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Thread: Yard setbacks

  1. #1
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    Yard setbacks

    Can anyone provide a simple explanation for setback requirements in a residential zone? Why a 5ft setback versus 8ft?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    Which yard?

    Front, side, rear?

    Either way, alot is just preference when you get right down to it?

    Why 5 instead of 8? There probably isnt much rationale to it other than 5 is a "neater" number than 8.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Setbacks are arbitrarily setup. There is no magic distance that works better than others, however each achieves its own specific look.

    15 ft setbacks look different than 5, different than 25.

    I'll say this...

    IN GENERAL.. front setbacks of 10 feet or less suggest a more dense urban enviornment. setbacks of 10-15 feet suggest a more single family 1930s era type suburb. Greater than 15 suggest a low density residential setup.

    For commercial, the setback matters too. the closer to the street, the more pedestrian styled the development is.
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  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    A lot of what Boiker stated, though I will add the idea of space, reducing densitites (and now increasing), among fire issues, and access are all forces behind setbacks in residential areas. In commercial areas and high traffic areas setbacks will be driven by more safety concerns.

    Remember downtown NYC canyon slums back in the early 1900's and the NYC Zoning amendment of 1916? In attempt to open up or daylight the dark streets...

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Setbacks sometimes are predicated by utility companies here in California and probably elsewhere. There have been times were we have written in a 10' front yard setback for porches, yet have been pushed back by the local utility companies because they require a 12' utility easement to place all the dry utilities and tele-communications equipment.

    Setbacks are an arbitrary number, but they technically aren't. If you want to develop a neighborhood that is more pedestrian oriented and try to foster a more personable atmosphere, or increase housing density, you probably want a smaller front yard setback.

    If your going for typical residential, garage dominated neighborhood, a medium size setback should do (approx 18-25 to allow for cars parked on a driveway).

    If you seek a more rural, large lot residential neighborhood, than a deeper setback should be required (50 feet plus).
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian Plan 9's avatar
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    You have setbacks that are a result of building codes, but mostly it is a matter of community preference/tradition.
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  7. #7
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    From a design standpoint, setbacks are intended to contribute to the overall structure of the common space between buildings. When all homes are setback the same distance form the street, the space between the fronts of homes becomes an outdoor room unto itself. At least that is the rationale. Depending on the setback requirements, this may or may not have the desired effect.

    But what others have said is true - smaller setbacks are for denser areas and larger ones for less dense areas.

    There actually are some old formulas for determining the ratio of building height to distance between buildings across the street from one another. Street width, building height and function of the space (is it a downtown main street or a residential area?, for example) impact this. I believe its something like the distance between the fronts of buildings should be approximately one and a half to two times times the height of the buildings. Any wider than this and the space will not feel like a "room." The addition of a cornice line along the tops of these buildings also creates the sense of an implied ceiling. This is the magic of turn-of-the-century downtowns that have that enclosed feeling.

    Of course, many residential areas don't follow these formulas (or have created their own) and so the resulting space feels much different. Still, even in suburban areas where the outdoor "room" is often very diffused, there is some rationale concerning the scale and massing of buildings and the space between them to create more or less privacy and to create a collective feel to the place.

    The City/County recently completed a road widening project on a major street near our house that reduced the setbacks to about 5 feet (from 15). The place now has a totally different feeling. Its really quite amazing the effect these types of regulations can have on a place.
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  8. #8
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    going along with what Vlaude was saying, one of the key determinants is access which relates to the overall zoning theme of public health, safety, and welfare. You need space in the event of an emergency to access all sides of a structure, which is where your projections into setbacks table is also important.

  9. #9
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    We use 5' side setbacks commonly in PUD's, although our code makes the setback dependent on the height of the building (1' per 2.5' or 3' of height seem common). It's been suggested the side height should be measured to the middle of the roof (if the roof slopes to the side) or to the top of the roof (if the gable end faces the side). I've seen the smart code suggests 6' side setbacks for new urbamn type SF development.

    My two cents worth: here in Colorado we get a lot beige suburbs with garage dominated facades. I've heard many people comment that these suburbs feel "packed in" with the houses too close together. Unless there's a quality design, I myself think a slightly larger side setback creates a greater sense of openness without using much more land. I think the 5' setbacks don't work well with suburban-style houses with no tree lawn - it's like picking a few new urban features (density, small side setbacks) and ignoring the rest (street trees, quality facades).

  10. #10
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    Setbacks also help to maintain views, air, and light for everyone. For example, if I built my house on the very edge of my property, and my neighbor did the same, our side windows would receive almost no light.
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  11. #11
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Howdy....

    From Western Arizona.......I used to work with a planner who came from Guam

    Setbacks to residential structures tend to exist for several reasons:

    1. Grading and Drainage; The layout of the lot within the development should follow a grading plan and there should be enough room to account for various levels of runoff without impacting stuctures on the lot.
    2. Fire Protection; A need to keep the whole neighborhood from burning to the ground, but with todays materials and technology, this is less and less of a concern in urban areas.
    3. Parking; Mostly a requirement in the front yard for the past few decades, but alley garage access can create issues. A front setback less than 15 feet could mean that vehicles parked in a driveway may hang out over the sidewalk and into the ROW
    4. Utilities; Power, cable, water, sewer, gas and the like can be in front, side, rear yard areas and the easements would constitute a defacto setback, so why not solidify it by code.
    5. Aesthetics; Sometimes used to create offset front yard setbacks or provide for different setbacks to the garage, in an attempt to create a less monotonous feel for the neighborhood. Side setbacks that prohibit neighbors from shaking hands through side windows...
    6. Safety; Site distance triangles between garages and sidewalks or even the street to keep mom from backing into little Timmy.

    A five foot setback in the front may not even cover an easement needed between the property line and house for whatever utility might be there. This happens when the utility won't install under sidewalks within the ROW. The setback should at least cover the area needed for easements, otherwise, the easements are the defacto setback anyway.....
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