Why Cities Should Back Off of Setbacks

Why Cities Should Back Off of Setbacks

Josh Stephens on May 16, 2017

©2019 California Planning & Development Report.


Insightful excerpt from an article from 2017.

Setbacks are the currency of anti-development activism. Homeowners who like their cities and their property values just fine don’t care how far away a building is from a street. They’re likely only to see those buildings at 35 miles per hour anyway, and probably from a lane or two away (plus a few feet if there’s a devil strip). But they know how to push planners around.

For them, setbacks are just a bargaining chip – a palpable way to stick it to developers. Setbacks persist because they are quantifiable and negotiable. Once opponents have whittled down the number of units or the amount of floor space in a project, they can bring on the setbacks. The developer wants a setback of zero feet. Neighbors want a setback of ten feet. When it gets settled at five feet, the neighbors chalk up a win.

Why is that a win? Because they don’t care in the first place. They gain nothing, except for a five-foot pain-in-the-ass for the developer and a lousy place to take a stroll. This isn’t advocacy, and it’s certainly not planning. This is urban trolling.