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:
- In an urban watershed;
- In a roadway right-of-way;
- For construction of a building foundation;
- 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.