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Need help interpreting definition...

SW MI Planner

Cyburbian
Messages
3,195
Points
27
of a front yard setback. Here it is:

"Front Yard: The minimum distance between the front line of a building, excluding steps, and the street line, unoccupied and extending for the full width of the lot." Front line of the building being the building feature (foundation and/or roofline) nearest the property line.

So what about a patio, deck, etc. that is NOT attached to the house? Do they need to comply with front yard setback? It's not part of the building, so based on our ordinance, I would have to say that decks/patios are not required to meet front yard setback requirements. But then a deck that is attached to the building would have to comply with the setback.

Granted thats not ideal, nor the probable intent of the ordinance. We have regulations in place for accessory BUILDINGS (as opposed to structures), but a deck/patio is not a building, so we can't use those. (right??)

Is my logic making sense? Am I on the right track? But then what does UNOCCUPIED mean?

Basically, our defintion sucks. So how would you all interpret this, and if you have a good definition of front yard, please share!!

Thanks!
 
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7,649
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I read a magazine article (I am pretty sure I no longer have the magazine) about a couple that bought an old house with a quirkily-shaped yard and basically re-did the whole thing. The set backs would not allow them to add on to the house much (if any) but a deck and low fence were allowed and they made the most of it. They filled just about the entire yard to the extent of the lot with a wooden deck and fenced it along the perimeter.

I have a friend who is a career bureaucrat. The secret of her success is that if she has two conflicting rules facing her, she picks the one she "likes" best. If it isn't covered at all, she looks the other way. If it requires a judgment call to interpret, she assumes that is why they pay her and decides as she sees fit. (I am desperately trying to learn from her wisdom. I stupidly go looking for "THE ANSWER" and that gets me in trouble. It alerts people in power to the existence of a loophole, it gives them the chance to tell me what to do when I should have never brought it up, etc.)

With the way it is written, I am not even clear that an attached patio would be covered. But I do not claim to be some kind of legal expert.
 

donk

Cyburbian
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6,970
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What is your definition of "building"?

Do you limit the location of "structures"?
 

Wannaplan?

Bounty Hunter
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3,223
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SW MI Planner,

Here's a building definition that I used recently for a client:

"Any structure, either temporary or permanent, having a roof supported by columns, walls or any other supports, which is used for the purpose of housing, sheltering, storing, or enclosing persons, animals, or personal property, or carrying on business activities. This definition includes, but is not limited to, tents, sheds, garages, greenhouses and other accessory structures. "

I"m not saying this is the best, but it seems to work. How are things going with your ZO update?
 

boiker

Cyburbian
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3,889
Points
26
location

does your ordinance define accessory structures (detached) such as gazebos, decks, etc and prohibit them in the front yard setback/areas?
 

Repo Man

Cyburbian
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2,549
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Our code would allow for a concerte patio, but not a deck. It seems like yours is similar. A deck meets the definition of a structure, and thus is not allowed in the front yard. Same with gazebos swing sets, or other "structures." A patio is different, it is more like a driveway or a sidewalk, both of which are allowed in the front yard.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
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10,080
Points
34
From your post, I gather that the homeowner is wanting to put up a deck, separate from the house, in the "front yard." I would interepret the code as intending that the front yard be "unoccupied" and that the deck would not be permitted. Then I would inform the plan commission that the code needs to be re-written to be more specific.
 

SW MI Planner

Cyburbian
Messages
3,195
Points
27
Re: location

boiker said:
does your ordinance define accessory structures (detached) such as gazebos, decks, etc and prohibit them in the front yard setback/areas?

Nope. We only limit the location of accessory buildings and do not mention "structures" at all.

We are working on an ordinance amendment now, but at this rate - don't get me started :) it will be forever before it's done.
 

otterpop

Cyburbian
Messages
6,655
Points
28
When I worked in Ketchikan Alaska, our code of ordinances allowed patios, decks, etc. in the setback, provided they were not greater than 24 inches above the ground. No distinction was made whether they were attached or unattached.
 

boiker

Cyburbian
Messages
3,889
Points
26
Re: Re: location

SW MI Planner said:
Nope. We only limit the location of accessory buildings and do not mention "structures" at all.

We are working on an ordinance amendment now, but at this rate - don't get me started :) it will be forever before it's done.

the unoccupied leads me to believe that the front yard is the area between the principal structure and the front property line AND does not contain any other structures, buildings, elements, etc. You could even define all those items that require building permits as being occupiers of the front yard.(consult legal)

like cardinal, I think the intent to prevent these structures/things in the front yard was there, but it was poorly defined.
 

nerudite

Cyburbian
Messages
6,544
Points
30
I agree with most of the comments here in that if the deck is a 'structure' it would go against the 'unoccupied' requirement in the front yard. However, does your building department consider ALL decks as structures? Many decks under six inches in height are not considered structures in Building Codes and are often unregulated in Zoning Ordinances in regard to location, setbacks, etc. I think a deck that meets that criteria could possibly still be located in the front yard. Same thing with concrete or brick patios (unless you have specific language that considers these a 'structure' or if your ordinance requires front yards to be a certain percentage of pervious surface).
 

Niyojak

Member
Messages
18
Points
1
In my place the front setback is defined as clear distance between front property line to the plinth line of the building, excluding steps. Front deck is allowed in the front setback upto the hight of the plinth and upto a certain width from plinth line, with the condition that it should be uncovered. If it is covered it is not allwed to project into the front setback. Patio is allowed to project to a certain width into the front setback if it is at lintel height and projection at roof level is also allowed to a certain width. So the deciding factor in our case is whether the projection into front setback is covered or not.
 
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