AUSTIN (KXAN) – City of Austin is moving to make it easier for music venues and creative spaces to open in more parts of the city and not just confined to certain areas, like downtown. 

The initiative aims to help relieve some rent and displacement pressure by making relevant zoning changes. Currently, in many parts of the city, music venues are treated as bars or cocktail lounges, said Donald Jackson with the Economic Development Department. 

“We have kind of an older zoning code that makes it difficult to do a lot of creative spaces and venue-type operations in different parts of the city,” Jackson said. “One of the things we’ve been working on for a long time – and that [the City Council] has been pushing for a long time – is to try and revise some of those [zoning hurdles] to make it easier for music venues and creative spaces to operate in more parts of the city,” he continued. 

The main goal of the initiative as it relates to music venues is to expand the zones where music venues are allowed and more clearly differentiate the definitions for music venues and cocktail lounges in the code. 

Jackson said cocktail lounges are a heavily regulated zoning category and are only allowed in specific parts of town, mostly in central and downtown Austin. Music venues and cocktail lounges can easily open up downtown, but rents and operational costs can be prohibitive to some. 

Changes to the zoning will not allow business owners to erect music venues wherever they please but make the process a little easier, Jackson said. Owners would still need to get a Conditional Use Permit and go through a couple of bureaucratic hurdles, such as Austin’s Land Use Commission and notifying neighbors, before opening. But with the definition changes, the process would be smoother, he said. 

If the resolution is adopted, the number of lots where live music venue use is allowed by a Conditional Use Permit within the city limits will increase by around 685%, according to Economic Development Data

(Photo Courtesy the Economic Development Department)

The resolution also includes changing the zoning code for theaters and creative spaces. For theaters, if implemented, the number of lots in which theater use is allowed will increase by about 25%. 

“We’re really just trying to create some more opportunities for some of these crucial creative spaces for our city,” Jackson said. 

Austin’s Planning Commission approved the amendments in July. Next, the Economic Development Department will take the resolutions to the Austin City Council for a public hearing on Sept. 14.