Community Garden Permit Guide


The Community Gardens Program exists to help residents start community gardens. We support garden projects on many kinds of land, but this guide is specifically for starting a community garden on City-owned land. A City-permitted community garden must be maintained by at least four dedicated volunteers who don't share a household and are not family.

The 2022 permit application cycle has closed. We will begin reviewing new community garden applications in January 2023. If you are interested in starting a community garden, please keep an eye out for information sessions. To join a community garden, please visit

Contact Information

Community Gardens Coordinator


Overview 1 of 1

Steps for Getting a Community Garden Permit

The community garden permit application process requires these steps for a successful community garden. If your permit is approved, you can use City-owned land and Austin Water will install the garden's water tap for free.

1. Gather a list of coordinating committee members and a list of committed gardeners.

2. Find and evaluate the space for a community garden.

Get a soil screening and check if there are any utilities in the area where there will be digging.

3. Get a nonprofit sponsor and letters of support from the community.

4. Create documentation for a community garden, including:

  • rules and a sample membership agreement
  • a calendar or timeline of the garden's design and build
  • a budget and fundraising plan for the first year

5. Write a description of the proposed garden and create a sketch to scale.

6. Apply for a site plan or a site plan exemption.

To learn more about site plan permits and site plan exemptions, visit the Development Services Department's Site Plans, Exemptions and Corrections page.

7. Submit a community garden permit application and pay the $50 application fee.

Community Garden Requirements

  • At least four dedicated volunteers who don't share a household and are not family must operate and maintain the garden.
  • The garden must be open to the public at least once a month.
  • Harvested items are not for commercial use.
  • Gardens must use sustainable urban agriculture practices, including composting and avoiding pesticides.

Time Frame

On average, the permitting process takes a year and is divided into three phases, with a check-in at the end of each phase.

If you are interested in starting a community garden on a faster timeline, consider a partnership with a neighborhood or community center. You will still need to work with the community gardens coordinator to ensure the site is eligible and safe.


The Community Gardens Program has created templates for the various documents you will need in your application to help you in the process.

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Phase 1: Let’s Get This Garden Started

Phase 1: Let’s Get This Garden Started 1 of 3

Recruit People for a Community Garden

Successful community gardens have motivated leaders and a broad base of support. Your community garden permit application requires a list of coordinating committee members, committed gardeners, and garden leaders.

1. Pick four to 10 planning leaders and decide roles.

Community gardens are most successful when they involve multiple coordinators who can share the work required to plan, build, and maintain the garden. This group communicates with neighbors and may need to explain the need for a new community garden.

In most community gardens the coordinating team includes:

  • A treasurer
  • An outreach coordinator
  • A site coordinator
  • A member coordinator

2. Create a generic email for your garden, such as

This helps you stay organized and makes things easier for future garden leaders.

3. Communicate to the public about the new garden.

Ways to do this include:

  • Create social media accounts, a listserv, or both.
    • Share them with your contacts.
    • Ask neighborhood groups and community members to like or follow your pages and update them often.
  • Advertise in neighborhood newspapers, community council newsletters, or bulletin boards.
  • Put a sign on the lot announcing the future garden.
  • Put up flyers in community centers or public places.

4. Find people to volunteer.

Talk to neighbors, business owners, and civic groups, such as:

  • Daycare centers, schools, and community colleges
  • Garden groups
  • Neighborhood associations
  • NextDoor and other social media platform groups
  • Spiritual and faith-based communities
  • Youth organizations (Boys and Girls Club, sports teams, outdoor education groups)
  • Doctors' offices and clinics

These groups may be interested in assisting large projects, new construction, or weeding. Consider providing lunch, water, gloves, tools, and a first-aid kit when a community group volunteers. Always send a thank-you note afterward.

Invite people of different ages and cultures. People get involved at different times for different reasons.

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Phase 1: Let’s Get This Garden Started 2 of 3

Choose a Site for a Community Garden

While considering land for a community garden, think about location, terrain, sun, water, and permits required.

1. There are pre-approved sites for community gardens. Use this map to find an eligible site for your community garden.

If you want to build a garden on private property, scroll to the bottom of this page for more information on that process.

The map works best on a desktop or laptop computer. Be sure to zoom in to the neighborhood level to see all of the possible garden sites.

The pink zones represent available pre-approved sites.

2. Contact 811 to ensure that there are no utilities in areas where there will be digging.

If there are utilities, find a different area or a different site.

3. Test the soil at the proposed garden location for heavy metal contamination.

You can use any soil test that includes heavy metals, such as this $25 Soil test from the University of Delaware Soil Test Program.

Once a year, the Soil Kitchen offers free soil testing.

You will be asked to attach a PDF with your test results in your application. If the results show high levels of heavy metal contamination, you must:

  • Inform the sponsoring nonprofit (it may affect their liability insurance).
  • Disclose the contamination in the membership agreement.
  • Grow edibles in garden beds rather than directly in the soil.
  • Re-test the soil annually.

4. Estimate the size of the garden.

Gardens range from only a dozen plots to over 80 plots. We recommend starting small and leaving room to grow. Community gardens typically will start with enough beds to meet the level of interest at the time that they are built, and they add beds over time based on needs and requests.

Considerations for Privately-Owned Sites

If you want to use a site that has not been identified on the map, you will need to work with the community gardens coordinator at the City of Austin to ensure that it is an eligible site. Considerations include:

  • Is the garden visible and on a street with low traffic?
  • Is the garden larger than 4000 sq. ft.? Smaller lots in high-density areas can be approved. Work with the community garden staff.
  • Is the land reasonably flat or can it be terraced?
  • Does the garden get sun exposure most of the day?
  • Is there water access?
  • Is the location environmentally critical? Meaning it has:
    • Tree and natural protection
    • Landscaping
    • Fish/Wildlife
    • Wetlands
    • Construction on slopes
    • Erosion protection
    • Impervious cover
    • Environmental features
  • Can the location be developed?
  • Will you need a permit?
  • If privately owned (empty lot, by a church, etc.), you will need to obtain a lease agreement from the property owner. The Coalition of Austin Community Gardens provides some sample lease agreements.
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Phase 1: Let’s Get This Garden Started 3 of 3

Apply for Your First Community Garden Check-In

The first step in getting a community garden permit is to select a site and organize gardeners and garden leaders.

1. Gather the following:

  • Address for the proposed community garden
  • Estimated number of plots
  • List of coordinating committee members
  • List of committed gardeners

2. Submit the documents to the community gardens coordinator.

Online (recommended)

Use the online form to initiate the community gardens permitting process.

By mail

Fill out and print the Phase 1 portion of the application template, including the "Apply by mail" page.

Send to: Community Parks Program, 200 S. Lamar Blvd., Austin, TX 78704

Please email so that the coordinator can expect your application in the mail.

3. Within two weeks of receiving your application, the community gardens coordinator will reach out to you for a check-in.

At that time you will discuss any issues with your application and any questions about next steps.

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Phase 2: Organize With Your Community

Phase 2: Organize With Your Community 1 of 3

Get a Nonprofit Sponsor and Support for a Community Garden

The Community Gardens Program helps start gardens that the community supports and will benefit from. You will need a nonprofit sponsor, plus letters of support from residents, businesses, and community organizations in the area.

1. Get letters of support from:

  • friends
  • neighbors (can be owners or renters)
  • neighborhood associations
  • neighborhood businesses
  • and key stakeholders (e.g., schools, churches, park users).

Any neighboring entity or contiguous landowner must provide a letter of support. However, the more support you can get for the garden the better its chances of success. If the garden is next to or within a neighborhood with a Homeowner's Association (HOA), you can get a letter of support from the HOA rather than individual letters from each household. 

2. Get support from a sponsoring nonprofit in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

The basic requirement of the MOU is that the nonprofit will provide liability insurance coverage for the garden and receive the water bill. This is available from the Austin Parks Foundation for gardens on City-owned land. You may email the Austin Parks Foundation at

Any 501(c)3 nonprofit can support your community garden but consider working with a nonprofit that knows the process, such as Sunshine GardenAustin Parks FoundationGreen Corn Project, or Austin Green Art.

Choose a nonprofit by considering their ability to assist with some or all of the following:

  • Technical support, including assistance creating and submitting your community garden permit application
  • Communicating with City staff and other community organizations
  • Finding grant money for garden design and building costs
  • Paying water bills
  • Keeping track of grant funds, donations, and plot rental fees
  • Recruiting volunteers to help install the garden

After your community garden permit application is approved, the nonprofit will need to apply to the City for a License Agreement with the Office of Real Estate. The community garden coordinator will assist with this step.

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Phase 2: Organize With Your Community 2 of 3

Start Documents for a Community Garden

A community garden needs garden rules, a membership agreement, a budget and fundraising plan, and a timeline. To begin, you only need to submit a first draft of these documents, which will change as you go through the permit application process.

1. Make garden rules.

What rules will members follow? How will conflicts between gardeners be resolved? Who has keys to the site? How will the coordinating committee communicate with the garden members? Gardens must have rules, or bylaws, to help the garden succeed. 

2. Create a membership agreement.

How will individual gardeners contribute to the garden? What fees will they have to pay, if any? How long do they commit for?

3. Lay out a timeline.

What events need to take place in order to successfully build your community garden? When do you plan for them to happen?

4. Draft a first-year budget and fundraising plan.

Community garden budgets vary widely depending on their size and gardeners' choices. Whether you are planning for a small or a large garden, it is important to understand the resources required to start it and make a plan for how to obtain them. You can fund your community garden through:

Various organizations have grants for which you can apply. Grant applications will state when the grants are due. Contact neighborhood groups, community service associations, and educational, cultural, ethnic, or religious organizations to find out about any grant opportunities they may have.

We encourage you to reach out to other community garden leaders for more insights. The Coalition of Austin Community Gardens provides profiles for each garden.

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Phase 2: Organize With Your Community 3 of 3

Apply for Your Second Community Garden Check-In

Once you've gathered letters of support and drafted documents for your garden, send that to the community gardens coordinator and have an on-site meeting.

1. Gather the following documents:

  • Memorandum of Understanding from a nonprofit
  • Letters of support from the community
  • Garden rules
  • Membership agreement
  • Timeline
  • Budget and fundraising plan for the first year

Please read the pages on letters of support and garden documentation for details.

2. Submit these documents to the community gardens coordinator.

By email (recommended)

Send the documents as attachments or a viewable link to

In the body of the email include:

  • A contact person's name, phone number
  • Three possible meeting times:
    • Approximately two weeks after your submission
    • During business hours (Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.)
    • When your coordinating committee is available
By mail

Please contact the community gardens coordinator first by phone or email so they will expect the packet in the mail.

Print and mail your documents to:

Community Gardens Program
200 S. Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78704

Include in your correspondence:

  • A contact person's name, phone number
  • Three possible meeting times:
    • Approximately two weeks after your submission
    • During business hours (Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.)
    • When your coordinating committee is available

3. Approximately two weeks after your submission, be ready to attend a meeting at the garden site between:

  • The garden's coordinating committee
  • The community gardens coordinator
  • Other city representatives, such as a Park Forestry representative
  • Representatives from other organizations (optional)

We will discuss:

  • Your application packet, which includes the application you submitted at the first check-in, plus the new documents listed above
  • Early thoughts on garden design
  • Next steps

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Phase 3: Prepare To Build

Phase 3: Prepare To Build 1 of 3

Design a Community Garden

Community garden design is driven by the unique characteristics of each site but every garden should include these details. The application requires a description and a sketch of your community garden design.

1. Consider the following elements:


Design your garden to ensure that plots receive ample sunlight. Plan for at least 10 plots. Raised beds should be 4' x 6' to 4’x 8’ in size. Taller garden beds are more accessible for seniors and community members with limited mobility.

Garden paths should be wide enough (at least 4 feet) to accommodate mobility devices such as wheelchairs and walkers.

Many gardens use the borders of the community garden to plant perennial herbs, native plants, and fruit trees.


City-sponsored community gardens must use sustainable urban agriculture practices, including water conservation. Some measures you can take for water conservation include:

Automatic sprinklers are not allowed. Hose watering is an option but discouraged since it is very inefficient in the Central Texas climate. We recommend a professionally-installed underground system of PVC pipes with hose bibs and a drip line irrigation system. Timers can be used.


Your garden must have a shared composting area for the community gardeners, with space for compost piles at different stages, and a location for mulch and soil to be staged. There are various different methods for composting that you can adopt. Any non-compostable waste in your garden, such as pet waste, must be carried out.

Community involvement

Post a sign with the garden's name, endorsers, and a contact person's phone number for more information. Gardens will give back to the community, and one plot may be dedicated, free of charge, to an educational or social service.

Food in communal garden beds may be donated to emergency food providers or placed outside the gate to invite people to harvest food as needed. Examples can be found at the Deep Eddy Community Garden and at the Cherry Creek Community Garden.


Erect a fence around the perimeter to define the boundaries of your garden and discourage vandalism. We recommend a 4-6' tall hog wire fence.

Store tools, supplies, and materials in a tool shed or other structure. 

Create a gathering space like a bench or picnic table where gardeners can sit, relax, or present. This can also serve as space for a shared plant nursery and potting table.

Put up two kiosks or bulletin boards, one internal where you communicate rules, meeting notices, and other important information to gardeners, and one external where you communicate open hours, compost drop-off times, and volunteer opportunities to neighbors.

2. Write a description of your community garden. It should include:

  • Why was this site selected?
  • How will the garden serve the community's needs?
  • When will the community garden be open to the public? Community gardens are required to be open to the public at least once per month.
  • Will the garden host demonstrations or workshops that will be open to community members?
  • How will you implement sustainable urban agriculture practices?
  • General plans for layout, irrigation, and waste/composting.

There is no required length for this document.

3. Create a sketch of your community garden design.

Your community garden sketch needs to be drawn to scale. Using a landscape architect is recommended, but not required. It will help in the site plan exception application. To meet site plan requirements your sketch should be at a 10 to 30 engineering scale or a 1/8” to 1/2” architectural scale. It should indicate, but is not limited to:

  • Existing trees and landscaping
  • Buildings
  • Parking areas and driveways
  • Roadways/streets
  • Accessible parking
  • Detention ponds
  • All areas of impervious cover (existing and proposed)
  • Erosion controls (i.e.: silt fencing, tree protection)
  • Limits and type of construction
  • Location of construction
  • On-site sewage (septic) system

Some landscape architects offer reduced rates or are willing to do pro bono work for community gardens.

The Coalition of Austin Community Gardens provides some sample garden designs.

For more details on planning a garden see Texas AgriLife Extension Service - How to Plan a Garden.

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Phase 3: Prepare To Build 2 of 3

Get a Site Plan or a Site Plan Exemption

A site plan is a detailed drawing of proposed improvements and construction on a lot which are reviewed for compliance with Austin’s land development code. Site plan exemptions speed up small projects' permitting process.

1. Determine if you are eligible for a site plan exemption under Section 25-5-2 of the Land Development Code.

To submit a site plan exemption, visit the Site Plans, Exemptions and Corrections page.


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Phase 3: Prepare To Build 3 of 3

Get a Community Garden Permit

Once you have your garden design and an approved site plan, you are ready to submit your community garden permit application. This is the third and final check-in.

1. Make sure that you have already gone through the first and second community garden permit check-ins.

If you have not, please see the full community garden permit guide for details.

2. Gather the following documents:

3. Submit all documents to the Community Gardens Coordinator.

By email (recommended)

Send the documents as attachments or viewable link to

By mail

Print and mail your documents to:

Community Gardens Program, 200 S. Lamar Blvd., Austin, TX 78704

Please contact the community gardens coordinator first by phone or email so they will expect the packet in the mail.

4. Pay the $50 application fee.

Mail a check to:

Attn: PARD Finance, 200 S. Lamar Blvd., Austin, TX 78704

5. You will be contacted regarding your application within two weeks.

Because you have gone through multiple check-ins and worked closely with the Community Gardens Coordinator, applications are typically approved. If an application is not ready to be approved, the Community Gardens Coordinator will communicate what is missing or needs to be revised.

6. An approved community gardens permit application serves as a fee waiver for a water tap installation.

The Community Gardens Coordinator will work closely with your team to get water to your garden.