The Capitol View Corridors are polarizing. Most Austinites probably believe that CVCs, at least in the abstract, are a reasonable method of preserving views of the Capitol dome while allowing most of the rest of downtown to redevelop. But there is a lot of disagreement over whether the CVCs as drawn are too restrictive, are just right, or are not restrictive enough. My own view is that some of the CVCs are fine and some are bad. Many CVCs allow enough room to develop the underlying parcel, if only to a limited height. A lot of the CVCs over the eastern portion of downtown are like that: you can build something, just not something very tall. But there are other CVCs that effectively scour the ground, precluding any sort of development at all, for the sake of marginal vantages. Not all CVCs are equally benign.
One of the practical problems with the CVCs is that they are opaque. They are defined using the Texas plane coordinate system with reference to sea levels. It is impossible for someone to pick up the city code or state statute and determine from the text where a CVC runs, much less at what height. Property owners often have only a vague understanding of where the CVCs run across their own property, or at what height. This is the reason that one of the first thing developers do when investigating a downtown property within a CVC is to pay the City to make a CVC determination, which yields a three-dimensional sketch.
Noah Deneau, however, has developed a Google Earth mashup that allows any of us to view the CVCs in 3-D. It really is marvelous.
Here is the 40,000 ft. view of the CVCs:
You can find maps from, say, Preservation Austin drawn to this scale.
But Deneau's Google Earth mashup allows us to zoom in as close as we want. Here is the CVC that runs alongside the Seven apartment tower, which explains its odd diagonal wall:
The mashup even makes it possible to tell at a glance which buildings encroach into the CVC. Here, for example, is the old central library:
And here are the 800 and 900 blocks between Guadalupe and Lavaca:
Those encroaching structures are indeed one-story buildings. That is the Wooldridge square CVC, which actually dips below ground, supposedly due to an error in specifying the CVC's coordinates. The CVC essentially outlaw any use other than a parking lot, as the street-level view dramatically confirms:
Needless to say, both of those blocks were once filled with buildings. Here is the 1956 Sanborn map of the 900 block of Guadalupe/Lavaca. No surprise: the block contained buildings. (And it had recently had more. One can see the ghostly image of other buildings that were demolished for parking in the 1940s or 50s).
Thus, although CVCs are usually thought of as a way to protect views of the Capitol from modern skyscrapers, in some cases the CVCs prohibit even the traditional, small-scale development that constituted downtown's built environment for most of its history.
This fantastic tool at least makes it possible to have a coherent discussion about CVCs.