The Significance of the Setback
Zoning Practice — June 2021
By Christine Quattro
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Since the adoption of the first comprehensive zoning ordinance in New York City, zoning codes have included minimum setback requirements for land uses and structures.
As cities fight to control sprawl and encourage infill, some commentators have blamed the setback for an underutilization of valuable space. Calls for increased density, more affordable housing, and sustainable cities are all leading to the question of whether setback requirements should be eliminated.
This issue of Zoning Practice explores the setback and its purpose in spatial planning and zoning ordinances. It presents a brief history of the setback, summarizes the key factors to consider when altering setbacks, and presents a case analysis of setbacks in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
About the Author
Christine is currently a Fontaine Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in the Department of City and Regional Planning. Chris's research focuses on equitable approaches to environmental justice and regulatory law. Chris also currently works as the Lead Land Development Researcher for a law firm in San Antonio, TX and most recently worked as the Director of Development and City Planning for the office of City Council District 1, also in San Antonio, TX.