Project Portfolio: AquaVerde Residence

Excited to share finished pictures from our AquaVerde Residence overlooking Lake Austin!

Our Aqua Verde Residence Project transformed a traditional house into a modern, 21st century home. With past century finishes and an archaic configuration that stymied spatial interaction and expansive views, the house required a thorough rethinking. The principal maneuver established a transversal axis, creating communication amongst the three principal communal spaces of the house: living, dining and kitchen. This intervention also allowed for greater appreciation of the river below and hills beyond. Furthermore, private spaces were rearranged and updated to provide comfort, luxury and spatial efficiency. On the second floor a new ample game room added square footage to the existing house.

GC: Renovation by Glauser Building Company and Landscape and Exterior Spaces by Owner GC

AquaVerde Residence Portfolio Link


CRA’s Tarrytown Residence featured in the April / May Issue of Austin Home Design and Decor

Look for our Tarrytown Residence with Hudson Design Development and Rachel Horn Interiors in the April / May Issue of Austin Home Design and Décor Magazine.   Our Tarrytown Residence makes a great #farmhousemodern statement. We expand on the how we interpret the specific style and how it fits with our broader view of modern architectural design in the article. Spreads from the piece can be found on both our Instagram and Facebook accounts as well.


Understanding City of Austin’s Fee in Lieu Sidewalk Requirements

Designing how an urban home meets the street is an important part of what we do here at Clark Richardson Architects and a big part of that intersection is the choice to build or not to build a pedestrian sidewalk in front of your home.   In 2008, City of Austin passed an ordinance requiring that any new residential home, or expansion of a home over 50% of its existing square footage must be in compliance with the City’s sidewalk ordinance.  Per CoA, There are three avenues of compliance outlined below :  sidewalk construction, fee in-lieu, or a waiver (from the fee and construction).

1) If you’d like to build the sidewalk simply depict its location on your residential plan review and a DS, or driveway-sidewalk permit,  will be generated with the approved building permit.  The sidewalk should be 4’ wide, 2 feet off the property line within the right of way.  The person who does the work must be licensed and bonded to work in the City’s right-of-way.   The permit is issued at 3701 Lake Austin Blvd between the hours of 9 am and 1 pm.

2) If you do not wish to install a sidewalk, you may qualify to pay into the sidewalk fund if your site:

a)is on a block where less than 50% of the lots have a sidewalk, b)is in a subdivision that does include a sidewalk requirement, and c)does not contain more than two residential units.

The sidewalk fee is $7.50/sq ft of sidewalk (a 4′ walk minus the driveway).  Please note that the fund is used to install sidewalks within the neighborhood which the house is located, but not necessarily in front of the house itself. The funds will be used to implement the adopted neighborhood plan, the City Pedestrian Master Plan, and to make connections to places such as schools, parks, transit, and the like.  If the money is not used within ten years, it can be refunded to you at your request.

3) A third option, a sidewalk waiver, relieves a site from installation and the sidewalk fee. In order to qualify for a sidewalk waiver:

a) The site cannot be in an approved neighborhood plan where sidewalks have been identified for installation/upgrade.b) The street cannot rank high on the City’s Pedestrian Master Plan.c) The site must be 1/2 mile away from any pedestrian generating use: a church, bus route, bus stop, school (public or private), park, community center, non-residential uses.d) The site’s land use and density should not be conducive to pedestrian access.



Things to Consider when Looking for Land to Build On: Part III – Overlay Districts & Zoning

Building in Austin
City of Austin Skyline

This is the third installment in our series of blog posts about “Things to Consider when Looking for Land to Build On”  The first installment looked at site setbacks, the second installment focused on the City of Austin’s McMansion ordinance and FAR requirements, this final installment will touch on Overlay Districts and Zoning.

Part III: Overlay Districts and Zoning

In the broadest definition zoning is basically how the city designates what can be built on a lot. In an attempt to maintain a vision for how the city develops neighborhood by neighborhood the city of Austin has adopted a master plan.  The master plan guides development in a way that works best for the city as a whole.  While the master plan is not without its problems it ensures that our communities  maintain relationships and develop towards a shared vision. This may seem like a no-brainer but many city’s don’t have master plans. Folks in Houston have opted not to have a master plan which means you can build anything anywhere for the most part.  While this allows for the ultimate freedom in land ownership, it doesn’t really protect your investment either and you can end up having things like a 30 story tower in a single family residence neighborhood that in turn is separated from amenities that might have otherwise been in walking distance such as shopping and restaurants.

McMansion and Neighborhood boundaries
McMansion and Neighborhood Districts

The city has an interactive web viewer that has numerous zoning maps that can be viewed on their website here. This is a great place to start to make sure you can do what you think you can do on a lot. The “development web map” is probably the most useful for our purposes now. This interactive web map is loaded with information.  In order to discover what a lot is zoned you will need to zoom into the area and turn on the “Land Use” option in the menu.  This will give you an image that shows you all the designations.  This map will also give you the “Neighborhood Planning” areas.  These are the neighborhood overlay districts.  The first thing you will want to do is find out what the “Land Use” designation is and then find out what the neighborhood overlay is.  Most neighborhoods in the City of Austin have adopted their own plans that go into more detail and specificity based on unique conditions present in their area.  If adopted by the City these overlay districts will trump the city’s master plan. This is called a “Combining District”.

Building in AustinAs with most things it is helpful to have an example.  If you are building in Hyde Park and your lot is zoned SF-2 (Single Family-2) then you can build a residence on it and based on the City’s zoning requirements this area must follow the McMansion ordinance (discussed in the previous series post) however the Hyde Park area has an overlay combining district that has been adopted by the City.  These requirements will take precedence over the cities more general requirements.  A specific example would be as follows: The city of Austin Single Family Residential zoning has a 35′ height limit that your home can not exceed. If that property is in an area that has adopted the McMansion ordinance then the maximum building height is 32′. The Hyde Park District however has adopted a maximum height limit of 30′.  The Hyde Park District Neighborhood overlay would trump the city’s zoning and other overlays. (Is your head spinning yet? call us we do it all the time 🙂  These overlays are not necessarily always more strict  either.  For instance City Zoning for a Single Family lot requires that you have 5′ side yard setback however in the Hyde Park Neighborhood they allow you to extend into that set back with a 2′ overhang.  This extension is not permitted in other areas of the City.

Building in Hyde ParkTo summarize our series here is a quick list of things to keep in mind when considering to purchase land to build on:

  1. Look up the zoning and check to see if there is an active neighborhood plan
  2. Understand what setbacks apply to your property these can include zoning setbacks, utility setbacks and tree setbacks.
  3. Make sure you are permitted to build “as much house” as you need – check the impervious coverage requirements, FAR and other building size requirements determined by the size of your lot.
  4. When all else fails or you have questions give us a call!  We work with clients every day to make this process much easier to understand.  See more about working with an architect here.

Things to Consider when Looking for Land to Build On: Part I – Setbacks

Image by Austin Chamber of Commerce

Land hunting can be a daunting experience. There are myriads of considerations ranging from school districts, commute times, views to construction feasibility, codes, exposure and more. Purchasing a property is a huge investment and it is important that you understand what you can do with the land once you have entered into that contract. Every city and county have individual requirements, restrictions and codes – a licensed professional can help you look into the codes in your area, this entry looks at Austin, Texas and residential construction in particular.   The concepts can be quite complicated so we have decided to break this post up into a series with the following entries:  Part I – Setbacks, Part II – McMansion , FAR & Impervious Coverages, Part III – Overlay districts & Zoning. Licensed Architects can help you understand how to make your dream home plausible while navigating through this maze but hopefully these entries will help you understand what all is involved in a residential feasibility study for a lot purchase.  To see more about working with an architect see this post.

Part I: Setbacks

Most city jurisdictions have prescribed lot setbacks where construction is not permitted. In Austin the typical setbacks for a typical lot are 5′ from the side yard property lines, 10′ from the rear property line and roughly 25′ from the front. In Austin the front yard setback is actually determined by averaging the distance of 5 closest houses from the front property line, if none exist then 25′ is used. If the lot is a corner, fronting two streets the city requires a 15′ side yard setback from the side yard that fronts the street.  Typically, corner lots are larger anyway.

Photo by Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman

Another setback that is particular to Austin and can sneak up on people is due to a tree ordinance that is in place to protect old growth trees. While large trees can be considered an amenity for many reasons, if that beautiful tree is smack in the middle of the lot, it may make the lot very difficult to build on. Tree’s that are  “protected” are defined as a tree over 19″ in diameter measured at 4’6″ above ground. The setback limits what you can do within a foot of radius per inch of tree diameter.  Yes it is slightly confusing, let me break this down some with an example, if a tree is 24″ in diameter then the “Critical Root Zone” (CRZ) is 24′.  The CRZ is the area that must be protected during construction and more importantly the city will not permit you to excavate more than 4″ within 50% of this area (the 50%CRZ) for our 24″ diameter tree example this would mean that no excavation can take place within 12′ of the tree.  Pier and beam construction is generally the way to go when large trees are in the area and steel structure can help cantilever the structure over the CRZ if required.  In addition to the roots the city protects the canopy – the ordinance does not permit you to cut more than 30% of the tree’s canopy.  Any requests for an exception for a tree between the sizes of 24″-28″ can be handled with the city administratively.  If you need to request an exception involving a tree that is over 28″ in diameter the city requires that you partake in a public hearing.  See the city’s page for further information here.

Another setback to be aware of is a National Electric Code requirement. The NEC requires a 7′-6″ setback from electrical lines.  This is measured from the center of the pole and is a required setback nationally.  This only applies to overhead lines.

Please note that in Austin, there are overlay districts that have different setback requirements, the above setbacks are typical but are not the only setbacks in place currently.

See Part II – McMansion, FAR & Impervious Coverage requirements here.

See Part III – Zoning & Overlay Combining Districts