What are cut and fill requirements and how do they apply to development? And specifically the City of Austin?

June 7, 2017 by Brad Lingvai

Cut and fill are opposing methods taken to place material needed on a site to level it out enough to build a road or structure.  Cut is when material is removed to create a more level building area and fill is when material is added to create a more level building area.  The steepness of the slope on a site is a good indication of the amount of cut and fill that may be required to develop the site, with a steeper site requiring more cut and/or fill to construct upon (and generally being more expensive to build on).While cut and fill limitation enforcements vary by jurisdiction, and may even differ based on a site’s location within the jurisdiction, they are generally accepted as a just means to maintain the character of a site and minimize possible environmental impacts.

In the City of Austin, cut and fill is governed by the Land Development Code (LDC) Section 25-8-341 (for cut) and 342 (for fill).  These sections state that, while allowing for some exceptions, the limit for the permitted cut or fill on a site is 4’ or less.  Some exceptions include if the project is:

  1. In an urban watershed;
  2. In a roadway right-of-way;
  3. For construction of a building foundation;
  4. For utility construction or a wastewater drain field, if the area is restored to natural grade;

According to LDC Section 25-8-42(B)(7), an administrative variance can be granted by the director of the Watershed Protection Department to allow cut/fills to go to not more than 8’ in the desired development zone.  And then, according to LDC Section 25-8-42(D)(4), the variance can only be granted if the cut/fill is not located on a slope of gradient more than 15% or within 100’ of a classified waterway. Cut/fills on a site more than 8’ will require a hearing and approval by a public commission to be approved in the City of Austin.

Limiting cut and fills to these amounts serves the purpose of maintaining trees, vegetation and natural drainage patterns on a site.  It will also mean moving less earth around to prepare the development and  a decreased construction cost.

In a future post, we will discuss how cut and fill play into designing a balanced site and how these topics all combine to be some of the highest drivers of costs on a project.

Written by Brad Lingvai

Brad Lingvai

Mr. Lingvai is the Commercial Services Market Leader in the BIG RED DOG Austin office. He is also a co-founder of the firm and has been a leader on hundreds of central Texas projects since the founding of BIG RED DOG in 2009. Austin-area projects of note that have benefited from his expertise include Belterra, Waller Creek, the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport (“Mueller”) redevelopment project, and The Domain shopping center. He has extensive experience with design and coordination of water, wastewater, and drainage studies and systems, water quality and detention ponds, and conceptual layouts of gas, electric, and telecommunication lines. Mr. Lingvai received his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the The University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA) and is registered as a Professional Engineer in the State of Texas.