Zilker Zoning: Lot Restrictions

Saw this post about a permit to tear down a lovely house at 908 Josephine. According to Redfin it’s on an “oversized” “7,514 square foot” lot.

This is a good example of even with the recently passed ordinances allowing for more units on smaller lots you still face unreasonable constraints due to the existing structures and the street front access. Therefore the only feasible thing given the restrictions is likely to remove the existing structure. Allowing for more unrestricted housing you could potentially put multiple matching smaller units preserving the look of these unique houses while also providing more housing in an area of the neighborhood right by Lamar Union.

I am so sad and upset about this news! We live on Jessie Street behind the house on Josephine. It’s a lovely stone house with a mini pecan tree grove in the backyard.
Is it too late to protest this decision?
It’s been sitting empty for quite sometime. But has so much potential! There are only a limited number of these original stone houses left in Austin. Our history is being destroyed!
Please let me know if there is anything we can do to protect this lovely home and garden.
Thank you, Mary Bailey
909 Jessie St, Austin, TX 78704

This house is larger than it looks in the photo if the TCAD map in the attachment is reasonably accurate. (parcel 103271 with detached garage). I’m not opposed to zoning that would allow more to be done with this lot. I am opposed to the current zoning proposal (not yet passed) that would allow this lot to be subdivided into three 2500 sf lots with six dwelling units on each, for a total of 18 dwelling units with no parking except on the street.


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Every house over 50 years old gets a public hearing at the Historic landmark Commission before demolition. The hearing for 908 Josephine is on Sept 6 at 6 pm at City Hall. (You should have received notice from the City by mail.) Attached are the forms and info you should have received.


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@dpiper8866 Thanks so much for sharing your insights about development in the neighborhood, as well as your perspectives on issues related to Austin’s code. We live a few houses down on Josephine St., and that house has been empty for a while. There is plenty of room for street parking on Josephine - including if they were to add multiple units to that lot (which they probably won’t - it will likely be another McMansion). Most people in this part of Zilker are well accustomed to walking in the street, so additional parked cars won’t make much of a difference. Perhaps getting the city to install speed humps on streets like Josephine or Jessie would be a good way to improve pedestrian safety.

As a person who has redone many 30’s and 40’s houses. I have a unique perspective with them. I hate the material waste of demo and the loss of their presences on the street and the history that goes with it. Beyond that, they are storage buildings that take immense effort to rehab. After everyone I have redone, I realize I could have torn it down and rebuilt it just like it was cheaper and easier. You have to dissect them to expose and replace termite chewed and rotten wood. Which is usually pretty extensive. They truly are like storage buildings. No insulation in the walls, but lots of mice, salamander, and roach poop in place of it. Along with rodent chewed wires and galvanized pipes that would truly disgust you if you saw the inside. They are typically pier and beam foundations that allow the outside air to flow underneath just like outside walls. They have very cold floors during the winter and hot during the summer. People/contractors here haven’t learned about conditioned crawl spaces. They don’t understand them and think it can’t be done. A modern house can easily double the size and use half the energy, (BTW I am not promoting building big) Build what you require, but thats another topic.

By the time someone redoes these old structures it’s the same materials as a new one of the same size. It’s that, or they are drafty energy hogs with lipstick on them. The carbon footprint of materials could be a different topic as well.

Knowing all this I am still sad when I see one torn down.

In the interest of not spreading unnecessary outrage, it is worth nothing that the street front access and set back restrictions on such a lot would not allow for anywhere near 18 dwelling units even with the smaller lot size. I assume this is the ordinance you are referring to.

Yes, that is the proposed ordinance as it’s described in the resolution which passed 9-2 at Council. It’s true that setbacks cannot be built upon. However, for purposes of calculating the number of dwelling units on a lot, setbacks are not considered. 908 Josephine is 7514 square feet. If that resolution is passed as an ordinance, the land could be divided into 3 lots of at least 2500 sf and 6 dwelling units could be built on each of those lots, but they couldn’t be built within 25’ of the street easement, 5’ from the side property line ,and 10’ from the rear property line.

According to the TCAD map and scale, I roughly calculated that lot to be 125’x60’. Accounting for the setback area, that leaves 90’x50’ of buildable area on each floor of 3 floors allowed if the builder explodes the top floor roof outward into shed dormers or other configuration, which is not unusual. That makes a total buildable area of 13,500 sf. Divide that by 18 units for an average of 750 sf per unit.
(Driveways and onsite parking will no longer be required if the sister resolution to the one we are discussing is also passed as an zoning ordinance. Also I believe it’s a solid bet that setbacks will be reduced in the front and back sooner than later.

Dave Piper

Gonna be pedantic cause its how I be.

The ordinance asks staff to propose new rules that would allow for 3 units per lot, a minimum lot size of 2500, and adjust setbacks, height, impervious cover, etc. as needed to make it possible. Those are in effect, changes to a small number of existing rules in isolation of the many many others that continue to exist. Like the ones that require all legal lots to have access from a road. Or the ones that require adequate utility service before you can build, cause we aren’t about to allow wells and septic.

You are an intelligent guy, so why so eager to act dumb when it suits you?

If I have a 50 ft wide lot that was 5700 square feet, you can’t actually believe that somehow this would be split into 3 16 ft wide lots, which would allow for 10 ft of construction per lot with reduced setbacks. Maybe 2 lots with 20 ft of construction, but even then getting to the front door of all 3 units would be pretty weird, no?

I mean, the rules that the structures have to be fully self-contained within a lot will stand. The rules that you must be able to access a lot without trespassing through someone else’s property will absolutely stand. Your typical interior SF-3 lot can’t reasonably be split into 3. Now, take 3 current SF-3 lots, build a road down the middle, and make a bunch of townhomes or cottages, sure! Split a corner lot into 2 or 3. Your assertion stated in seriousness is just silly. Nobody would buy those houses and those evil profiteering builders are probably smart enough to know it, and you know that.

Is it at all conceivable that 2500 sq foot lots will probably actually only exist in a completely new development where the starting point was empty space the size of acres with new plats and new roads designed with 2500 sq foot lots in mind? If that were the case, would you still feel so strongly? The fun thing is, we don’t actually know what the case is since the details aren’t out.

A person approaching this in good faith might wait. Might voice concerns and preferences. They probably would not draw absolute conclusions though.

Then there are the people who approach this in bad faith. The ones who will put some message with alliteration that may as well say “Small lots kill babies” on signs and get all the other people who can’t or won’t talk about the issue honestly to raise their pitchforks and torches. And after it passes anyway, because it is in fact what Austin voted for, they will probably sue because they will claim nobody told them it was coming. That’s the playbook, right?

Sorry guys, but 18 units would create chaos in that area and for the entire block. I am all about density along a Vertical Mixed use corridor. Even if you said you can’t own a car, 18 units wouldn’t be feasible on a 7500 sqft lot unless you went 6 stories. You have to think about stairwells, fire egress and common areas. 4 to 6 units would be much more like it and that would require 4 stories for parking under the structure.

That part of the neighborhood is the most ripe for density and may come to look like West campus someday. Anybody been through West campus recently? Having lived there for several years, It is unrecognizable. I couldn’t even tell I was on the street I lived on until I saw the street sign.

With our political environment accomplishing this would be impossible without some sort of emanate domain. That’s not going to happen. A stalemate it is.

I’m saying that the recent resolutions as written and passed 9-2 by Council would allow an apartment building as I described on a 7500 sf SF-3 lot.


Are you suggesting these are literally the entirety of the rules that would apply? There would not be frontage requirements anymore? There wouldn’t be requirements for utilities? There wouldn’t be requirements for adequate ingress and egress?

The resolutions as written didn’t seem to mention any of those rules. Are you suggesting they would no longer apply or that they never existed?

All of this ignores the fact that a private builder probably wouldn’t build somethtng they did not believe they could sell. Would builders all of a sudden turn very very stupid?

One of those resolutions that was passed by council eliminates all minimum parking requirements in the city except for special circumstances such as handicapped. The comparison that was made to West Campus is pertinent.

Dave Piper

I’m saying that the recent resolutions as written and passed 9-2 by Council would allow an apartment building as I described on a 7500 sf SF-3 lot.


And once again, sorry to be pedantic, but I am.

If the 7500 sq ft lot was split into 3 lots, each lot would have it’s own 3 plex with it’s own setbacks. It could not possibly be a singular structure. So 3 lots, each with 3 homes, potentially in 1, 2, or 3 buildings per lot.

Definitely not a single building with 9 units and definitely not 18 units.

And I have no idea where you got 18 units from because you would need 15k sq ft loot to get 18 units, you know, cause math. (15,000/2500 = 6 sublots. 6 sublots * 3 units per sublot = 18 units).

Where did you come up with 6 dwelling units per lot. Nobody said that. If you want to make stuff up, why not 100, thats a bigger and just as irrelevant number.

And all of this ONLY works if theres no trees, since tree ordinance would still exist. And once again utility rules apply, ingress/egress/frontage rules apply. I mean sure, I could throw up random numbers on a white board and draw charts like alex jones does, but what the hell does that have to do with reality?

It’s the ZNA way. Make up something that sounds super scary and start circulating it everywhere you can. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or even possible. Then everyone puts a sign in their yard saying “NO TO 18 DWELLINGS! KEEP OUR NEIGHBORHOOD CHARACTER!”. Then Dave takes it to the City Council and says - see everyone is against this!

Rinse. Repeat.

Good questions. The entirety of the final rules will be a result of the City Manager’s and his staff’s input, public input, and the court’s final ruling once an ordinance is passed on first reading. My understanding is that frontage requirements wouldn’t apply or would be greatly reduced to accommodate 2500 sf lots. No need for vehicle access/egress if parking is not required. Utilities would be like other apartment buildings have. True that builders would not build something that would not sell, or more precisely, they will build what the market demands. Right now that’s McMansions, generally speaking. Zoning can restrict market demand, though.

Dave Piper

Can you elaborate on this statement? I don’t really understand it.

Modifying this message to not spam, but more questions.

Ingress/egress applies to people getting to their homes as well. Rules say that a person must be able to walk to their front door without trespassing through someone else’s properties, so frontage would be required to do so. From a marketability standpoint, it should also allow for someone to move furniture and appliances in and out, ideally without a crane. So practically speaking, you need more than a door and narrow stairwell for this to work.

In terms of utilities, much like ingress/egress, they must be able to get to the unit WITHOUT going through someone else’s property. Once again, frontage is required. In an apartment complex, all building are in the same lot, so this is easy to do. But if subdividing a 50 foot wide lot 3 ways, how exactly do I get lot shapes that allow for houses anybody would ever want while allowing for frontage to structures on 3 seperate lots that allowed for somebody to move in a couch, get their utilities, and have a house that didn’t feel like an attraction at a carnival?

And this all goes back to the weird idea that these are going to be like apartment complexes when they will in fact be literally “small lots that support up to 3 housing units per lot”.

Dave, you’re suggesting – wildly inaccurately – that eliminating parking requirements would either allow 18-unit structures on infill lots, or would leave Zilker looking like West Campus. While this clearly isn’t as extreme an example, you’re at least within spitting range of Mary Ingle’s claims (back when she was still head of ANC) that Austin would “look like Calcutta” if we revamped the LDC, though at least your suggestion isn’t openly racist.

When Mary made that remark, it had been 20 years since “Calcutta” – an Indian city name invented by British imperialists – was replaced with “Kolkata” in 2001, long after Britain gave up control of India and the South Asia subcontinent. Nonetheless, Mary insisted – even after being confronted by a KUT reporter who happened to be of South Asian descent – that she’d been to “Calcutta” (recently) and knew what it was like. Generally speaking, doubling down on racist BS is a poor idea, but I’m sure this had nothing to do with her being forced to give up the ANC presidency seat she’d held for five years! (and hasn’t held since)

In both your case & Mary’s, however, you’re using boogeyman arguments as if they have a basis in reality. They do not.

West Campus has CBD zoning, the same as downtown – which you know full well, and also why it was rezoned, but you nonetheless insist on using this bullshit scare tactic to suggest that Zilker will somehow end up with the same type of 30-story towers now seen there. Literally no one is suggesting anything of the sort, and arguing otherwise is just plain silly. Yes, I get that this all plays into the macro suggestion that “evil developers” want to “bulldoze every Central Austin neighborhood and replace them with 100% impervious cover condos,” which is roughly as truthful as a certain former president’s claims that the Jan. 6 protesters were “peace-loving Christians.” In both cases you’ll always have your “true believers,” but at what cost to society?

In any event, eliminating parking mandates isn’t at all the same thing as allowing multifamily development on SF-3 lots, nor should it be confused with eliminating all parking, period, on or near infill properties, which no one’s suggesting.

While I know NIMBYs hate it, eliminating parking requirements (aside from disabled spots) is an all-around good thing. We, as a city, state and nation, need to drastically reduce automobile usage in the coming decades, and I admittedly find it interesting that there’s some sort of willful blindness to the fact that Zilker already has most of its street parking in use most of the time. Reducing parking availability may also reduce housing demand to some degree, and I certainly hope we can all at least agree that that would be a good thing!

P.S. What’s been omitted from the West Campus analogy: it used to have the highest rents in town, aside from lakefront palaces & the like – and also almost zero street parking, day or night. (I didn’t go to UT, but I moved to West Campus for a year after undergrad.) The area’s student population was almost uniformly white and affluent – myself excluded, since all I could afford at the time was an apartment in an older house that was divided up into a fourplex – but nowadays it’s actually priced within reach of non-affluent students. And despite the truly HUGE number of new apartment / condo / dorm towers, I can’t recall hearing even a single complaint about parking! Imagine that!

Just to be clear, I don’t think anyone here is saying that 18 units would be a good idea on that lot. I think the difference of opinion is with the proposed zoning changes would it be possible given the other restrictions that @isaac outlined in much greater detail than I could.

Overall though, it gets to the point that “they’re coming to build 18 units on a 7500 sqft lot!” is a lot easier to message and cause uproar and fear than the nuanced reality.

And I agree with you @brentcooke on the sentiment around that house. Financially it is understandable, but also a sad shame to lose it. My original point is there have been some zoning adjustments - like allowing an ADU in the front (though I don’t think it makes sense in this case) - that could also allow for more housing while preserving these nice structures.

To be clear Dave was primarily referring to this: https://services.austintexas.gov/edims/document.cfm?id=411485 the removal of parking was another thing.