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Thread: Maximum setbacks

  1. #1
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    Maximum setbacks

    I'm no zoning expert, although I have learned a few things in the past year, nor am I a big zoning fan. However, one rule interests me: setbacks.

    We all know about minimum setback rules. But how about maximum setbacks? In the West Duluth neighborhood (in Duluth, MN), there is an old pedestrian "downtown" area from the beginning of the century or before, with buildings right up to the broad sidewalks. However, in other areas, there is commercial development, yet the predominant building style (these are much newer, e.g. 1970 - up) seems to push the building back, sometimes at least 40 feet from the sidewalk, to accomodate a giant front parking lot. Now, I'm not totally against parking lots, but these make the neighborhood less pedestrian-friendly (especially in appearance) and in most cases could easily be implemented behind the buildings, as there are alleys almost everywhere. Though the houses in the neighborhood are quite dense (mostly SFD's, but on smaller lots, built before car culture took over), I hardly ever see anybody on the sidewalks in the mentioned areas. So, would a maximum setback rule perhaps help to quell this type of development? Do they exist? Or are we so stuck in our auto-only ways that if the building isn't built to say "you drive here, not walk, crazy!" we don't patronize it?

    Discuss.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian ABS's avatar
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    In Brisbane there are maximum setback rules for infill residential development. New residential dwellings built in existing residential areas must be within a 20% margin from the setback of the existing dwellings. For example if the houses on both sides are set back 6 metres from the front boundary then the new dwelling can have a setback between 4.8m and 7.2m from the fron boundary.
    Great mindless think alike.

    Planning my way out of wet paper bag since 2003

  3. #3
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    I've never heard of this standard before but I did a Google search and found it contained in several ordinances.

  4. #4
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    They use maximum setbacks all the time. Most of the time in situations like you describe. They also use them for traditional neighborhood developments, when they want front porches close to the sidewalk.
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    On a related note, I've seen codes with "average setbacks" for infill development. You take the average of the abutters. So for example, the lot to the left has a structure with an actual measured 40' setback, and the lot to the right has an actual measured 50' setback, you are mandated to be a 45' setback.

    BTW - these are a pain to administer.

  6. #6
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    performance standard or moving target?

    Quote Originally posted by Chet
    On a related note, I've seen codes with "average setbacks" for infill development. You take the average of the abutters. So for example, the lot to the left has a structure with an actual measured 40' setback, and the lot to the right has an actual measured 50' setback, you are mandated to be a 45' setback.

    BTW - these are a pain to administer.
    i'm trying to write this into my infill areas, Chet - i understand the pain in administration

    not trying to change the thread:

    how does someone get that average distances without trespassing? i have a fly over to scale and our maps are digitized but the error is still pretty high - so although i really like the idea, i'm nervous about it

    the one average i am putting in is FAR (floor area ratio) because that i do have data readily available on in the assessing records

    but even then, the average can creep, if you will, and a fairness problem may exist if your average changes - are you then non-conforming? you also get the unintended consequence of a creeping setback or density over time that you may not want

    if anyone who does these averages in their zoning can help, that would be great!

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian
    how does someone get that average distances without trespassing?
    Surveyors are not liable for tresspass if they are surveying. Meter readers, mail carriers, etc. can also enter properties without permission.

    You probably fall under similar law if your on official business. I'd ask your City attorney.

    I am comfortable with the accuracy of our aerials to +/-2 feet if you can see the base of the buildings. That would probably be close enough to establish an average setback.

  8. #8
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by savemattoon
    Surveyors are not liable for tresspass if they are surveying. Meter readers, mail carriers, etc. can also enter properties without permission.

    You probably fall under similar law if your on official business. I'd ask your City attorney.

    I am comfortable with the accuracy of our aerials to +/-2 feet if you can see the base of the buildings. That would probably be close enough to establish an average setback.
    they shoot surveyors in maine - lol

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian
    they shoot surveyors in maine - lol
    Off-topic:
    I have a blaze orange shirt with block letters on the back stating
    SURVEYOR
    DON'T
    SHOOT

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Unless a max. setback is close to 0' you run the risk of sub-standard parking lots being put in front of stores where businesses try to jam cars in a 20' foot front setback. You might have to limit parking in the front setback or have tight parking lot design requirements.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Correct about the surveyor and the no trespass issue. SaveMatoon - where do I get one of those shirts?

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Budgie's avatar
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    Law of Commonality

    We have a provision we call the "law of commonality" where the front setback of a building is the average of the existing buildings' setbacks on the same side of the block. We (as most communities do) have an arbitrary (and IMHO wasteful) 20 ft. front setback in our most predominante residnetial zoning district. This district covers many areas of the city that were developed between 1870 and 1920. We have homes setback 5' and some 15', but rarely the mandated 20'. We are finishing up an update to our comp plan and one of the urban design features we want to implement is a front setback range, ie. 8' minimum - 14' maximum. We are also thinking about a range of lot sizes so that we can control overall density better. A zone with a 5,000 sq. ft. minimum size with no maximum could be developed with 10,000 sq. ft. lots, however, should be in a less dense zoning classification anyway. This can also give us some control over housing costs by requiring a lot range ie.. (5,000 sq. ft. minimum - 7,500 sq. ft. maximum). A minimum alone is not effective management of land and infrastructure resources.
    "And all this terrible change had come about because he had ceased to believe himself and had taken to believing others. " - Leo Tolstoy

  13. #13
    Four words: Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.
    Even though ours were last updated in 1961 (+/-), they are uncannily accurate as to the rights-of-way, existing set backs, overall dimensions. Plus, they're really cool to look at.

    As to the setback: we use the average setback for 300' in each direction on the same side of the block.

    I too want a "SURVEYOR DON"T SHOOT" tee-shirt.
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
    "Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy."
    Warren Spahn

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Chet
    SaveMatoon - where do I get one of those shirts?
    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker
    I too want a "SURVEYOR DON"T SHOOT" tee-shirt.
    My old boss had them printed and handed out for x-mas one year with the company logo on the front.

    Maybe your secret santas are watching this thread

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally posted by giff57
    They use maximum setbacks all the time. Most of the time in situations like you describe. They also use them for traditional neighborhood developments, when they want front porches close to the sidewalk.

    helpful, sounds like a direct quote from Duany Plater-Zyberk. Watch out for maximum setback requirements, useful but potentially stupid for infill development sites. Maximum setback need to be coupled with front yard averaging for those instances where the existing development pattern has larger setbacks. Using giff57's example, so a zoning code is updated and the concept of a maximum setback is introduced to allow for...a more tranditional neighborhood development with porches..blah, blah, blah. So a guy comes in to do some infill development, all the other homes on the block are setback 20 feet from the property line and now to have a more traditional neighborhood development, this guy will have to construct his home very close to the property line. End result, dumb development but hey, now his front porch is close to the sidewalk.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by acchhhoooo
    End result, dumb development but hey, now his front porch is close to the sidewalk.
    That's why many infill development standards have a separate clause for averaging of setbacks where buildings are not close to the sidewalk (as Chet mentioned above). You don't have to pick just one standard and apply it.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally posted by nerudite
    That's why many infill development standards have a separate clause for averaging of setbacks where buildings are not close to the sidewalk (as Chet mentioned above). You don't have to pick just one standard and apply it.

    uh huh, how many infill development standards have you looked at?

  18. #18
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by acchhhoooo
    uh huh, how many infill development standards have you looked at?
    Many. And I've written some.

    I'd watch that adversarial tone too. There's no need to reply in such a snotty manner.

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