What Types of Land Development Require a Travis County Permit or Plan Approval?

Most minor and major man-made changes to land require a Travis County Basic Development Permit. This includes changes to improved and unimproved real estate and changes in use to real estate.

Man-made changes to land include:

  • Construction of a building
  • Construction of other structures like out buildings, garages, driveways, a dam, or home addition.
  • Activities that disturb the land surface such as clearing trees and brush, mining, dredging, filling, excavating, grading, paving, drilling operations, and surfacing
  • The storage of equipment or materials.

Proposals to subdivide land for residential or non-residential purposes and plans to construct a subdivision also require Travis County approval.

In What Geographical Areas of Travis County is a development authorization required?

A Travis County Basic Development Permit is required for land development in any part of Travis County not within the corporate boundaries of a municipality.

A Travis County Basic Development Permit is required for land development in any part of Travis County within the Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) of a municipality. In an ETJ, the person developing the land should also check with the municipality to determine if additional permits are also required from the municipality for development in an ETJ.

In most ETJs, Travis County and the municipality have established agreements to address how the two jurisdictions work together to review and approve of subdivision proposals.

I have determined that what I propose falls under the development permit requirements. How do I obtain the necessary permit?

An application for permit must be submitted on-line through the MyPermitNow portal. The applicant is required to create a Customer Account. All information, application fee, and details regarding your development proposal must be uploaded on line through the portal. Once your application is in the system, it will be routed to the appropriate staff reviewers. If there are questions, comments, or deficiencies in the materials submitted, the applicant will be informed through the customer account on MyPermitNow.

Who in Travis County reviews the application for a Development Permit?

Nearly all review occurs within the Transportation and Natural Resources Department (TNR). The main clearinghouse for review falls within the Development Review Division. This division receives the applications and fees, ultimately approves or denies the applications, and performs most of the administrative and technical review of the submitted application.

Also within TNR, the Environmental Quality Program (EQP) staff is responsible for certain specialized environmental review of the submitted application. EQP conducts a technical review to ensure the development meets all storm water management requirements. The environmental review also determines if a proposed solid waste management activity is consistent with the Travis County solid waste facility siting ordinance.

Are all applications associated with development in Travis County subject to environmental review?

No, some minor development activities do not require an environmental review. Broadly speaking, the more insignificant the development proposal is, the less extensive the submittal information and environmental review are.

Thresholds above which EQP environmental review occurs of a development proposal include:

  • A proposal to add 10,000 square feet or more of new impervious cover
  • Development along or within a County Right-of-Way
  • Development on a site that will disturb one acre or more of land
  • A common plan of development that cumulatively will disturb one acre or more of land
  • A proposal to construct or operate a solid waste management facility

City of Austin ETJ Subdivision Proposals, such as preliminary plans, final plats, and subdivision construction plans, are not subject to EQP’s environmental review. In these matters, a Travis County/City of Austin agreement establishes that the City of Austin conduct the environmental review.

Construction plans for Non-Residential Site Developments within the City of Austin ETJ are subject to an environmental review, but in many cases this review has been streamlined and abbreviated to avoid duplication of effort with the City of Austin review of the same proposed development plan. Less than a full review can be carried out by County environmental reviewers when it is verified the proposal has also been submitted to the City of Austin. Travis County and the City of Austin have adopted substantially similar standards regarding storm water construction, environmental setbacks from waterways, and permanent water quality controls.

Does environmental review differ dependent on the type of development proposal? Can you more thoroughly describe what application materials should be submitted for various project types?

Most development proposals are categorized by type of project and the type determines the scope of environmental review and requirements. Click on the category of interest to you below to see the requirements:

  • Residential Development on one lot
  • Non-Residential Site Development
  • Placement of Fill Material (on a residential lot or on a non-residential site)
  • Utility Placement and Right-of-Way Construction (considered special types of non-residential development)
  • Subdivision Preliminary Plan
  • Subdivision Final Plat
  • Subdivision Construction Plan
  • Solid Waste Management Facility (considered a special type of non-residential development)

Are there web links to the legal requirements and guidelines which Travis County uses in its environmental review?

In Chapter 82, Travis County Code, an applicant can find most of the storm water management requirements in the Definitions (Section 82.002) and in Subchapters H through L (Sections 82.910 – 82.991).

In Chapter 62, Travis County Code, an applicant can find the requirements for siting of a solid waste management facility.

You can access these chapters of the Travis County Code here: https://www.traviscountytx.gov/tnr/links.asp

Travis County has also adopted by reference certain technical guidelines already established locally that are of importance in the proper design of storm water management systems.

For proposals in the eastern portions of Travis County and anywhere within the City of Austin ETJ, refer to the City of Austin Environmental Criteria Manual (ECM) which can be accessed here: http://austintech.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll/Texas/environ/cityofaustintexasenvironmentalcriteriama?f=templates$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:austin_environment$anc=.

For proposals in the western portions of Travis County outside of the City of Austin ETJ, refer to the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) Highland Lakes Watershed Ordinance Water Quality Management Technical Manual which can be accessed here: http://www.lcra.org/library/media/public/docs/water/quality/watershed_TechnicalManual.pdf.

Travis County has adopted tree protection requirements applicable in all portions of Travis County. Please refer to Section 82.973, Travis County Code, as well as the City of Austin ECM which can be accessed here: http://austintech.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll/Texas/environ/cityofaustintexasenvironmentalcriteriama?f=templates$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:austin_environment$anc.

Environmental Review of Residential Development Proposed on One Lot

A common proposal is to build a home and associated structures on a legal lot. Travis County environmental review focuses on how the proposal prevents polluted storm water runoff from the site disturbance associated with the construction phase. In some significant projects, permanent measures to treat storm water runoff are required. For these proposals, the applicant must submit some basic information including:

  • A narrative description of the proposal to verify the development is a single-family or duplex residence and not a proposed commercial operation.
  • The amount of land, calculated in square feet, to be disturbed as a result of the proposed construction.
    • If the construction will disturb 1 acre or greater, a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWP3) Summary must be submitted
    • If the construction is part of a Common Plan of Development or Sale, a SWP3 Summary must be submitted
  • An Erosion and Sediment Control (ESC) and Best Management Practice (BMP) Plan must supplement the SWP3 Summary in a few instances. The ESC & BMP Plan allows Travis County to be assured that certain construction in sensitive areas includes appropriate plans to address storm water runoff when:
    • Construction includes land excavation (cut) or fill placement in excess of four feet
    • Land disturbance will occur on a slope of 10% or greater
    • Land disturbance will occur closer than 50 feet from a waterway
    • Land disturbance will occur closer than 100 feet from a critical environmental feature
    • The project includes access and appurtenances to a boat dock, pier, wharf, or marina along Lake Travis or the Colorado River downstream of Lady Bird Lake
  • The amount of land, calculated in square feet, on which new impervious surfaces will be placed. This includes roofs, concrete driveways and patios, and other improved surfaces.
    • If more than 10,000 square feet of added impervious cover is planned, and the residential lot is not a part of a subdivision, the application must include a proposal for permanent water quality control and the maintenance plan for the permanent control.
    • County Code specifies the water quality treatment volume and the alternative BMPs that can be used, based upon location in either a western watershed or eastern watershed (See Section 82.944 and the applicable technical guidelines for more detail)
  • Identify any plat notes associated with a lot proposal in a subdivision that restrict use of the land
  • If the proposal is associated with a non-subdivided parcel, the proposal must show the setbacks and distances of disturbed land from waterways and critical environmental features
  • Setbacks must be shown as protective, platted easements

Environmental Review of Fill Material Placement Proposals

Requests to develop land in Travis County often include proposals to place fill material onto land. Placement of fill is associated with residential lot development, subdivision proposals, construction of roadway, and development associated with commercial operations. Any proposal to place fill onto 10,000 square feet of land or more requires Travis County’s environmental review. Cut or fill placement proposals must adhere to the following requirements and standards:

  • The fill must be associated with a specific development project and purpose
  • The specific mass of fill and ending dimensions and elevations must be specified
  • The source and quality of the fill material cannot be contaminated with foreign material or toxic or biodegradable pollutants
  • The fill will not be placed within or adjacent to a waterway or cover a critical environmental feature
  • Fill on land on a significant slope must incorporate appropriate BMPs to prevent erosion
  • A plan sets out methods for controlling erosion and containing the fill during the construction phase of the project
  • A plan sets out the methods and sequence to stabilize the fill and vegetate its surface and slopes
  • For a non-residential project, an engineer’s cost estimate must specify the entire cost of ESC and stabilization materials and labor, fiscal surety must be posted, and release of surety can occur only upon satisfactory completion

Travis County will not approve a proposal for fill placement that is characterized as a “residential” proposal unless the proposal in the application includes the construction of residential improvements (a single family or duplex residence, driveway, accessory structures, etc.).

A non-residential proposal for fill placement must include engineered plans, specifications, and a cost estimate to achieve required ESC and stabilization standards. Fiscal security corresponding to the cost estimate must be submitted.

Warning: Travis County Code identifies the standards for quality of fill at Section 82.943(d). It must be uncontaminated earthen material or inert construction rubble. All fill material must be inert. Travis County has no authority to authorize landfilling by the placement of solid waste. Under State law, placement of fill material is presumed to be solid waste disposal in a situation where land is filled and then the land is sold, leased, or otherwise conveyed prior to the completion of construction of surface improvements on the site. If this is an applicant’s intent, Travis County may require documentation of the quality of material to be placed or authorization for the fill placement from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality before environmental review is cleared on a development permit application.

All cut and fill land balancing is limited to a maximum of eight vertical feet including an eight foot limit for a combination of cut and fill. Exceptions to the maximum height limitation include construction of water quality and detention ponds, streets, a building or parking structure footprint, or driveways.

Environmental Review of Non-Residential Site Development Applications

Applications for development that are not for subdivision and platting and are not residential lot development proposals fall into a broad category of non-residential site development. Within the broad category are proposals for commercial, municipal, school site development, utility placement, fill placement that is not for residential lot development, mining, solid waste management, roadway construction, and many other types of development.

The submittal for environmental review must include the proposed site improvements on plan sheets sealed by a Texas-licensed professional engineer. To meet environmental review standards, the plan sheets and other documentation must detail:

  • The amount of land, calculated in square feet, to be disturbed as a result of the proposed construction.
  • The amount of land, calculated in square feet, on which new impervious surfaces will be placed. This includes roofs, concrete driveways and patios, and other improved surfaces.
    • If more than 10,000 square feet of impervious cover is planned, the application must include a engineered plan sheets detailing the permanent water quality control and the maintenance plan for the permanent control.
    • County Code specifies the water quality treatment volume and the alternative BMPs that can be used, based upon location in either a western watershed or eastern watershed (See Section 82.944 and the applicable technical guidelines for more detail)
  • An environmental assessment prepared by a qualified professional
    • The assessment in all cases must identify critical environmental features and waterways on the site and in proximity to the site on adjacent tracts and propose protection of these resources, including undisturbed setback areas.
    • An assessment of proposed impacts affecting trees within Travis County right-of-way must be prepared that identifies tree protection or other alternatives.
    • If the proposed development is three or more acres, the assessment must additionally include an inventory of endangered species, justifications for the siting of spoil disposal locations, methods to achieve overland flow of drainage, a hydrogeologic report, vegetation inventory, and wastewater report.
  • the site plan must show the setbacks and distances of disturbed land from waterways and critical environmental features
  • Setbacks must be shown on a proposed document as protective, platted easements
  • The amount of land, calculated in square feet, to be disturbed as a result of the proposed construction must be identified. If the construction will disturb 1 acre or greater, detailed information pertaining to Storm Water Pollution Prevention must be provided:
    • Erosion and Sediment Control Plan (ESC Plan) shown on construction drawings
    • Engineer’s Report that overviews general site and project description information, a summary of construction storm water related controls, and summary of permanent water quality controls
    • Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWP3) Notebook (Note: the SWP3 Notebook must be available no later than just prior to commencement of construction)
  • An engineer’s estimate for the cost of the proposed erosion and sediment controls and permanent site stabilization
  • Unless Travis County accepts an arrangement with another jurisdiction, fiscal security in the amount accepted from the engineer’s estimate must be posted before approval of the site plan.
  • Additional submittal documentation may be applicable to an environmental review for proposals that include a solid waste management facility, a junkyard, or an automotive wrecking/salvage yard (See Chapter 49).

Environmental Review of Utility Placement and Right-of-Way Construction Applications

These type projects fit into the broad category of non-residential site development and for significant projects, all of the submittal requirements for environmental review of a non-residential site development apply. However, more limited submittal requirements apply to smaller projects disturbing less than one acre of land. In most instances, utility placement has a linear orientation along a Travis County road. Therefore, the project design requires special consideration of the disturbance impact in County R.O.W. and the potential for erosion and sediment associated with long slopes.

  • Environmental review does not apply to utility placement that only crosses under an existing roadway
  • Small utility placement projects, defined as 3000 square feet or less of disturbance or not close to a waterway of critical environmental feature, is expected to use appropriate erosion and sediment control practices and meet ESC Plan Standards for Roadway and Drainage Easements (Sections 82.970 – 82.974), including those pertaining to tree protection.
  • Utility placement projects >3000 square feet but less than 1 acre of disturbance must submitted engineered construction plan sheets as an ESC Plan (Section 82.935(g)).

Environmental Review of Subdivision Proposals

Environmental review of subdivision proposals occurs at each phase of planning and design process, corresponding to approvals by Travis County of a preliminary plan, a final plat, and a subdivision construction plan. Generally, the application submittal requirements become more detailed and specific through the course of this process. Travis County’s environmental reviews pertain to all of unincorporated Travis County, including the ETJ of each municipality except Austin’s ETJ. In the Austin ETJ, a subdivision proposal is submitted to the Single Office and the environmental review is conducted by City of Austin staff.

Environmental Review of a Preliminary Plan Application

The submittal for environmental review must include the proposed site improvements on plan sheets sealed by a Texas-licensed professional engineer. To meet environmental review standards, the plan sheets and other documentation must detail:

  • An environmental assessment prepared by a qualified professional
    • The assessment in all cases must identify critical environmental features and waterways on the site and in proximity to the site on adjacent tracts and propose protection of these resources, including undisturbed setback areas.
    • An assessment of proposed impacts affecting trees within existing or proposed Travis County right-of-way must be prepared that identifies tree protection or other alternatives.
    • If the proposed development is ten or more acres, the assessment must additionally include an inventory of endangered species, justifications for the siting of spoil disposal locations, methods to achieve overland flow of drainage, a hydrogeologic report, vegetation inventory, and wastewater report.
  • A depiction on the plan of the identified CEF and waterway setbacks, their distances based upon type of CEF or waterway classification, and
  • Standard subdivision plat notes that are proposed for the site need to be listed (See Sec. 82.945)
  • If the proposed subdivision is 10 or more acres, the submittal must additionally detail:
    • Proposed permanent water quality controls with a summary describing how the proposal meets requirements
    • A preliminary plan for construction phase storm water management describing how the proposal meets requirements

Environmental Review of a Final Plat Application

The submittal for environmental review must include the proposed site improvements on plan sheets sealed by a Texas-licensed professional engineer. To meet environmental review standards, the plan sheets and other documentation must detail:

  • For a long form final plat, the same information provided with the preliminary plan must be provided. Easements relating to the areas of setback from CEFs, waterways, and the area for placement of permanent water quality controls must be shown. Standard plat notes must also be shown
  • For a short form final plat, this is typically the first submittal in the subdivision process, so the submittal information is similar to what is provided with a Preliminary Plan Application:
    • An environmental assessment prepared by a qualified professional
      • The assessment in all cases must identify critical environmental features and waterways on the site and in proximity to the site on adjacent tracts and propose protection of these resources, including undisturbed setback areas.
      • If the proposed development is ten or more acres, the assessment must additionally include an inventory of endangered species, justifications for the siting of spoil disposal locations, methods to achieve overland flow of drainage, a hydrogeologic report, vegetation inventory, and wastewater report.
    • A depiction on the plan of the identified CEF and waterway setbacks, their distances based upon type of CEF or waterway classification, and
    • Standard subdivision plat notes that are proposed for the site need to be listed (See Sec. 82.945)
    • If the proposed subdivision is 10 or more acres, the submittal must additionally include a general description of permanent water quality control and construction phase storm water management

Environmental Review of a Subdivision Construction Plan Application

The submittal requirements for environmental review are the same as those items listed for submittal of Non-Residential Site Development Applications.

Solid Waste Management Facility Application

Proposals for processing and disposal of solid waste are a special type of Non-Residential Site Development Application. This type application must show compliance with the siting criteria adopted by the Commissioners Court in Chapter 62.

  • Processing and disposal means discharging, depositing, injecting, dumping, spilling, leaking, placing, collection, handling, transportation, storage, or processing of solid waste, including the systematic control of the activities of generation, source separation, treatment, composting, recycling, beneficial use, resource recovery, or land application. Solid waste processing and disposal facility means land, structures, appurtenances, and other improvements on land, used for management or disposal of solid waste, including any incinerator, landfill, transfer station, or land application, beneficial use, or composting site.
  • Siting criteria identify distances from certain receptors and other restrictions from which processing and disposal of solid waste can occur. More lenient criteria are set for minor facilities (defined as a transfer station or a recycling facility for paper, plastic, glass, or metal) than for all other processing and disposal (major) facilities.

The applicant must conduct an appropriately scoped survey of nearby locations of the receptors, water resources, and floodplain. On plan sheets, the application must show all appropriate nearby receptors, aquifer zones, water bodies, and floodplain boundaries. The submittal must show the distances from each area of interest to the solid waste processing and disposal facility.

Under the criteria, a minor facility must be located at least 350 feet from all:

  • Public water wells
  • Schools or day-care centers
  • Places of worship
  • Health care facilities
  • Public parks or historical facilities
  • Individual residences

Under the criteria, a major facility must be located:

  • At least 1500 feet from all:
    • Public water wells
    • Schools or day-care centers
    • Places of worship
    • Health care facilities
    • Public parks or historical facilities
    • Individual residences

AND

  • At least 5280 feet from all neighborhoods
  • At least 500 from the recharge zone of the Colorado River Alluvial Aquifer
  • Outside the recharge and contributing zones of the Barton Springs and Northern segments of the Edwards Aquifer
  • At least 3000 feet from Lake Travis, Lake Austin, or any other public surface drinking water reservoir

AND

  • Is located where the facility’ primary vehicle access is a road that is capable of withstanding a minimum of 2,000,000 18-kip single axle loads for a 20-year period assuming 750 trucks/day

Processing of putrescible solid waste may occur only in areas greater than 10,000 feet from a jet aircraft runway and greater than 5000 feet from a runway for other aircraft.

A solid waste processing and disposal facility may not be constructed, located, or operated either in, or within 500 feet of the boundary of a 100-year floodplain.