Advocacy 101

"Low rent, cold beer and cheap pot may have built this town, but it takes a different formula to make it these days."  I read this quote in the Statesman this weekend and it really captured how so many people in the design and development community feel about Austin.  This is so true when it comes to designing a building, or more specifically, a house within the city limits of Austin.  We all strive to keep the spirit which makes Austin a special place to live in our designs; but the regulations have gotten so cumbersome over the past 10 years, that I hear our members saying enough is enough.  The days of walking into 505 Barton Springs and walking out with a permit are over.  No one will argue that our land development code is complicated and to mix that with the Building Code makes for a serious headache.  Impervious cover, floor-to-area ratios, building heights, setback planes, sidewall articulation, floodplain, energy code, unified development agreements, neighborhood plan, infill options, national register historic districs - just to name a few.  It can be too daunting a task for some architects, especially those who don't specialize in residential design.

AIA Austin Past President Steve Oliver created the Advocacy Committee five years ago to alleviate the pressure of our Architect members by having an experience group appointed by the President to keep up with the constant changes in the regulatory process and to give a unified AIA voice to our elected officials and staff. As design professionals, it is our duty to fully understand the regulations under which we practice. Not understanding the code is not an option - but we all need an intimate knowledge so we can design for excellence not just for compliance.

Below is an update on the current items we on the Advocacy committee are working on as it relates to Residential:

1. Building Permit Delays 

The process time for a residential building permit has increased dramatically over the summer months. Much of this is due to the significant increase in residential applications.  It is compounded by the loss of three key staff members. In June, the City Council passed a resolution to allow the Planning and Development Review Department to hire 14 new positions to deal with the backlog in both residential and commercial review. On a regular periodic basis we are reviewing this hiring directive with the staff and we know that they are working diligently to post these positions and hire qualified staff. The delays will ultimately be remedied but patience is key. Many members have expressed concern that is could take up to 90 days to receive a permit after submittal. Here are a few tips to make this process smoother: 

A. Visit the Advocacy page at and make sure your understanding of the code is current. The City's website can be cumbersome so we have collected the pertinent information and put it in one spot. There are many changes that occur during a year and the Advocacy Committee does its best to make sure this information is correct and available. With your login, you can subscribe to the RSS feed so when the page is updated you will be notified. If you see a key component missing - let us know so we can add it to the page.

B. Consult the City Staff if you have a project that has special conditions or is complex. Staff has the ability to lead you in the right direction to a particular section of the code and walk you through the process which often can be time-consuming. Don't assume - you know the adage about assuming....

C. Carefully review your submittal exhibits to make sure all of the items are clearly labeled and relate back to the application. Use the sample exhibits that the City provides to check your work. Submit the project yourself – do not hand it off to the builder. Someone who doesn't understand the process can’t successfully create the items needed for submittal. This careful document package is a professional service that you provide to your clients. It should not go uncompensated.

2. Residential Building Permit Application (Q3 rules posting) 

Much of this application content is administrative, intended to make the application more user friendly following the major overhaul that was done last year.   But a major change will be that foundation and framing plans will be required at the time of submission. The Advocacy Committee is working diligently with staff and the other major stakeholders to vet this addition to make it effective and fulfill its intended purpose.

3. Subchapter F "streamline"

The Advocacy Committee has postponed this endeavor due to lack of support at the Codes & Ordinances subcommittee of the Planning Commission. AIA and City staff worked collaboratively during the first quarter of this year and presented the suggested edits during the May meeting. The position statement and text are available on the advocacy page. It is our plan to restart this process later this Fall after consulting with key city officials and our membership.

4. 2012 International Residential Code Adoption (ordinance)

The City is close to posting the proposed local ordinance changes and we will review at the Advocacy Committee to make sure that our AIA membership's concerns are heard by the Building Official. As soon as this information is available to the public, we will post this to the Advocacy page.

In closing, if you have an issue or know of a particular item that should be brought to the Advocacy Committee - please do not hesitate to contact me.

Stuart Sampley, AIA

Liaison to the City of Austin

Austin Chapter of the American Institute of Architects