Land Use Glossary

a b c d e f g h i l m n o p r s t u v w z j k q x y
  • Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) -

    an additional housing unit on a property.  It might be a separate small house, an apartment over a garage, etc.

    Often called a "garage unit", "granny flat", "in-law apartment".

  • Affordable Housing -

    Housing that costs no more than 30 percent of a household’s monthly income, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

    Often used to refer to housing that is affordable for Austinites with Median Family Income or less.

  • Attached -

    sharing a wall, covered porch, or covered passageway.

  • Brownfield -

    previously developed land that is not in use.  NOTE: This is DIFFERENT from the colloquial definition, which implies that it was commercial/industrial land and either has or is suspected of having pollution.

  • Building Code -

    The local laws and regulations that cover what kinds of buildings can be built on land and (often) the uses of those buildings.  The reasons for the laws are safety, public health, navigation/transportation, and looks.

  • Building Cover ("Building Coverage") -

    the land or amount of land covered by a building and its roof.  See "impervious cover".

  • Carriage House -

     a housing unit over a garage.  See "granny flat" and "ADU".

  • Commercial -

    a zone for stores and offices

  • Compatibility -

    laws or regulations for saying which buildings can be near other buildings. 

    For example, a residential zone might allow apartment complexes, but not allow a very tall building among shorter ones.

  • Condominium -

     a building with multiple housing units, where units are owned.  (As compared to an apartment building, where units are rented.)

    It may refer to a single housing unit in such a building.

  • Conveyance -

     moving water downstream or a structure to carry water downstream.  If there is an excess of rainwater, one approach to prevent flooding is to carry that water out of the area.  See “retention”. 

  • Corridor -

    a large street or thoroughfare like Lamar and Guadalupe. Corridors will often be zoned for higher density housing like tall apartments.

  • Cottage Court -

    small houses surrounding a garden.  Also called a "bungalow court".

  • Curb Cut -

    a ramp that leads from the sidewalk to the street.  Curb cuts are often at corners, so that someone in a wheelchair can cross the road.

  • Easement -

    a way to split rights to a piece of property, or the part of the property whose rights are split. For example, a utility easement on your property can give the City the legal right to run utility lines through it and access those lines for maintenance.  If two properties share a driveway, there may be a right-of-way easement to let one owner drive on the other’s land.  

  • Encroachment -

    any architectural feature, structure or structural element, such as a gallery, fence, garden wall, porch, stoop, balcony, bay window, terrace or deck, that encroaches into a required setback, or beyond the public frontage, or above a height limit. 

    See "setback"

  • Entitlement -

    the ability to do something with your land (without a variance or waiver). 

    Especially, something you were unable to do in a previous version of the land use code.  For example, the ability to build a duplex could be an entitlement, the ability to build 2 floors, etc.

  • FAR -

    floor to area ratio

  • Floor-to-Area Ratio
  • Footprint -

    the ground covered by a structure.   See “building cover”.

  • Form-based -

    This is a newer style of building code (laws, not regulations) that restricts a buildings shape and how it interacts with streets, other buildings, etc..  Unlike use-based, it does not restrict the uses of buildings to be only residential or only commercial. (But it could have noise restrictions, traffic restrictions, etc. that might restrict some commercial usage, but not, say, a psychologist's office.)

  • Formal design -

    a style of design for parks and open spaces

  • Fourplex -

     a building with 4 housing units. 

    (Like a duplex, but with 4 instead of 2.)

  • Grade -

    The slope of the land.

  • Greenfield -

    Vacant land that has never been developed.

  • Impervious Cover -

    land which cannot absorb rainwater, because something waterproof is on top of it.  E.g., streets, houses, etc.

    For example, a concrete driveway is impervious cover, but a gravel driveway is not, because rainwater can pass through it and be absorbed by the earth underneath it.  Impervious cover usually results in less greenery, more gutters/sewers, and possibly more flash floods.

  • Industrial Zone -

    a zone for factories, warehouses, etc.

  • Infrastructure -

    roads, water lines, sewer lines, electric connections, fire stations, airports, etc. for connecting and supporting a building as part of the city.

  • LDC -

    "Land Development Code"

  • Lot -

    a piece of land.  Specifically, the smallest division of land that is tracked by the government.

  • Market-Rate Housing -

    housing going at market price.  Not subsidized nor reduced price by government intervention.

  • Missing Middle -

    Any building between a single-family house and a large apartment building.  The term can include a house with an ADU, duplexes/triplexes/fourplexes/..., row homes, cottage courts, small apartment buildings (10 or fewer units) and other variations. 

    Often used as a way to increase density in an area where lots were meant for single-family homes.

  • Mixed-Income Housing -

    housing that is a mix of market-rate housing and "affordable housing" (subsidized or reduced price by government intervention).

  • Mixed-use -

    a zone that can be residential and commercial (although usually not industrial). 

    It could mean a neighborhood with a daycare or corner coffeeshop or it could be tall buildings with stores on the first floor and apartments above them.

  • MUD -

    An acronym for Mixed-Use Development. See "mixed use".

  • Multi-modal Transportation -

    a cumbersome phrase for something in addition to (or beside) cars: walking, biking, scooters, etc.

  • Multiplex -

    not a movie theater, but housing for more than one family.  Duplex, triplex, four-plex, up to n-plex.

  • Naturalistic Design -

    a style of design for parks and open spaces

  • New Urbanism -

    a planning and development approach based on the principles of how cities and towns had been built for the last several centuries: walkable blocks and streets, housing and shopping in close proximity, and accessible public spaces

  • Nonconforming Use -

    when property is being used for something other than what it is zoned for.  E.g., someone running a business out of their home, which is in a residential zone.  See "variance" and "waiver".

  • Overlay Zones -

    zones intended to ensure that proposed development is compatible with existing and future development within unique parts of the city that have a particular character or open space considerations. Overlay zones included: Historic Landmark, Historic Area, Lake Austin, University Neighborhood Overlay, Waterfront Overlay, Neighborhood Conservation Combining Districts.  [Direct quote from CodeNext Draft 2 Preview]

  • Parcel -

    piece of property or lot.

  • Plat or Plat Map -

    A map of specific land showing the location and boundaries of individual parcels of land subdivided into lots, with streets, alleys and easements drawn to scale. “Plat” is synonymous with “Final Plat”.

  • Public Realm -

    the shared part of cities, such as roads, sidewalks, parks, plazas, waterfronts, etc.. 

  • PUD -

    planned unit development -  a type of building development and also a regulatory process. As a building development, it is a designed grouping of both varied and compatible land uses, such as housing, recreation, commercial centers, and industrial parks, all within one contained development or subdivision. Examples are Mueller and Domain.

  • Residential -

    a zone for housing.

  • Retention -

    keeping excess rainwater on-site in ponds, cisterns, rain barrels, etc..  It is one way to prevent flooding of buildings. See “conveyance”.

  • Right-of-Way -

    Land dedicated or reserved for streets, utilities, or other public facilities.

  • Rowhouse -

    any of a row of houses joined by common sidewalls.

  • Scale -

    the size and proportions of a building.  "Compatibility" might not allow two buildings of a drastically different scale to be built next to each other.

  • Setback -

    the area inside a lot and adjacent to its border that must not have a building nor be covered (e.g., by the roof's eaves).  See "setback depth".

  • Setback Depth -

    the minimum allowed distance from a lot's border to a building or its cover.  For example, a building might have to have a setback depth of 25 feet from the street and a setback depth of 10 feet from neighboring lots.  

  • Setback Line -

     a line parallel to the lot's border, at a distance equal to the setback depth

  • Shade -

    acting in a casual or disrespectful manner towards someone.  Especially, "throwing shade". [Direct quote from Urban Dictionary]

  • Short-term Rental -

    A residence which can be rented out for less than 30 days (like a hotel or AirBnB)

  • Sidewalk -

    something Austin is missing 2,000 miles of.

  • Single-Family Home -

     a house intended for a single household.  IE one unit per lot.

    Historically, they made up most of the residences of Austin.

  • Stepback -

    Setbacks that only apply above a certain height. Often requires upper floors to be set further back from a street, waterway, or other feature than lower floors

  • Stormwater -

    water from rain.  Usually in reference to sewers and other infrastructure for controlling and directing it.

  • Top plate -

    In land use code, it is the height from the ground of the base of the roof. (In construction, the "top plate" is a board on the top of walls, that the roof is attached to.)

  • Townhouse -

    a multi-story housing unit that shares walls with other units. 

  • Transition Zone -

    the area between a corridor and the neighborhood core. Transition zones are often zoned for missing middle housing.

  • Transitshed -

    The area conveniently served by a public transportation system. For example, the area within a 10 minute walk of any station.

  • Triplex -

    a building with 3 housing units.  (Like a duplex, except split 3 ways.)

  • Unit (housing) -

    a universal term for an apartment, condo, one side of a duplex, house, etc meant to be purchased or rented by itself.

    Roughly the number of front doors on a lot or building.

  • Urbanist -

    an advocate or expert in city planning.  Can imply a "new urbanist", which is an advocate of "new urbanism".

  • Use-Based -

    This is a building code (laws, not regulation) that restricts uses of buildings. Often residential (homes) and commercial (stores) are in separate zones.  This has been the usual style of building code, until recently. (See "form-based")

  • Variance -

    a sanctioned exception to the housing code, granted by board or commission.  Someone with nonconforming use can apply for a variance or waiver to make it legal.

  • Waiver -

    a sanctioned exception to the housing code, granted by the director.  Someone with nonconforming use can apply for a variance or waiver to make it legal.

  • Walkshed -

    The land area within a defined walking range of a specified location. For example, the walkshed for a bus stop might be all lots within a 1/2 mile distance, as measured by walking on the sidewalk.

  • Watershed -

    for a given stream, (or river, or any body of water), its watershed is all the land where rainwater will eventually flow into that stream (or river or body of water).  Expert usage: "If Waller Creek watershed has a lot of impervious cover, we should expect flash floods."

  • Zone -

    an area of land covered by particular building rules.  Common zones are residential, commercial, and industrial. 

    Others include governmental, parks, and conservation.