As with the minimum lot-size changes, CodeNEXT will upend standard setback regulations that have governed SF-3 housing for decades.
Current SF-3 regulations require side setbacks of 5' (15' for a street side yard), and a rear yard setback of 10'. The transect zones that most closely match our current SF-3 are the T3NE, T3N.DS and T3N.IS zones. (Yes, we really will be using three zones to do the work of one.) The draft code proposes doubling the rear yard setback in these zones to 20'. While it allows either side yard setback to remain at 5', it raises the combined minimum side yard setbacks to 15', so one or the other or both must exceed the current 5' minimum.
While the draft code shrinks the buildable area on the standard lots in the walkable inner city neighborhoods, it leaves the existing setbacks alone in the other zones. Wide houses on wide lots in the T3NE.WL zone will keep the standard 5' setback. One might expect the side setbacks to be larger on wide lots, given that there's more room for a house than on narrower lots. Homes in the non-transect Low-Medium Residential Zone -- reserved for the "driveable" suburban neighborhoods -- will also keep the 10' rear and 5' side setbacks.
I think I know the reason for the larger setbacks on these standard lots, misguided though it may be. The new transect regulations contain a new variety of regulation that specifies a relatively narrow and shallow footprint within which the home must be built. It is a sort of "super-setback" regulation. The goal is to hold the massing of buildings to a reasonable scale and to push the buildings to the front of the lot, close to the front setback.
But, as with the new lot depth regulations, these regulations will cause perhaps thousands of existing homes to slide into nonconforming status. There are who knows how many thousand homes built with less than 15' combined side setbacks or within 20' from the rear property line. There are untold more that have been built outside the newly prescribed super setbacks. This is quite understandably the case since the setbacks have been fixed for decades. We are asymptotically approaching the line beyond which no existing housing anywhere in the city center complies with current code.
These new setback regulations have the additional drawback of prohibiting development that the new code goes out of its way to legalize. For example, the draft allows small homes in the T3N.DS and T3N.IS zones to be built on a 25' x 100' lot if the lot existed at the time the code is adopted. (There is a somewhat similar "small lot amnesty" in some neighborhoods today.) The draft does not relax the combined minimum side setbacks for these lots, though, or at least not that I've seen. So, sure, someone can build a house on a 25' x 100' lot just as long as it is 10' wide.
Let me offer a caveat here. The consultants have released the draft code but they have yet to make an in-depth presentation to the public on how it will work. It is possible that I am misinterpreting the rules. Or perhaps I've missed a rule buried in another section of the code. I hope so. There is too much development on the ground to change the setback rules now.
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