What do you mean I’m over my F.A.R. limit? I only want to add a bedroom!

By Debra Blessman, C.P.B.D.

It doesn’t seem to matter what the exact question is but we hear so many similar when it comes to doing residential work within Austin city limits. In September of 2006 the original Subchapter F: Residential Design and Compatibility Standards went into effect. Since that time many issues have come up which have ignited the formation of a task force to reevaluate these standards. Through much hard work and dedication from industry professionals along with key people at the city there has been some revamping of those standards that has only recently been approved and passed.

Gosh isn’t that exciting! What does all that mean? And what’s a Subchapter F: Residential what ever? Maybe you would recognize it better by its other name the “McMansion Ordinance.” You know the one that keeps your neighbors from tearing down their house and building one that is twice as large, blocks your view and basically sticks out like a sore thumb in your neighborhood. The one that has everyone that’s doing residential construction work in the city, in uproar because they feel they can’t do anything the city will approve.

As I sat down to write this newsletter, my original thought was “Oh, this will be easy. A few pointers, a few definitions and….” Well that’s where I stopped. The McMansion Ordinance in the two years since its enforcement has continued to be a hotbed of issues and problems that continue to plague the construction industry in our wonderful city. It’s a sensitive issue and can’t be taken lightly. As design professionals in this industry we are required to keep up with current city codes and ordinances, deed restrictions, national codes, handicap codes and much more; all the things that govern how your house is designed and built.

Okay. So what’s that got to do with the me and McMansion and that whole FAR business? Good question. FAR stands for Floor to Area Ratio. That basically means that the amount of floor square footage you have built has to fall within a mandatory percent of the square footage of your property. Under the McMansion Ordinance that percentage happens to be 40. Oh but the total can’t be more than 2300 square foot and you have to figure all that area in very specific ways and you have to count the part of your garage that’s over 450 square feet of area. But then you don’t have to count porches on the lowest floor; well unless there’s habitable space above it and then you’re limited to 200 square feet of that porch that you don’t have to count. Oh, I almost forgot, that porch can’t connect to a driveway or be accessible by automobile either. Then of course you have to count the area of all your conditioned space and you may even have attic space that must be counted. And here’s a tricky one, any area in your home that has a ceiling height over 15 feet has to be counted twice. Pretty confusing right?

Another item you must work with is what’s considered the Buildable Area of your lot. Seems simple enough right? The buildable area is basically a 3-dimensional tent that is formed to the constraints of your lot and within the limitations of the McMansion ordinance. This “tent” is what your house has to fit inside. It can poke out of it a little but even that has very strict rules you must follow. Oh and least I forget; all this is in addition to already existing city code issues like the allowed building height and impervious coverage restrictions and any easements or flood zone issues you may have. It all seems pretty daunting doesn’t it?

Whether you have a remodel or a totally new construction project in the city of Austin this McMansion Ordinance might come into play. Like many government rules and regulations put in to place for our protection, it also has its problems and weaknesses. The above information is just a tiny sample of the rules involved in McMansion. If you have done any information searching on your own already, you may feel it’s impossible to get what you want. Don’t give up, call us! We’d be glad to take on the challenge with you and help you design the home you want that the city will also approve. If you’d like to do more searching on your own, check out this link at the city for the McMansion Ordinance. Subchapter F: – Residential Design and Compatibility Standards How to calculate floor square footage (gross floor area) is in article 3.3, how to figure buildable area is covered in article 2.

“So what do we do? We just need to add a bedroom, we don’t want the world.” First off, relax. You may or may not have to worry about what you want to do. Your first step is to contact a professional building designer such as Custom Design Sevices or contact your architect or even your builder. Talk with us about your project; we can help you answer some basic questions. The largest being if your property is even within the area governed by the ordinance. After that we simply dive into what has to be done to gain approval from the city, we design within those standards and move forward with your project. And we can even run it all the way through the permit process so all you have to do is go pick up your permit and start building!