Site Planning

What Are Setbacks?

The local jurisdiction adopts zoning ordinances which provides various zoning standards such as density, height, minimum lot size, and lot dimensions.  Another key zoning standard is the “setback” from the property lines, which dictates how the proposed buildings can be plotted on a lot.

In a housing development, these setbacks typically refer to the front yard, rear yard, and side yards and essentially mean how close your building can be to each of the property lines (PL).  Cities and counties will have different zoning classifications and the setbacks can vary depending on whether the intent of the zone class might be rural, estate, suburban, or urban in nature.  As example, a typical suburban lot of 6,000 square feet might have a front yard setback of 20 feet from the front PL, 15 – 20 feet from the rear PL, and 5 feet from the side PL’s.  Keep in mind that these are the minimum and that the market competition may dictate larger setbacks.

As a general rule, rural or estate type lots might have zoning standards with larger setbacks while urban zoning standards could be the opposite.  Also, with respect to the front yard setback, remember that the setback is from the property line and not the street curb.  The street right-of-way may include another 10 feet behind the curb to allow for sidewalk, landscape, or utilities.  Thus, a front yard setback of 20 feet might result in the house being 30 feet from the street curb.

These setbacks play a critical role in the site planning of a project.  In markets where the house size is maximized on the lot, these setbacks can put a constraint on your floorplans.  And where lot sizes are relatively large compared to the house size, you might plan for larger setbacks than the minimum in trying to gain a market advantage.

Please share below your comments and questions.

John Kaye has over 30 years experience within the land development and homebuilding industries, having held senior management positions with The Irvine Company, Koll Real Estate Group, and Brookfield Homes. As a developer, John has overseen the land acquisition, entitlements, and development of master planned communities, residential tracts, urban infill sites, and land assemblages. His experience and skill sets include land acquisition, land brokerage, project management, market analysis, finance, and strategic planning.

    2 Comments

  1. Mike Rafferty
    April 29, 2019
    Reply

    Regarding Setbacks- when you have only a 5 foot side yard setback make sure you check with the inspecting agency ( the City or County) on what are the codes for the placement of a fireplace chase or AC units encroaching into the set back. I’ve made that mistake before

  2. May 24, 2019
    Reply

    A setback, sometimes called step-back, is a step-like recession in a wall. Setbacks were initially used for structural reasons, but now are often mandated by land use codes, or are used for aesthetic reasons. In densely built-up areas, setbacks also help get more daylight and fresh air to the street level. Importantly, a setback helps lower the building’s center of mass, making it more stable.

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