Project Spotlight: Roy Cavanaugh


After more than a decade of effort, a local businessman is finally able to CLOSE a salvage yard next to environmentally sensitive Bull CreeK


More than 30 years ago, Roy Cavanaugh bought the six-acre automobile salvage yard at 6308 Spicewood Springs Road and grew it into Ace Auto Salvage and Discount Glass and Door. The businesses supported his family and 20 long-time employees.

Over time, as Austin has increased restrictions on development in environmentally-sensitive areas, Cavanaugh realized his auto salvage business was becoming less sustainable and out of step with its surroundings. Not only was it located next to Bull Creek, but it was also in close proximity to the Balcones Canyonland Preserve.

Cavanaugh feared his business would encounter environmental issues, so he would need to move it or change it entirely. But Cavanaugh didn’t want to leave the property, so he’d have to fund a costly clean-up of the junkyard in order to redevelop his land in an environmentally-responsible manner.


An aerial photo from 1982 shows automobiles dotting the field.

In 2006, Cavanaugh began developing alternative business scenarios, like a storage business. While searching for ideas, he contacted Mike Wilson at Garrett-Ihnen Civil Engineers for solutions.

For years, Wilson has offered clients insight and advice to help them cut through red tape and get impossible projects approved. When they met, Cavanaugh explained his predicament. Wilson suggested a rarely-used zoning tool to raise funds to change his business: Transferable Development Rights (TDRs). TDRs — also known as Impervious Cover Credits — could be sold to offset Cavanaugh’s loss of income as he closed his salvage business and cleaned his land.

Transferable Development Rights are used in other parts of the country to permanently protect farmland and some other natural and cultural resources by redirecting development that would otherwise occur on these resource lands to some other area able to accommodate growth and development.


Cars fill the land in 1995.

If successful, Cavanaugh could remain on his land, close his auto salvage business, clean-up the property, and redevelop it in a neighborhood-friendly and environmentally-responsible manner. Cavanaugh and Wilson developed a plan to seek TDRs from the City of Austin in exchange for limiting future development on his property. These credits could then be sold to a buyer elsewhere in the City who could use them to add impervious cover.

It took several years of back and forth negotiations to find a deal that would allow Cavanaugh to stay on his land and keep his staff employed.

Finally, in 2011, the City Staff began to the see the opportunity before them to remove an auto salvage yard from the edge of Bull Creek at no cost to the City.

Roy Cavanaugh spoke publicly about the help he needed from the City Council on June 20, 2013.

As part of the negotiations, Garrett-Ihnen helped Cavanaugh develop a site plan to construct a convenience storage/dog kennel business next to his existing glass business. The plan was approved in June 2013, but he still needed the TDRs to get it done.

Finally, in November 2015, after several years of persuasion, the Austin City Council passed an Ordinance to approve an agreement that would grant Cavanaugh the TDRs he needed in exchange for a permanent limitation on any future development in an environmentally-sensitive area.

Roy Cavanaugh spoke publicly about the help he needed from the City Council on August 22, 2013.

Under the agreement, Cavanaugh was given approximately 230,000 square feet of impervious cover credits that he could sell. In exchange, Cavanaugh would close Ace Salvage Yard, clean-up the property to TCEQ standards, and restrict future development on the property.

In January 2016, Cavanaugh began to clear his land of the auto salvage business. In September 2017, his clean-up was approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Voluntary Cleanup Program. The City of Austin concurred and issued a letter of completion September 19, 2017.


Cars still fill the property as recently as 2017.

To the benefit of the City of Austin, Cavanaugh’s imperious cover rights will be transferred to a more appropriate location with water quality controls.

Finally, in April 2018, Cavanaugh sold a portion of his Impervious Cover Credits.

Two parties at The Outlook at Rob Roy got together and purchased the first quantity of Cavanaugh's TDRs. (One party was the tenant of the building and the other party was the owner of the building. The tenant needed additional parking spaces and the owner is building a parking garage.)


Finally, in 2018, the land is cleared.

Today, Cavanaugh is moving forward with construction plans for his planned convenience storage business. Construction is scheduled to begin even as he looks for more buyers for his remaining TDRs.

More than anything else, Cavanaugh is relieved that he was able to take care of his employees and also make sure the auto salvage yard did not negatively impact his heirs.

Click here to download the full case study about this project.