Vertical Mixed Use Buildings and Projects in the City of Austin

April 30, 2014 by Will Schnier P.E.

Due to increasingly complex zoning regulations and overlays in recent years, such as Subchapter E (Commercial Design Standards), the University Neighborhood Overlay (UNO), Transit Oriented Development (TOD) districts, and others, many of our clients are incorporating a mixed-use or vertical-mixed use component to their primarily apartment development project.

Vertical Mixed Use generally refers to residential uses located above retail, commercial, or office uses. The added building height, density, and diversity of uses encourages pedestrian activity and provides housing choices close to goods and services for neighborhood residents. The City of Austin Code allows the mixing of uses within a site or building if such uses are Permitted or Conditional Uses within that district and the property has a MU or VMU overlay.

Burnet Marketplace is a good example of a Vertical Mixed Use (VMU) project. This project was developed by Argyle Residential. BIG RED DOG was the civil and MEP engineer for the project.

The City of Austin City Council approved Subchapter E on August 31, 2006. These regulations, which are based on the classification of the primary street fronting the site, set standards for building placement, sidewalk and streetscape standards, internal circulation requirements, and connectivity with adjacent sites among other items. As such, the VMU trend in Austin 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.

Most Vertical Mixed Use (VMU) and Mixed Use (MU) projects in the City of Austin must be developed in accordance with the regulations contained in the Suchapter E:_Design Standards and Mixed Use sub-chapter of the Land Development Code (commonly referred to as “Commercial Design Standards”). Alternatively, projects in select areas of the City of Austin are subject to other regulations which allow Mixed Use and Vertical Mixed Use projects, such as those found in the University Neighborhood Overlay (UNO) district, or one of several Transit Oriented Development (TOD) districts.

Architect Rendering of South Lamar
Lamar Union at 1000 South Lamar Boulevard is a great example of a Vertical Mixed Use project that was developed by Greystar and engineered by BIG RED DOG.

Projects developed under the Vertical Mixed Use Ordinance must generally meet the zoning regulations of the base commercial zoning district, however VMU projects which provide 10% of all [rental] units at an affordability level of 80% Median Family Income (MFI), are afforded several development incentives. Several of the key development bonuses associated with VMU project include the following:

1.     No maximum floor to area ratio (FAR)

2.     No maximum building coverage or units per acre

3.     No minimum front, street, and side yard setbacks

4.     Minimum off-street parking is 60% of Appendix A

5.     Remains subject to height limits of underlying zoning districts as may modified by compatibility standards. (As an aside, Compatibility standards are triggered by adjacent developments with a zoning classification or use of Single-Family Residence (SF-5) or more restrictive. Affected properties or affected portions thereof lie within 540 feet of the restrictive zoning district. Compatibility standards govern setbacks of proposed developments from adjacent property lines as well as building heights. In addition, compatibility standards require specific requirements for lighting, noise levels and screening of equipment, trash dumpsters, and mechanical structures.)

6.     Allows redeveloped project to maintain existing level of impervious cover even if in excess of what is allowed by base zoning district when located in the Desired Development Zone

BIG RED DOG is currently the civil engineer for several mixed-use and vertical mixed use projects in the City of Austin, with projects both under construction and those currently in the entitlement and design stage. We encourage you to contact BIG RED DOG Engineering | Consulting about your next project to see how we can help you to make the it a great success.

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.