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Thread: Setbacks between sidewalk and property line

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    Setbacks between sidewalk and property line

    My instructor said there would normally be a setback between a property line and the sidewalk. However, based on my observation in my neighborhood, the sidewalk is always built right adjacent to people's front yard. So is this setback a region that would be taken into account during the building process, but it is not conspicuous because it is overlaid with grass? Thanks

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    Please excuse my ignorance of land use planning as I am still in my first year of planning school. I just think this forum is a great platform for me to seek assistance from many planning professionals.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    Setback refers to a building setback. A yard is not normally considered something prohibited in the setback area - usually only structures.
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    Thanks a lot! I am still figuring out some of the most basic knowledge of land use planning. That sure helps!

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    I've seen it done many different ways. In larger older cities the sidewalk is part of the right of way corridor and the property line starts somewhere behind the sidewalk. In subdivisions you will typically see it in the right of way or as an easement along properties which allows for the developer to give "larger" lots and have the sidewalk on the lot instead of dedicated right of way saving 4-5 feet of setback in the rear.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    In the Residential Zones in our city we normally have a 30 foot street within a 50 foot Right-of-Way. This leaves 10 feet on each side of the street. We normally have our 4 foot sidewalks placed a maximum of 2 feet back from each curb. This allows space for the drainage catch basins, street signage, and mailboxes. It purposefully does not allow enough space for trees, but is conveniently narrow enough to step over (if muddy) to reach the sidewalk from a parked car. This leaves 4 feet between the back of the sidewalk and the ROW line on each side. This is space for street lights, cable TV, underground power and telephone lines. Water and sewer lines with related manholes tend to wander throughout the ROW as needed based on terrain and curvature of street and its ROW.

    Our Residential Zones do not have buildings up against the ROW or property line. We require 30, 40, 50 or 100 foot Set Backs for yards, major trees, and landscaping, depending on the density or lot size we allow.
    Last edited by Streck; 03 Nov 2011 at 3:32 PM. Reason: typo

  7. #7
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    At my house, the property officially goes to the street edge and the 10 foot sidewalk/planting strip is classified as a public ROW (this means I am responsible for its maintenance and upkeep, which is not the case everywhere) but is actually my property. My planting strip is 3 feet, the sidewalk is 4 feet and so there is another space between the sidewalk and my yard/fence that is 3 feet. This is often called the "back" of the sidewalk (not usually a "setback" which as has been said is a different thing) and this may be what the professor was referring to. When planners say that a property has a "zero lot line" for example, it means there is no space between the back of the sidewalk and the building.

    As you can see, different municipalities, and even different parts of a municipality, may deal with the sidewalk area in different ways. My neighborhood was platted out in the late 1800s (my house was built in 1907) and this was probably just the style of the times (both the size of these spaces and the fact that my property goes to the street edge). The back of my property also officially goes to the center of my alley and I am similarly responsible for keeping that clear of weeds and obstructions as the utilities are run back there and service vehicles need access.
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    Cyburbian natski's avatar
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    Here in NSW the sidewalk (footpath), verge etc is part of the road reserve, which are generally not zoned unless they are motorways or classified or arterial roads. Land use zoning starts at the property line and the building line is obviously where you can build any structures.
    Generally our footpaths in low density residential areas are not located right against the property line, but in high density inner city areas this may be the case.

    Residents are generally required to maintain the grass verge, even though it is owned by the Council.
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    Cyburbian
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    What confuses a lot of lay-people (and even some planners I’ve met) is that the edge of the sidewalk and the front property line are not the same thing. Occasionally the front property line coincides with the edge of the sidewalk, but usually the front property line is closer to the house, although in Tides example the property line is actually closer to the curbline of the street. Unless you can find a survey marker there is no way to tell where the actual front property line is without having a legal survey in your hands.

    Notwithstanding the fact that a portion of many people’s front lawns are partially within the public right-of-way homeowners are usually still required to maintain the right-of-way in front of their homes, which includes cutting the grass and shoveling the snow (where applicable). This leads most people to assume that they own that piece of land. This usually only causes a problem when the work department digs up the pipes within the municipality's right-of-way just after the homeowner has spent a lot of money landscaping the front edge of what they think is their lawn.
    Last edited by Howl; 04 Nov 2011 at 1:15 PM.

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    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    Our Public Works Department, which grants Building Permits and oversees Subdivision Regulations, requires that the builder install an expansion joint in the driveway at the ROW line. This aids in tear-up and replacement of drives when installating or repairing utilities running between the ROW line and the street curb.

    This also gives you an idea of where the property line is, but I find that builders are not too accurate in placing the joint, so you still have to check the survey if it is important to you.

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    Cyburbian fareastsider's avatar
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    I know this is not true of most places but on the city of Detroit you can always use the sidewalks to determine what we called the walk margin (area between the walk and PL) if you measure 58 ft walk to elk on a 60 R.O.W. Road then its a one foot walk margin. 54 ft on a 60 then you have a 3 foot walk margin. I used to do survey work in the city and region and you could always count on the accuracy of the sidewalks in Detroit. Curb to curb on alleys were always the platted width. One of my bosses said the city wad laid out extremely well compared to others he had worked in. Same applys to most of Macomb Co. To the NE. In my neighborhood now in another state the walks are right along the curb 4ft wide. There is 3 more feet to the front PL. Here is the funny part, considering that the walk is well within the 50ft ROW. The plat states that all lot are subject to a 5ft sidewalk right of way easement at the front of the lot?!

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    Cyburbian fringe's avatar
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    Our area has little towns where sidewalks were common sense and used a lot. Now in the age of AutoNation, new developments never include them. Especially in new residential, developers howl and scream, "You want me to give land away?" They think they have to make a return on every square inch they buy. Our little town amended its zoning to require sidewalks for new residential, but since the Big Bust not a single one has been proposed.

  13. #13
    besides not having many sidewalks, typically our sidewalks (where they exist) are 2' from the ROW line.

    As touched on above, we always run into issues with the citizenry about where the property line is, mostly assume they own to the street, or to the sidewalk, but the actual property line (from which setbacks are measured) can be anywhere.

    I ran into a situation a couple months ago where someone wanted to sell cars at his autoshop, and wasn't too pleased when he found out half of his parking lot (which went right up to the sidewalk, which itself was along the curb) was part of the public ROW, and he could not sell cars on that part of his property (nor could he store cars or have customers park there, technically)

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    I wonder if cities have ever lost such property by "adverse possession" - failure to mark, identify, or maintain such land - when used by others over the years.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    I have seen many instances in areas without sidewalks where the adjacent property owners have installed some pretty expensive landscaping in the street ROW where the sidewalks would be. I have never heard of a case where someone was able to claim adverse possession on that, although at times, I have heard of slivers of ROW being officially vacated when changes are made in street alignments.

    IIRC, the municipality is likely not liable for the costs of that landscaping when it has to be removed against the property owner's protest. I would check with the city attorney to be sure.

    And yes, building setbacks are from the property lines, whether or not the sidewalks are there, not the outside edges of the curbs and unless there are some sorts of impediments in the way, most often, the sidewalks are built right to the edge of the ROW.

    Mike

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