I do not have any firsthand experience with the development or permitting process in Austin. Frequent commenter "Don Johnson," a local infill developer, does. He left the following comment in response to my entry on Austin's gerrymandered zoning districts. I think an infill developer's perspective on the development process in Austin is interesting, so I repost it here.
If I may take this opportunity to vent a little more about our subdivision process here in Austin and why central urban infill is so difficult. The owner of Red Bird is in store for much more than this zoning fight. Even if they are granted SF3 they can look forward to a subdivision process where they dump about $20k fee-in-lieu of water quality controls and detention if they can't get a waiver. They will need to hire an engineer. It boggles my mind that Austin Code currently expects residential lots to make room for detention ponds and water quality controls and how high the fees are to bypass this. Imagine your residential street actually lined with big pits in every front yard like you see outside of commercial properties. Not to mention the argument that this piecemeal approach to detention can actually have negative effects on downstream flow. "Regional" detention and WQ seems more rational; i.e., build a larger facility to serve the neighborhood as a whole (which allows for a more macro design approach).
Then you have the ten subdivision reviewers who seemingly have conflicting goals in what they want to commandeer or impose on the applicant. You have the ROW reviewer wanting to commandeer 10' of property at the frontage, the transportation reviewer wanting you to build sidewalks to nowhere, the electric reviewer wanting to commandeer another 10' in easements, and heaven forbid you have any trees because you can't build near them or cut them down (although the electric company may cut it down after you try to save it). Then throw building set back requirements, impervious cover limits, and the McMansion envelope on top of everything. Your clean palate dwindles down to an unworkable anomaly in the end and hence some of the weird $400k houses around town with single car carports and terrible layouts. I won’t even go into some of the funny catch-22 scenarios that come up between reviewers leaving the applicant to sort it out in order to move forward.
What you end up with is really difficult use of space, and you are in it for about $20k to $30k in city fees and related expenses as well as 6 months minimum in holding costs before you even start really. Or maybe you are in for more than that if you were smart enough to include an architect in the process so that you can start heading off the design problems early. All this for something with such subtle impact as taking a 20,000sf lot and cutting it in half to build two duplexes instead of one (and really with the same exact limits of construction pre and post subdivision, just with an extra two residents).
You would also be amazed at how many lots the city considers "illegal". Go look at any TCAD plat map and look around for "tildes" that bring portions of lots together. Or when the lot legal description reads as part of two lots (Examle: W25ft of lot 24 and E25ft of lot 23.) This would be filed under the "landmine" comment [in this entry -- AC] as well. This can take you down many an unexpected road due to grandfathering scenarios, and notification issues that are built into code, as well as more carrying costs as it gets sorted out. I won't get into it, but beware. Trust me.
It sure is fun I'll tell you what. The sad part is that by the time you actually start concentrating on the house design and construction, you have used up about 60% of your juice (energy and emotion), and really you need everything you’ve got in construction.
People not involved in this stuff will brush all of this off and paint builders/developers as greedy for complaining, but I'm telling you it is almost impossible to get from old stock to newer up to code stock in a streamlined affordable manner because of our system in Austin. All the while the neighbors are nipping at your heels on top of this. And this is why you see trees go down on Saturday. The builders would love to stay off trees (they add value), but every other code seemingly begs you to cut down trees. That is simply one negative manifestation, though.