointment to the City of Austin Zoning Board of Adjustment from 2011 to 2015.